Movie Review: Big Hero 6

Title: Big Hero 6
Directors: Don Hall, Chris Williams
Cast: Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, T. J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans, Jr., Génesis Rodríguez, Maya Rudolph
Genre: Animation
Running Time: 102 minutes
Accolade: Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature

Based on a comic book by the same name, on the exterior, this movie is an action-packed adventure/comedy about how an unlikely group of 5 “kids” and an oversized robot came together to “fight evil”, but at its core, it is a beautiful story about overcoming grief.

He Said
I was skeptical about this movie due to the unappealing title that makes it sound like a sequel and lackluster “teaser trailer”, but the fact that it was from someone who worked on Frozen made me curious. Additionally, as a healthcare professional, I also thought the concept of Baymax, a personal healthcare robot, was hilarious. Therefore I watched Big Hero 6 with little knowledge of the plot/premise and relatively low expectations… and what a splendid surprise! The beginning is admittedly slow, but once Baymax comes to life and attends to the needs of the depressed Hiro, it is golden. There is so much humor and joy to be had from the scene-stealing Baymax! The action and animation are so well done, but what impresses me the most is the brilliant and mature script that so effectively portrays tragedy, grief, and healing. The emotional ending earns all of my heartfelt tears.

She Said
If the virtue of a movie resides in its ability to induce cathartic tears, then this movie ranks very, very high on my list. In short, I balled. Like Thanh, I brushed off the movie after seeing its unimpressive (and slow paced) preview. The movie, however, drew me in the moment Hiro explored the robotics lab at his brother’s university. The innovations! What started as an intellectual adventure quickly escalated to an emotional catharsis. I recommend this animation unequivocally and can’t wait to (re-)watch it with my niece and nephew!

We Say
Big Hero 6 is an amazing and brilliant movie that has tremendous emotional resonance. Disney continues to prove it is in a new “Golden Age” with Big Hero 6 deservedly earning the studio its second consecutive Oscar for “Best Animated Feature” (after 2014’s epic Frozen). This is a must-watch movie for all of its action, comedy, and heart – it is all-around fun for all ages (although “younger kids” will probably not appreciate it as much) with a wonderful message about dealing with losses.

Themes: Wreck It Ralph, Frozen, Tangled

My infatuation for Frozen sparked a renewed interest in Disney and a desire to watch the creative team’s past works. Having finished Tangled and most recently Wreck It Ralph, I observed very common themes among all 3 movies.

But first, a mini-review…

Wreck It Ralph runs in a similar creative vein as the Toy Story franchise. Instead of toys, Ralph brings to life video game (arcade) characters. It immerses the viewer into a colorful world with very “human” characters. Essentially Ralph is a story about discovering self-worth against prejudice and labels, told through the heart-warming quest of a misunderstood “villain” (Ralph) who just wants to be the “hero” for a change. This is a fun, feel-good family movie that offers a strong and touching message.

Themes: Identity & Acceptance
One of the biggest struggles that we can all relate to is learning and accepting who you are.

Societal “norms” correlate with acceptance, something that all humans desire. Divergence from said “norm” results in ostracization. In an attempt to fit in with the majority, some go to great lengths to change themselves and conceal any and all glaring “differences”; this can result in self-suffering with unexpected and undesired consequences.

Too often we are also quick to apply labels to others and form opinions without truly knowing who the person is. Indeed, prejudice can sadly cloud our judgment, which sometimes makes us lose out on potential relationships.

Thus the struggle for identity and acceptance can be hard and life-long. Fittingly breaking beyond their labels as “animated movies for kids”, Tangled, Ralph, and Frozen tackle these very “adult” topics through their characters’ journeys.

In Tangled, Rapunzel and Flynn learned who they were through their relationship with one another. Rapunzel overcame her fears of the unknown and became confident in herself. Flynn realized he was more than a “bandit” and found meaning and purpose beyond surviving and living for himself.

In most fiction, there are protagonists and antagonists. “Real life” is not so black and white. The video game characters in Ralph try to depict the multidimensional layers of people. During the day their “job” is to be either the “hero”, “villain”, or supporting cast. Sadly for “villains”, the stigma of their “job” carries off-duty and they are discriminated and considered by peers as “bad guys”. Ralph is the epitome of this prejudice; he consequently suffers from low self-esteem and just wants so badly to show others that he’s not a “bad guy” and be liked by others.

The movie chronicles Ralph’s quest to break through his labeled persona, but actually ends up with him learning who he is. In the touching and strong climax, Ralph boldly states:

I am bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There is no one I would rather be than me.

In this epic scene, Ralph not only proves he is more than a “bad guy”, but he finds his self-worth and embraces his “difference”. It is only after he accepts himself that others accept him.

In Frozen, Elsa is forced to hide not only her magical ice/snow-making abilities, but also herself. She was miserable, trapped by fear. When her secret is revealed, Elsa is at first scared, but later becomes empowered by her new-found freedom as she belts in “Let It Go”. After years of isolation and trying to keep a secret, she no longer cared what people thought and just wanted to “live” for once. She relished in her abilities, her “difference”, as she makes a beautiful ice castle (and the lovable, scene-stealing Olaf).

Due to a lack of understanding, people believed Elsa to be a “monster” – a Snow Queen. People fear the unknown. It is only when they start to understand her powers (as a result of Elsa embracing, rather than concealing) are they able to see past her “difference” and realize that she is still human.

We Say
As people, we all have our own quirks; no two are exactly alike. It is crucial to learn who you are and especially understand the “differences” that make you unique. Don’t try too hard to conform to societal “norms” or appease the majority. Ultimately, the big message is this: Living life freely results in happiness.

Movie Review: Brave

Title: Brave
Directors: Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman
Cast: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson
Genre: Animation
Running Time: 93 minutes
Accolades: Oscar & Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature
Purchase Brave: DVD

Brave attempts to examine the relationship between a mother and daughter within the context of traditionalism, individuality, and feminism.

He Said
Pixar is known for its emotionally riveting stories that can make grown men cry (ala Toy Story 3) and entertain audience of all ages with laughter, suspense, amazement, and tears. Something went awry with Brave. I’m not sure if it was because having a female lead was too “foreign” for Pixar, but the movie not only lacked heart, but it was downright a boring drag. There were a few good moments (such as Merida’s bonding moments with her mom as a bear), but overall Brave is forgettable.

She Said
The message of writing your own destiny can be delivered in a more effective manner and with more charming characters. Merida was, for the majority of the movie, a spoiled brat – hence extremely unlikable. A good chunk of the movie was wasted with filler scenes that delivered no significance and did not contribute to the plot. Overall, Brave was not a bad movie, but certainly not one to be remembered.

We Say
We are baffled that Brave won Best Animation at both the Oscar’s and Golden Globe. The movie has the polished and well-produced “look” expected of a Pixar movie, but lacks the core that makes it a great movie. There are a few noteworthy moments, but the movie as a whole is excessively drab with unlikable characters.

Movie Review: Tangled

Title: Tangled
Directors: Nathan Greno & Byron Howard
Cast: Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy
Genre: Animation
Running Time: 100 minutes
Purchase Tangled: DVD

Tangled supposedly tells the classic tale of a girl trapped in a tower who upon beckoning, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair”, unleashes her impossibly long golden locks. However, the fairytale is merely a backdrop for what is actually a coming-of-age story that explores self-discovery and empowerment.

He Said
I was not impressed by Tangled‘s trailer back in 2010 and had no intentions of watching it, but my love for Frozen (the tagline on the poster touts it as “From the creators of Tangled and Wreck It Ralph“) made me yearn for more of the same type of animated excellence. Perhaps, consequently, I came into the movie with far too much expectations and initially found the story very boring and the characters just not endearing. The movie thankfully picks up about 45 minutes in and becomes a rather pleasant watch until the end. The “lantern scene” truly encapsulates the movie-magic feel that Disney does so well when it gets it right. I appreciate Rapunzel’s strength (her character offers young girls a different type of “Disney Princess”) and Disney was quite creative with their use of her hair and I enjoyed the modern twists to the story. The surprisingly dark commentary on controlling and overprotective parenting was interesting. I do worry, however, that the story may feed (or initiate?) fantasies that young kids sometimes have about being adopted and actually having “better” [biological] parents (especially when they disagree with their parents).

She Said
From the viewpoint of an aunt screening movies for her nieces and nephews, I wouldn’t recommend Tangled for children. The theme is unnecessarily dark. While I recognize that Gothel is a witch, she has nonetheless raised Rapunzel and one would hope all those years would amount to something more than an abusive and manipulative relationship filled with greed on Gothel’s side and fear within Rapunzel. The exchanges of “I love you” were completely empty. I prefer not to introduce children to these ideations of hypocrisy and schemes. To simply wave this off as “Gothel’s the evil character” doesn’t settle with me either. As an adult watching the movie, Tangled entertains but lacks a powerful message.

We Say
“Rapunzel” is a rather mundane fairytale that Tangled is able to spin into a rather entertaining take on entering society and growing up. It has a dreadfully slow start, but the characters and the movie itself ultimately become likable. Tangled has its moments, but is overall just passable and lacks that indescribable charisma that makes animated features like Toy Story 3 and Frozen unforgettable and far superior.

Movie Review: Frozen

Title: Frozen
Directors: Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee
Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana
Genre: Animation
Running Time: 102 minutes
Accolades: Oscars for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song; Golden Globes for Best Animated Feature
Purchase Frozen: DVD | Blu-ray | Soundtrack

Based loosely on a Danish fairytale entitled “The Snow Queen”, Frozen tells a story of family, love, loyalty, and all the familiar themes of a Disney animation, except with a great twist that turns gender stereotyping on its head.

He Said
I have a love/hate relationship with Disney movies. They have many memorable songs, characters, and scenes which I do recall fondly and enjoy in small quantities. However, I was not a fan of the sometimes contrived and unrealistic stories, especially as I got older. I didn’t think I’d watch another Disney movie until I was a parent. Surprisingly, I found myself curious of the immense hype and praise Frozen received and just had to see it for myself. Magical and engaging from beginning to end and filled with endearing characters, Frozen not only embodies the best of Disney’s DNA, but takes it to new heights with a surprisingly well-written, snappy, and rather mature story. I must admit I was caught off-guard twice, which was quite pleasant given how predictable most Disney movies are. The soundtrack is extremely catchy. I whole-heartedly enjoyed the laughs and heart strings which Frozen tugged.

She Said
I did not grow up with fantasies about love or being in a pretty white dress on my wedding day. I did not grow up with Disney or fairytales. Watching Disney as an adult, I hated it. It was too unrealistic, too romanticized. Why is there always a damsel in distress? Why must the prince save the day? But as an aunt, I do watch Disney to screen/approve what my nieces and nephews should watch. I was drawn to Frozen the very moment Anna spoke, “the sky’s awake so I’m awake so we have to play!” The exact words were spoken by my nephew before and my heart just melted. A few minutes later, I teared up realizing the tragic fate of our princesses. Yes, it appears every fairytale involves the passing away of parents – and I still cry every. single. time. I rolled my eyes when Anna supposedly fell in love at first sight, and heaved a sigh of relief when her engagement fell through. Anna’s feisty nature and bravery were nicely complemented with Kristoff’s skepticism and loyalty. Their journey together was made more perfect with Olaf, the hilarious and optimistic snowman. Frozen was engaging and quick paced. I dreaded getting to the ending because I was truly enjoying the film and did not want that cliched “happily ever”. To my heart’s delight, a plot twist revolutionized my vision of fairytales and I cried in agreement with Frozen‘s definition of love. Disclaimer: I was not heads over heels with the production. There is one scene that I must pick a bone with: “Let It Go”. The concept of accepting who you are and having self-confidence is wonderful. Why smear such a beautiful moment? Must one suddenly have an hourglass figure, adorn a sexy dress, and strut like a super model in order to gain confidence? In the year 2014, I am enraged that while gender stereotype can be addressed, Disney is still sending false messages about body image.

We Say
Frozen is an entertaining movie for viewers of all ages and truly deserves its Oscar for “Best Animated Picture”. Funny, touching, and above all else, it is smart and meaningful. You will simply “melt” for Frozen! Hopefully this movie heralds a new generation of Disney!

Side note… could we get an Olaf spin-off?