Sunday, January 28, 2018

MLEEP Reviews: Ferdinand | #Ferdinand

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FERDINAND
Written By Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle and Brad Copeland 
Composed By John Powell
Produced By John Davis, Lisa Marie Stetler, Lori Forte and Bruce Anderson
Edited By Harry Hitner
Directed By Carlos Saldanha

Based on the classic children's book by Munro Leaf with illustrations by Robert Lawson, the story of 'Ferdinand' became the definitive tale that gave the lesson of not judging a book by its cover and how it's better to be peaceful than to always get angry and pick a fight...for many decades, kids and adults alike fell in love with the large and seemingly intimidating bull that only wants to smell flowers instead of bullfighting.  For animation fans however, they would be more familiar with the 1938 Oscar-winning Disney cartoon 'Ferdinand The Bull': sure it has a cheesy tone geared more for kids but with the help of its solid animation and dedication to stay true to the story's message, the short would go on to become a timeless classic in the Silly Symphony collection-that and it'll always be remembered as the only time that Walt Disney himself would voice a cow.  But now that Blue Sky is taking a turn to tell the tale in a feature-length film, will it give us the same feeling as smelling flowers or will we end up as angry as the matador in the story?  Let's find out, this is 'Ferdinand'!

FERDINAND: Ferdinand is a young bull who escapes from a training camp in rural Spain after his father never returns from a showdown with a matador. Adopted by a girl who lives on a farm, Ferdinand's peaceful existence comes crashing down when the authorities return him to his former captors. With help from a wisecracking goat and three hedgehogs, the giant but gentle bovine must find a way to break free before he squares off against El Primero-the famous bullfighter who never loses.

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Considering how this is one of those movies based on a children's book, it doesn't have a lot of material to work with-I mean, how do you turn a small book in a movie that's just a little less than two hours...well it does have a solution, but maybe not the best one: while the story of this movie does get into the book at the beginning and at the end, everything else in between is just your typical 'find a way back home' story where the main character doesn't like his new environment while meeting new friends and learning a lesson then having a big chase scene to ultimately reach his goal.  If there is one big issue to point out with the plot itself, it's not really by its originality but rather how it would constantly drag some scenes just so it could be feature-length and serve as long distractions for kids to have them stay still: I do get that they can serve a purpose to progress the plot, but they often feel like they go on for a while like when Ferdinand would sneak out as well as the inevitable chase scene along with breaking out the prisoners and the dance battle as well as when Ferdinand goes to the village.  What's even worse is how the story itself is already predictable as it is, the fact that some scenes would take its time to roll out just makes it feel annoying as if it would make audiences say 'okay, I get the purpose of this...can we move on to the next part?'.  However if there's something more important here than the story, it would have to be the message since that is the reason why Ferdinand is so popular.  In this movie, the moral of peace over fighting is still present and does give this film a bit of heart but it does feel like it would rather do a commentary on bullfighting and it can often get overshadowed by the humor.  For the latter, it can be mixed where it does have its funny moments but a lot of it feels more like it's pandering exclusively to kids...and when it's not funny, it gets irritating.

Despite its many faults, I'll give it that it's not a bad looking film since the animation does prove its worth with the way that it handles the natural and urban side of Spain.  Just like how Blue Sky handled Rio to bring the city to life, the film would present a lot of its plane fields and the use of flowers to bring out some colors to know where are the more peaceful and happier places that Ferdinand would want to be on top of nailing the architecture that would mix the traditional and modern look of the Spanish city-it also helps that the score by John Powell helps capture the feeling of the country, this is also a great contrast to the dark places that Ferdinand would want to avoid like the ranch where it's dirtier and chewed up while being a lot less saturated in color.  As for the designs, it's a blend of realistic anatomy and a cartoony style: the animations like the bulls each have their own unique look but still stay true to how they are anatomically built with maybe the exception of the hedgehogs.  For the humans, they would have a more abstract look on them that's strange but thankfully they're not the focus of attention here and I will add that what does help the designs is the strong use of detail and texture from every petal on a flower to the quills of the hedgehogs to the fur on the bulls...they actually help define the visuals and make it one of the better looking animated films of the year.  Then you have the character animation, I sense that this is probably the movie's biggest selling point in terms of the animation because honestly there isn't anything else that would make this film visually stand out from any other animated film of its kind since it's quite noticeable how the animators did work hard on this film considering what the scenes would demand from them...but then again as well done as they can be, it can happen when the characters' acting would feel over the top especially if it would require them to dance but that's a problem with the directing more so than on the visuals themselves.

Before this film was made, all we had as characters were just Ferdinand along with his mom and the matador and that was all you need to tell a sweet and simple tale...but this movie on the other hand goes into the Ice Age sequel route and share it with a lot of comic reliefs.  However before I get into that, let's start off with the big guy himself Ferdinand: unlike in the source material, he's not fully passionate about smelling flowers-in fact he's more of a house pet than an animal from the wild, he's just an all-around good guy who's modest about himself and his size and is more of a pacifist who doesn't want to live up to what bulls normally do although he's been given a surprisingly solid performance by John Cena...there's nothing much outside of him that would be defined other than a generic protagonist.  Along his adventures would include other bulls that Ferdinand knew as a kid like Guapo, Bones, Angus, Maquina and Valiente-although not the most complex or even the most original characters, these guys each have their own personality and relationship with Ferdinand that would not only make them stand out individually but have a bit of charm that would have audiences leave with at least one favorite from the pack.  But then you have the other animals where they can turn something sweet into a terribly annoying experience: I don't think I've ever wished a goat to just shut up more so than with Lupe, I get that she's the loner that no one likes and wants to be friends with the main character but she thinks that humor works by talking a lot and acting goofy non-stop.  There are also the hedgehogs that are the sneaking experts and the German horses that like to dance and think that they're better than the bulls, both of which are also equally annoying and make a whole bunch of unfunny jokes.  I'd even throw in the matador in this just by how over the top he would act to show that he's the villain and says how he's the best at what he does.  If the movie would only have the bulls and the humans, it would've been fine...but with all these extra characters, they would end up giving this film more problems than solutions.

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Overall, 'Ferdinand' is like if you would watch a peaceful bull in a bullfighting ring...you do appreciate its good heart, but you're not gonna get much out of it since the movie took a classic book that's been beloved by many generations and turn it into a feature-length of mediocrity.  Sure it's not a bad film thanks to the good animation and having a bit of the spirit from the original story, but it also has some big problems with its weak writing in a predictable story that can feel like it would linger on and having too many unfunny comic reliefs and one-dimensional characters.  At the most if you're familiar with the story of Ferdinand, this is only worth a rental...outside of that, it's probably best to either stick with the book or the Walt Disney cartoon since at least you'll get a lot more substance and save a lot of time than just sit through this.  It's actually kinda perfect how they put Ferdinand in that china shop because that's probably the best way to describe this movie: no matter how careful he can be to keep the place nice and clean, it'll still end up with some broken plates...and that is why 'Ferdinand' gets a rating of a 5.5 out of 10

Friday, January 26, 2018

MLEEP Reviews: Coco

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COCO
Written By Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich
Composed By Michael Giacchino
Produced By Darla K. Anderson
Edited By Steve Bloom
Directed By Lee Unkrich

Over the years, Pixar would bring us unforgettable stories from a whole new point of view: from toys to under the sea to the skies and even inside your mind, the studio is best known for taking these new perspectives and turn them into some of the best and most beloved animated features in recent years...but what they have yet to achieve however is telling a story revolving around a culture which in the case of 'Coco' is all about the traditions of Mexico.  Technically it is true that 'Ratatouille' brought audiences into Parisian culture, but that one revolves more around cuisine and fine dining more than the life and myths of Paris.  It does seem like a pretty risky move for this American studio to take on a culture of another country...but if done successfully, then the rewards will be great in the long run-besides, nobody makes it far in life by always playing it safe and taking risks is the company's specialty.

But back to 'Coco' itself, I don't think I've seen a movie where people were so ready to declare it a Disney classic the second it came out since probably during the days of 'Frozen'. Critics loved it, people loved it, adults loved it, kids loved it, and...yeah, I have to agree since I'm on the same boat. 'Coco' is not only visually amazing, but it's great with its characters as well as being phenomenal with its music and unbelievable colors with fantastic imagination. It's funny, it's heartfelt, you'll laugh, you'll cry, it's kind of everything you want out of a movie...which is funny because the setup for this film is one that I usually hate, but can 'Coco' still find a way to deliver a emotional journey full of heart? Let's find out, this is 'Coco'!

COCO: Despite his family's generations-old ban on music, young Miguel dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz. Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead. After meeting a charming trickster named H├ęctor, the two new friends embark on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel's family history.

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Just from the concept alone of Miguel's family hating all music because of something that happened in the past, I was ready to hate 'Coco' because you know that music isn't bad and that the people who forbid it are gonna come around which is the focus most of the time: just someone trying to live their art and somebody else being a jerk until the very end.  Thank goodness though that this is not what the movie is focused on since it's actually more of a side thing.  It's surprisingly kind of complicated which makes it all the more interesting that I actually followed all of it...and apparently, a lot of kids seem to follow it too since 'Coco' is very good at holding your hand when it needs to hold your hand and letting it go when it needs to let it go because this plot could've so easily been too complicated and yet I was amazed at how well I could follow along. This is also one of the few recent Disney stories that has a surprise villain, but it works since the setup isn't just to go "Gotcha!" but to actually set up a connection between some of the other characters and it works into what they were setting up before as well as furthering what's coming up next. A surprise villain can be fine, but it has to work into the story and that's exactly what this one does.  Of course, it didn't help that I found out the hard truth about my own inspirations in the online world shortly after seeing this movie...but that's a story for another day.

The characters are all so likable and even the ones that forbid music are still very likable since they're so energetic yet they all move differently in the different facial expressions and the different energies that they all have...it's just so great to watch. In most Disney movies, I can think of a comic relief that I don't like or a side character that gets too much attention, but here everyone feels like they get just the right amount of screen time to be really enjoyable. It's funny because everyone says they get teary-eyed at the end of this movie and I get teary-eyed too...but not at the scene you're thinking. For me, it's early on when Miguel just likes hanging with Coco and Coco half the time doesn't even know who he is but yet she just looks so happy and content and comfortable being around him and he knows she doesn't know who he is but still wants to entertain her nonetheless 'cause he's just such a likable character and...oh my gosh, this gets me every time since it's just so sweet and it melts my heart.

I guess if I really had to nitpick, it would have to be that the only scene I felt was a little pointless is when Miguel's performing in front of all these other dead people. It's not a bad scene, I just didn't entirely see the point of it and it didn't seem to connect with the rest of the story where everything else really connects to the story...maybe it was just an excuse to have another song, which I can kinda see why in a movie like this. The music is a big part of it and the song that eventually won an Oscar "Remember Me" is so good because they played in so many different ways: it's played early on as this big show number, this big gigantic thing where there's like dancing women and fancy costumes and loud instruments...but then it can also be played as such a slow soft thoughtful song and that's really where it shines and that's where it was meant to be. It's so clever how this movie shows the different ways you can look at music like the different ways you can look at people or life or death. It's just...ah, damn it-it's so good!

Now I feel like I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't bring up a film that was rather similar called 'The Book Of Life'. This came out before 'Coco' and it also has to deal a lot with music and Day of the Dead and this bright colorful world. Honestly when I saw 'Coco', the first thing that popped in my head is that this was gonna be a rip-off and yet at the same time I had to remind myself that it's kind of like seeing Santa Claus in a different Christmas movie. This is just kind of the day since Day of the Dead does have a very distinct look and both these movies do pick up on it...and in comparing the two, 'Coco' is by far the better movie. But I don't know, is there a lot taken from this...were they kind of looking at each other the same way 'Antz' and 'A Bug's Life' was kind of keeping tabs on one another? I feel like for all the originality that's in this movie, I have to bring up a film that does have a similar visual style and ideas.

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Nevertheless, 'Coco' still feels like its own thing. It's visually and musically amazing, the characters are amazing as well as the animation and colors...it's all amazing. Based on its description for the plot and forbidding music and the surprise villain, I would think I would hate this film...but much like the movie teaches, it's all about a different point of view and the point of view this movie has is that I know I'm gonna be watching a whole lot more in the future. For that, I'm gonna give 'Coco' a rating of a 9 out of 10.