Available in the original Japanese version (with English subtitles) or in a dubbed English-language version.
Culture Representation: Taking place in early 1900s Japan, the animation film “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba The Movie: Mugen Train” features Japanese characters involved in adventures in demon slaying.
Culture Clash: During a train ride, a master demon slayer and four of his assistants fight a demon.
Culture Audience: Aside from the obvious target audience of people who are fans of the “Demon Slayer” TV series, “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba The Movie: Mugen Train” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in anime or any animated films that have engaging fantasy adventure stories with graphic fight scenes.
The animated film “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba The Movie: Mugen Train” (based on the popular “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba” anime TV series and comic book series) has broken records to become to highest-grossing movie of all time in Japan and the top-grossing movie worldwide of 2020. Since its release in Asia in October 2020, the movie has since become a chart-topping hit. And in 2021, “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba The Movie: Mugen Train” became a hit in several places outside of Asia, including the United States, several countries in Europe and in South America.
Is this movie worth all the hype? Mostly yes, but the movie is best enjoyed by people who are inclined to like anime that have more adult-oriented violence than a typical anime film. The movie (directed by Haruo Sotozaki) has some eye-popping visuals that deserve to be seen on the biggest screen possible. And the story is an immersive experience should please fans of animated stories that blend fantasy adventures with some horror elements.
Where the movie falls a little short is in how it introduces the characters. If people don’t know anything about these characters before seeing the movie, the backstories might be a little rushed for newcomers to process everything as easily as people who are already familiar with these characters. Anyone going into this movie with no knowledge of the “Demon Slayer” canon might find themselves at times lost and occasionally bored by the film.
However, that doesn’t mean that “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba The Movie: Mugen Train” is difficult to understand. Anime production company Ufotable is credited with writing the screenplay, based on a story by Koyoharu Gotoge. The movie’s plot continues with the central theme of the franchise: Red-haired and courageous teenage boy Tanjirō Kamado (the protagonist) and his two male friends: blonde and fearful Zenitsu Agatsuma and impulsive hothead Inosuke Hashibira (who wears a boar’s head mask to hide his delicate-looking face) have teamed up with a young adult Flame Hashira warrior named Kyōjurō Rengoku to slay demons.
Tanjirō, who is the franchise’s main protagonist, has a tragedy which is feuling his motivations to find and kill demons: His parents and three brothers were slaughtered by demons, while his younger sister Nezuko Kamado was turned into a demon. Tanjirō keeps Nezuko hidden, usually in a knapsack that he has with him. However, Nezuko has not turned into a completely evil demon, because she is known to help Tanjirō and his friends when they need it.
“Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba The Movie: Mugen Train” begins with Tanjirō, Zenitsu and Hashibira boarding a train. The three pals meet up with Kyōjurō on the train, where he’s having a meal. During the beginning of the movie, there’s a running joke in that Kyōjurō keeps saying, “Tasty!” while he’s eating.
The main demon in the story is Enmu, Lower Rank One of the Twelve Kizuki, who finds four young passengers who have insomnia and orders them to enter the demon slayers’ dreams. The rest of the movie has a fever-dream quality where the demon slayers slip in and out of consciousness to fight Enmu and other demons.
“Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba The Movie: Mugen Train” doesn’t hold back on blood and gore. The movie dosn’t really start to pick up steam until the haflway mark. And from there, it’s an adrenaline-pumping ride as Enmu literally takes over the train in a way that won’t be revealed in this review. The visuals can be stunning, but not anything extraordinary. However, there are some genuinely creepy images in the movie, such as Enmu’s hand, which has a mind of its own.
Most viewers of this movie are watching for the fight scenes. And the movie should meet or surpass expetations. It should come as no surprise that Tanjirō and Enmu have a big showdown (it’s one of the highlights of the film), some of which takes place on top of the train. Kyōjurō also has climactic scene that’s an epic battle.
Because this movie is dubbed in several different languages (and also available in Japanese with subtitles), several voice actors portray the same characters. In the Japanese-language version, the voice actors are Natsuki Hanae asTanjirō Kamado; Yoshitsugu Matsuoka as Inosuke Hashibira; Satoshi Hino as Kyōjurō Rengoku; Akari Kitō as Nezuko Kamado; and Daisuke Hirakawa as Enmu/Lower Moon One. In the English-language version, the voice actors are Zach Aguilar asTanjirō Kamado; Bryce Papenbrook as Inosuke Hashibira; Aleks Le as Kyōjurō Rengoku; Abby Trott as Nezuko Kamado; and Landon McDonald as Enmu/Lower Moon One.
The acting and dialogue in “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba The Movie: Mugen Train” are what viewers might expect from an anime film. The biggest appeal that the movie has is how it hooks people into this world (there are flashbacks to give the characters backstories) and gives viewers many reasons to root for the heroic characters. These demon slayers are far from perfect, and that’s why people of all ages can relate them any or all of them in some way.
This movie also doesn’t gloss over the tragedy and trauma of murders. Tanjirō has flashback scenes with his family members when they were alive, and it gives emotional delpth to the tremendous loss that he has suffered. Tanjirō has solidarity and acceptance in his new family of demon slayers, but viewers will also sense that he will be forever haunted by the tragic murders of his biological family members. And just like any good story, “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba The Movie: Mugen Train” leaves audiences wanting more at the end.
Aniplex of America and Funimation released “Demon Slayer -Kimetsu no Yaiba- The Movie: Mugen Train” in U.S. cinemas on April 23, 2021. The movie’s digital and VOD release date is June 22, 2021. The movie was released in Japan in 2020.
Directed by Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada, Paul Briggs and John Ripa
Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional world of Kumandra, the animated film “Raya and the Last Dragon” features a predominantly Asian voice cast of characters (with some white people) representing different cultures in this fantasy world.
Culture Clash: After a terrible plague has turned her father into a stone statue, a teenage girl named Raya goes in search of a mysterious dragon and missing pieces of a magical gem in war-torn Kumandra, in order to restore peace and safety to Kumandra.
Culture Audience: “Raya and the Last Dragon” will appeal primarily to people who enjoy visually stunning, well-written animation adventures that are family-friendly and have positive themes.
Walt Disney Animation has become the premiere studio for animated movies about princesses who are more like warriors than damsels in distress. And with “Raya and the Last Dragon,” Disney has delivered another instant classic. The movie’s voice cast is predominantly Asian, which is a big step forward for diversity in American-made animated films. The ethnicity of the characters is not the main focus of the story, nor does it have to be, since “Raya and the Last Dragon” has an overall theme of compassion in understanding people’s differences.
Four people are credited with directing “Raya and the Last Dragon”: directors Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada and co-directors Paul Briggs and John Ripa. Fortunately, the results don’t look like “too many cooks in the kitchen,” since this well-cast and gorgeously filmed movie has a consistent tone throughout the story. The movie’s protagonist is a girl named Raya, pronounced “ry-ah” (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran), who explains in a voiceover intro about how her world of Kumandra has been torn apart by tribal feuding and a mystical plague called the Druun, which turns living beings into stone.
“Raya and the Last Dragon” is one of those movies where it’s best not to miss the first 10 minutes, because that beginning of the film packs in a lot of necessary information in order to understand what’s going on for the rest of the movie. Raya, who appears to be about 16 or 17 for most of the story, explains that Kumandra was a harmonious world, filled with dragons that brought water and rain and peace. But about 500 years ago, the Druun (pronounced “droon”) arrived (it looks like purple mist), and turned most living beings into stone, except for one dragon.
That last dragon is a female named Sisu, pronounced “see-soo” (voiced by Awkwafina), who “concentrated all of her magic in a Dragon Gem and blasted the Druun.” This gem (which looks like a large diamond) is the only known way to fight off the Druun, so it’s become the most valuable object in Kumandra. Because of Sisu’s actions with the Dragon Gem, everyone that was turned to stone came back to life, except for the dragons. Besides the Dragon Gem, the only other way to stop the Druun is to be surrounded by a large body of water.
Sisu then became a mythical hero in Kumandra, with some people believing that Sisu might still be alive. Meanwhile, Sisu’s magical Dragon Gem became highly coveted, and various people in Kumandra began feuding to get possession of the Dragon Gem, which was secretly hidden. Borders were drawn for five different lands, and the tribes in each land have been enemies of each other for the past 500 years.
Raya describes these five lands:
Tail, “a sweltering desert of sneaky mercenaries who fight dirty.” The Tail tribe wears a lot of yellow.
Talon, “a floating market with fast deals and fighters with even faster hands.” The Talon tribe wears a lot of purple.
Spine, “a frigid bamboo forest guarded by large warriors and their giant axes.” The Spine tribe wears a lot of green.
Fang, “our fiercest enemy, a nation protected by angry assassins and even angrier cats.” The Fang tribe wears a lot of off-white.
Heart, the land where Raya and her father Benja live, is the most neutral and prosperous of the five lands. The Heart tribe doesn’t really have a color-coordinated way of dressing.
The story continues with a flashback of when Raya was about 10 or 11 years old. Her widower father Benja (voiced by Daniel Dae Kim), who is the chief of Heart, has been the secret guardian of the Dragon Gem, which is kept in a remote part of a cave. Raya knows this secret, and she passes her father’s physical test to see if she would be able to reach the Dragon Gem if necessary.
Benja has a bold plan to reunite all the feuding tribes of Kumandra. He invites the people of Tail, Talon, Spine and Fang to Heart. And he gives a speech asking everyone to try to get along with each other. His speech is met with a lot of ridicule, until Raya and Benja mention all the free food that’s available at the gathering. Some of the other tribes are scarce on resources, such as food.
Raya makes eye contact in the crowd with a girl from Fang who’s about the same age as she is. They smile at each other, as an indication that they’re open to becoming friends. Raya steps into the crowd and begins talking to the girl. The other girl is Fang’s princess Namaari (voiced by Gemma Chan), who is the daughter of Fang’s calm and calculating leader Virana (voiced by Sandra Oh).
The other tribes see how Raya and Namaari have started to amicably interact with each other, so they gather in an area that’s set up to look like Kumandra’s version of a family-friendly cocktail party. Raya and Namaari have an instant friendship connection, when they find out that they are both superfans of Sisu. The two girls also found out other things that they have in common are that they both want to be warriors and they both have single parents who tell terrible jokes.
Namaari has a Sisu necklace that Raya admires, and Raya is flattered and surprised when Namaari gives the necklace to Raya. This act of generosity prompts Raya to to impulsively show Namaari the secret location where the Dragon Gem is kept. However, Raya is in for a betrayal and a rude awakening, when Namaari sends a signal to the people in her tribe that she’s found the Dragon Gem.
Other members of the Fang tribe, including Namaari’s mother Virana, rush inside the cave and begin to try to get the gem. Meanwhile, members of the Tail, Talon and Spine tribes have followed them inside the cave to see what all the fuss is about. And when they all see the Dragon Gem, all hell breaks loose.
Benja and Raya bravely try to prevent the Dragon Gem from being taken, but Raya and Benja are outnumbered. People begin fighting to take possession of the gem, which ends up dropping on the ground and shattering into five pieces. The Tail, Talon, Spine and Fang tribes each take one piece and scatter back to their lands, while a fifth piece is left behind at Heart.
The shattering of the Dragon Gem causes the Druun to come back with a vengeance, so there are many people in all tribes who get turned into stone. One of them is Benja, who valiantly throws Raya off a bridge to save her from being in the Druun’s path. She falls into the water (which is protection from the Druun), and she is able to survive.
The story then fast-forwards to six years later. Raya is now a lonely teenage orphan who’s been wandering through the now-devastated Kumandra, on a quest to find all of the pieces of the Dragon Gem to put them back together. Accompanying Raya on this quest is a creature called Tuk Tuk, which is part pill bug and part pug. Tuk Tuk, which is Raya’s closest companion, has grown considerably since her childhood, from being small enough to fit in the palm of her hand to currently being large enough to transport her like a giant snail.
Raya is grieving over the loss of her father, and she’s consumed with bitterness over how she was betrayed by Namaari. Throughout the movie, it’s repeated how this betrayal has caused Raya to not trust anyone. And she wants to get revenge on Namaari and the Fang tribe the most.
Because being near a large body of water is a form of protection against the Druun, Raya has been seeking out all the rivers in Kumandra. When she gets to the last river, Raya calls out to the spirit of Sisu to help her. Just then, Sisu appears, to Raya’s shock. Sisu then transforms herself into a human, as a teenager with multicolored hair.
Raya is awestruck but she doesn’t lose focus on her mission. She tells Sisu about her plan to find all the missing pieces of the Dragon Gem. Sisu agrees to help her and mentions that her best magical ability is that she’s a “really strong swimmer.”
And so, Raya, Sisu and Tuk Tuk go on this adventure that’s fraught with danger but also filled with wonder and hope. Along the way, they meet some memorable characters. One of them is Boun (played by Izaac Wang), pronounced “boon,” a wisecracking 10 year-old boy who’s the captain of his own rickety-looking wooden ship. He calls himself Captain Boun, and he invites Raya, Sisu and Tuk Tuk to ride on the ship to wherever they need to go.
During this journey they also encounter a giant named Tong (voiced by Benedict Wong); Talon’s chief Dang Hai (played by Sung Kang); and Dang Hu (voiced by Lucille Soong), an elderly guide. For the “cute and cuddly factor” that’s a staple of Disney animated movies, there are some innocent-looking characters that commit some not-so-innocent acts: Noi (voiced by Thalia Tran) is a toddler with a habit of stealing items (and she steals lots of scenes too), and she hangs out with three Ongis, which are con-artist creatures that are part monkey, part catfish. And, of course, Namaari shows up again and finds out what Raya is planning to do.
“Raya and the Last Dragon” has overtones about world peace without being too preachy about it. It’s also a story about the capacity to forgive and how difficult it can be to overcome grudges when revenge for death, as well as hatred of a certain group of people, have become ingrained in someone’s soul or someone’s culture. A lot of these messages are wrapped up in the vibrant adventure aspect of the story, but these themes are constant throughout the entire film.
The movie has some commentary about hero worship and the dangers of exalting others to a degree that’s not always healthy or realistic. Sisu reveals some secrets about herself that give a different perspective on her mythical hero status. Awkwafina is a personality that people either seem to love or hate, but her raspy-voiced portrayal of Sisu suits the character well, considering that this dragon has lived for centuries.
Sisu is older and wiser than Raya, and offers some advice about forgiveness that Raya thinks is too naïve. This difference of opinion leads to some mild conflicts between Raya and Sisu, but they remain united in their goal to find the missing pieces of the Dragon Gem. Tran’s portrayal of Raya is relatable and engaging, while Chan also shines in her role as Raya’s enemy Namaari, whose loyalty to her Fang tribe is her greatest motivation and her greatest blind spot.
One of the main themes of Disney princess movies is how girls who seem ordinary can find something extraordinary in themselves during their journeys of self-discovery and while they learn some of life’s biggest lessons. “Raya and the Dragon” falls right in line with this theme. And because this is a Disney animated film, the visuals and the story are top-notch.
Is it a completely perfect movie? No. One of the things that isn’t adequately explained is how Raya and her father Benja seem to be the only people in Heart who are shown in the movie. There’s no real sense of what type of community Raya grew up in and what type of community she would go back to if she returned to Heart. It would have been a little better if the movie showed more of this social context in Heart, instead of making it look like Raya and Benja were the only people who mattered in Heart.
And the way the story is structured, viewers really do need to be paying full attention during the first 10 minutes, or else they’ll miss the informative descriptions of the different lands. (However, for very young kids or people who don’t care about world building, these descriptions won’t matter as much as the adventure story.) Sometimes when a movie has a lot of voice narration in the beginning to explain the plot, it doesn’t work. But fortunately, it works for “Raya and the Last Dragon.” Any of the movie’s minor flaws are far outweighed by this captivating story that is sure to inspire repeat viewings.
Walt Disney Animation Studios released “Raya and the Last Dragon” in U.S. cinemas and for a premium additional price on Disney+ on March 5, 2021.
Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional, underwater places of Bikini Bottom and the Lost City of Atlantic City, the live-action/animated film “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” features a predominantly white voice cast (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) in a comedic adventure story that’s part of the SpongeBob SquarePants franchise.
Culture Clash: SpongeBob SquarePants and his neighbor Patrick Star go on a mission to rescue SpongeBob’s best friend/pet snail Gary, which is being held captive by an egotistical overlord named King Poseidon.
Culture Audience: “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the SpongeBob SquarePants franchise and people who like family-friendly animation that can be enjoyed by various generations.
As the first computer-generated imagery (CGI) animated movie in the SpongeBob SquarePants franchise, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” is an exuberant and eye-catching adventure that makes up for some predictable moments with just enough unexpected zaniness to make it worth watching for anyone who appreciates earnestly goofy animation. It’s not necessary to see any episodes of the long-running Nickelodeon animated series “SpongeBob SquarePants” or its spinoff movies (“Sponge on the Run” is the third one in the film series) to enjoy the movie, although it certainly provides some better context for some of the relationships in the movie.
“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” has several scenes that are flashbacks to some of the characters’ childhoods. It’s an obvious promotion for “Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years,” the prequel spinoff “SpongeBob” TV series that launches on Paramount+ (formerly known as CBS All Access) on the same day that “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” is available on the streaming service. “Kamp Koral” focuses on what some of the main characters did as children at Kamp Koral, and “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” gives a sense of what people can get expect from this spinoff TV series.
Written and directed by Tim Hill, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” is the first “SpongeBob” movie to be released since the 2018 death of SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 57. The movie has a dedication to Hillenburg before the end credits. Compared to 2004’s “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” and 2015’s “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” there’s a slightly wackier vibe to “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run,” thanks in large part to an amusing featured role from Keanu Reeves.
Things in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom are what SpongeBob fans can expect: SpongeBob SquarePants (voiced by Tom Kenny), the cheerfully upbeat sponge protagonist, is still working as a fry cook at a fast-food restaurant called the Krusty Krab, which is owned by his cranky Scottish boss Mr. Krabs (voiced by Clancy Brown). The pessimistic Squidward Tentacles (voiced by Rodger Bumpass) also works at the Krusty Krab. The tiny green copepod named Plankton (voiced by Mr. Lawrence) and his computer wife Karen (played by Jill Talley) are still scheming to get the secret recipe formula for the Kristy Krab’s Krabby Patty burgers, in order to boost Plankton and Karen’s failing rival restaurant the Chum Bucket.
This time, there’s a new challenge: SpongeBob’s best friend/pet snail Gary (also voiced by Kenny, who makes Gary sound like a cat) is stolen by Plankton, who gives Gary to the vain and tyrannical King Poseidon (voiced by Matt Berry) because the king uses snail slime to keep his face looking youthful. King Poseidon ran out of snails and offered a reward to anyone who could provide him with a useful snail. Plankton sees that offer as an opportunity to try to get in the king’s good graces and get revenge on SpongeBob. King Poseidon lives at Poseidon Palace, which is located in the Lost City of Atlantic City.
What follows is a madcap trek that involves SpongeBob and his amiable starfish neighbor Patrick Star (voiced by Bill Fagerbakke) going on a mission to find and rescue Gary. Along the way, they end up in a Western ghost town, where they have some off-the-wall encounters with flesh-eating zombie pirates (portrayed by live actors), a rapping gambler (played by Snoop Dogg) and a villainous zombie cowboy called El Diablo (played by Danny Trejo). But some of the funniest scenes in the movie are with a giant, advice-giving tumbleweed named Sage that rolls into SpongeBob and Patrick’s lives when they first arrive in the ghost town. Sage is a tumbleweed with a talking head of Reeves inside the center.
Also part of these antics is a new automated computer robot named Otto (voiced by Awkwafina), which the brainy squirrel Sandy Cheeks (voiced by Carolyn Lawrence) has given as a gift to Mr. Krabs. However, Mr. Krabs quickly gets annoyed with Otto and throws the robot away. Otto ends up becoming a crucial part of how the story develops.
The movie also has some cameos of celebrities playing a version of themselves as underwater animated characters that work at a nightclub in the Lost City of Atlantic City. Tiffany Haddish appears briefly on stage as a wisecracking fish that’s a stand-up comedian named Tiffany Haddock. Jazz saxophonist Kenny G plays a plant called Kelpy G, which does a smooth jazz version of “My Heart Will Go On,” the theme from the 1997 movie “Titanic.” It’s a somewhat subversive song choice, considering “Titanic” is a disaster movie where most of the characters end up drowning in the ocean.
There are some other endearingly oddball and unexpected choices in the movie, such as a criminal trial that takes place at the nightclub. The King Poseidon character plays with masculine and feminine stereotypes, by blurring the lines between obsessions with machismo and obsessions with beauty products. It’s why King Poseidon is not a typical villain in an animated film.
“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” clearly knows its audience well, since it’s made for kids as well as adults. “SpongeBob SquarePants” has been on the air since 1999; therefore, many of the kids who grew up watching the show now have children of their own. It explains the inclusion of Reeves, Snoop Dogg, Kenny G and Danny Trejo as cameos, since these stars’ pop culture significance have a different meaning to people who are old enough remember the 1990s and early 2000s.
The movie’s very retro music soundtrack is definitely geared more to adults, with rock and pop tunes from the late 20th century, such as Foghat’s “Slow Ride,” Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” Weezer has two songs on the soundtrack: “It’s Always Summer in Bikini Bottom” and a cover version of a-ha’s “Take on Me” and the original song Also on the soundtrack is the Flaming Lips’ “Snail: I’m Avail.”
Mikros did the movie’s vivid CGI and animation, which is not as outstanding as a Pixar movie, but it’s better than most CGI animated films. Writer/director Hill moves things along at a brisk-enough pace, even though it’s very easy to know how the movie is going to end. “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” imparts a lot of positive messages of self-acceptance, but the characters have enough foibles and flaws to make the jokes relatable to viewers. Watch this movie if you like animated films and you’re up for an energetic diversion that might make you want more “SpongeBob” movies, regardless of how familiar or unfamiliar you might be with the franchise.
Paramount Pictures’ Paramount Animation and Nickelodeon Movies will release “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” on Paramount+ on March 4, 2021, the same date that Paramount Home Entertainment releases the movie on VOD. The movie was released in Canada in 2020.
Culture Representation: The animated film “Soul” features a racially diverse cast of characters (African American and white, with a few Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: An aspiring jazz musician has a purgatory-like experience where he fights to save his life while encountering a cynical soul that doesn’t want to be born in any body.
Culture Audience: “Soul” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in philosophical stories about the meaning of life that are wrapped in a bright and shiny package of a Disney/Pixar animated movie.
Pixar Animation Studios has long been the gold standard for groundbreaking and crowd-pleasing movie animation, with several Oscars and blockbuster films to prove it. Pixar launched in 1986, and was acquired by the Walt Disney Company in 2006. But it wasn’t until 2020 that Pixar released its first movie with an African American as the lead character. That movie is “Soul,” which does what Pixar does best: blend stunning visuals with sentimental, family-friendly messages. However, the movie isn’t quite the innovative cultural breakthrough that it’s hyped up to be.
“Soul” (directed by Pete Docter and co-directed by Kemp Powers) follows a lot of the same thematic tropes that are in a lot of Pixar movies: Someone has to cope with death and/or find a way back home. In order to reach that goal, the protagonist encounters someone who usually has an opposite personality. For any variety of reasons, the two opposite personalities are stuck together on a journey. And they spend most of the story bickering and/or trying to learn how to work together.
In “Soul,” the main protagonist is Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle-aged, aspiring jazz pianist in New York City who hasn’t been able to fulfil his dream of becoming a professional musician. Instead, to pay his bills, Joe has become a teacher of band music at a public middle school called M.S. 70, where almost all of the students in his class are less-than-talented at playing music. Joe isn’t particularly happy with how his life has turned out, but he hasn’t lost his passion for playing jazz. It’s a passion that almost no one else shares in his life.
Joe tells his students about the life-changing experience he had as a boy when his father took him to a nightclub to see jazz performed live for the first time. It was the first time that Joe understood the joy of turning a passion into something that can be shared with others. Joe describes to his students how he felt when he saw the jazz musicians expressing themselves in their performance: “I wanted to learn how to talk like that. That’s when I knew I was born to play.”
Joe then says to a student, “Connie knows what I mean. Right, Connie?” Connie (voiced by Cora Champommier) deadpans in response: “I’m 12.” This won’t be the last time Connie will be in the movie, since she represents whether or not Joe has made an impact on any of his students.
Joe, who is an only child, is somewhat of a disappointment to his widowed mother Libba (voiced by Phylicia Rashad), who owns a custom tailor shop. Libba has grown tired of seeing Joe in a series of dead-end, part-time jobs that don’t pay very well. Joe’s father was also an aspiring musician, but he gave up his music dreams because of the financial obligations of raising a family. Joe is a bachelor with no children, so it’s been easier for him to not feel as much pressure to get a full-time job that pays well.
One day, M.S. 70’s Principal Arroyo (voiced by Jeannie Tirado) tells Joe that the school would like to offer him a full-time job as the band teacher. However, Joe isn’t all that excited about the offer, because it means that he’ll have less time to pursue what he really wants to be: a professional musician playing in a real band. Privately, he thinks about whether or not he should accept the offer.
When Joe tells Libba about this job offer, she thinks he’s crazy not to take the offer right away. Libba reminds Joe that a full-time job comes with insurance benefits and a retirement plan, which are things that she thinks Joe needs to have now that he’s reached a certain age. Joe reluctantly agrees to take the school’s full-time job offer.
But then, something unexpected happens that changes his life when he gets a chance to become a professional musician. A former student of his named Lamont “Curley” Baker (voiced by Ahmir-Khalib Thompson, also known as Questlove) calls Joe and tells him that he’s now a drummer for the Dorothea Williams Quartet, a famous group that is in the city for a tour performance. Curley thanks Joe for his mentorship and excitedly mentions to Joe that the band’s regular pianist suddenly “skipped town” and can’t be found.
Curley says that Joe would be the perfect replacement for this pianist for the band’s show that will take place that evening at the Half Note, a popular jazz nightclub. Curley invites Joe to go to the nightclub for an audition. Curley says that if Dorothea Williams likes what she hears from Joe, then Joe could become the permanent pianist for the Dorothea Williams Quartet. Needless to say, Joe is ecstatic but also nervous.
Dorothea (voiced by Angela Bassett) is a hard-to-please taskmaster. And she’s not impressed that Joe has been working as a school teacher, because she thinks it means he isn’t talented enough to be a professional musician. But once Dorothea hears Joe play, she changes her mind and says he can perform with the band that night. She keeps cool about it and doesn’t want to lavish too much praise on Joe.
Joe is so excited about this big break that he calls people on his phone to tell them the good news, while he’s walking down various streets. Joe is so distracted that he doesn’t notice several things that could get him injured. He narrowly misses getting hit by a car when he walks into traffic. He avoids getting hurt by construction work happening on a street where he walks.
But a misfortune that Joe literally falls into is a deep and open manhole that he doesn’t notice while he’s talking on the phone. Joe wakes up in a purgatory-like environment where he finds out that he “died” from this fall. His soul and other souls (which look like ghostly blue blobs) are headed to a place called the Great Beyond, which is implied to be heaven.
However, Joe doesn’t want to accept this fate, and he runs away and tries to hide. What he really wants to do is go back to Earth, have his soul reunited with his body, and recover from his injuries in time to make it to the Dorothea Williams Quartet performance. He believes that this performance is his only shot at fulfilling his dream of becoming a professional musician.
Joe tries to hide in the purgatory, but he’s quickly discovered by spirit-like entities called counselors that look like two-dimensional, bisected figures. Several of the counselors (with male and female voices) are named Counselor Jerry. Alice Braga and Richard Ayoade voice the two Counselor Jerry characters that have the most interaction with Joe. Braga’s Counselor Jerry character is empathetic and patient. Ayoade’s Counselor Jerry character is wisecracking and neurotic. Other actors who are the voices of Counselor Jerry characters include Fortune Feimster, Wes Studi and Zenobia Shroff.
Joe finds out that he hasn’t died yet, but his body is in a “holding pattern,” and he’s in a place called the Great Before, also known as the You Seminar. It’s a place where each soul is numbered and assigned a unique personality before being sent to Earth to inhabit a body. In addition to personality traits, each soul must have a “spark,” in order to be ready to be sent to Earth. In the You Seminar, each soul is assigned a mentor to inspire that spark. (The word “spark” in the movie is another way of saying a person’s biggest passion in life.)
Joe already knows what his spark is (playing music), but through a series of events, he ends up becoming the mentor for a soul whose name/number is 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), who is an especially difficult soul because she doesn’t want to be live in anybody on Earth and she wants to stay where she is. She’s very stubborn and likes to cause a lot of mischief. (Technically, 22 could be interpreted as having no gender, but since a woman was chosen to voice the character, 22 will be referred to as “she” and “her” in this review.)
Joe finds out that 22 has had several mentors who tried and failed to help 22 find her spark. The mentors include Mahatma Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Marie Antoinette, Nicolaus Copernicus and Muhammad Ali. There’s a brief montage sequence that shows how 22 aggravated and disappointed all of her famous mentors. And 22 is so insufferable, cynical and bratty that even Mother Teresa ran out of patience with her.
And so, the rest of the movie is about these two souls who have different agendas and have to find a way to work together. One soul desperately wants to go back to Earth to reunite with his body, while the other soul desperately does not want to go to Earth to avoid inhabiting any body. There’s also a running joke in the film about a very nitpicky, uptight spirit named Terry (voiced by Rachel House), who works as an accountant in the purgatory and notices that a soul (Joe) is missing from the expected Great Beyond population. Terry goes on the hunt to find this missing soul.
“Soul” has a lot of metaphors not just about life after death but also about life on Earth. There’s a subplot about “lost souls” on Earth. And during Joe and 22’s time together, they encounter a soul who’s an aging hippie type named Moonwind (played by Graham Norton), who is the captain of a ship of souls.
What works very well in “Soul,” as is the case of almost every Pixar film, is how the film looks overall. When Joe describes the elation he felt the first time he discovered his passion for music, the screen lights up with an engaging vibrancy of sights and sounds. There are also some almost-psychedelic representations of what the You Seminar looks like that give “Soul” an immersive quality. The human characters look very lifelike. And it all adds up to a very memorable animated film.
“Soul” is not without flaws, however. The movie has a few plot holes that aren’t really explained. For example, there’s a scene in the movie where 22 tells Joe that souls without a body do not have the use of human senses, which is why 22 doesn’t know what it’s like to smell, taste or touch. However, it’s never explained why 22 (and other souls without bodies) have the senses of sight and hearing. Why bother saying that souls in this story cannot have human senses, when the souls can obviously see and hear?
Docter won an Oscar for the 2015 Pixar film “Inside Out,” another existential movie with a plot revolving around the concept that people are unique because of personalities and interests. “Soul” has lot of philosophies about what makes someone human and what a human being’s purpose is in life. Both movies can be enjoyed by people of different generations. However, the storyline of “Soul” is riskier and potentially more alienating.
“Soul” is not a religious movie, but it’s literally a spiritual movie. Its plot and characters are based on spiritual beliefs that when people die, their souls go to another place that can’t be seen by living humans, or souls could be stuck on Earth as “ghosts.” Therefore, what happens in “Soul” won’t have as much of an emotional impact on atheists or other people who believe that death is final and who think that there is no such thing as a soul that can leave a body.
There’s a reincarnation subplot to the “Soul” that isn’t as funny as it could have been, mainly because one of the characters is reincarnated as a cat. There have already been plenty of movies that have over-used the gimmick of a non-human animal that can talk and think like a human. The world has more than enough “talking animals” movies.
As for “Soul” being touted as a racial breakthrough in Pixar animation, the movie falls short of many expectations that Joe’s life as an African American musician would be in the movie more than it actually is. This part of Joe’s identity is only shown as “bookends,” in service of a story that’s really about how Joe can help redeem 22, so that she will want to become a fully formed person with a “spark.”
In fact, Joe’s quest to go back to becoming a living, breathing human being often takes a back seat to 22 and her shenanigans. Joe doesn’t become completely sidelined, since he’s still the main character who’s in almost every scene of the movie. But there are many moments in “Soul” where it feels like the filmmakers deliberately made 22 the scene stealer, while Joe passively reacts to whatever 22 does or wants.
These creative decisions are a bit problematic when Disney and Pixar seem to have a self-congratulatory attitude in promoting “Soul” as the first Pixar movie to celebrate African American culture. Well, it’s not exactly a celebration. It’s more of a polite acknowledgement, because for most of the movie, Joe isn’t even in his own body.
It should be noted that “Soul” was written by Docter (who is white), Powers (who is African American) and Mike Jones (who is white). The vast majority of people on the “Soul” creative team are also white, including producer Dana Murray and chief composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Jonathan “Jon” Batiste,” who is African American, did the jazz compositions for “Soul,” but not the overall music score. The music of “Soul” is perfectly fine, but it just seems a bit “off” that the filmmakers couldn’t be bothered to hire any of the numerous qualified African Americans to be the chief composers for this movie about an African American musician. Make of that what you will, but that’s why people say that representation matters.
And it seems like such a waste for “Soul” to not feature the singing talents of Foxx, who plays a musician but not a singer in this movie. (Foxx is a piano player in real life too.) He does a very good job in the role, as do the other “Soul” cast members. However, Joe is at times written as a sidekick to 22, when 22 should be the sidekick throughout the entire time that Joe and 22 are together. It isn’t until the last 20 minutes of “Soul” that the Joe character reclaims the spot as the central focus of the story.
“Soul” certainly meets Pixar’s high standards of a visually compelling film that tackles heavy emotional issues in an entertaining way. The movie has a lot of musing about the meaning of life and positive messages about self-acceptance. These themes in “Soul” are, for the most part, handled well for a movie whose target audience includes a lot of kids who are too young to have deep, philosophical debates. Just don’t expect “Soul” to have major representation of African American culture in the way that Pixar’s “Coco” celebrated Mexican culture.
Disney+ premiered “Soul” on December 25, 2020. The movies was released in cinemas in countries where Disney+ is not available.
Culture Representation: The animated film sequel “The Croods: A New Age” features a cast of characters representing humans who live in a world somewhere between prehistoric and modern and where over-sized animals exist.
Culture Clash: The caveperson family from “The Croods” encounters a New Age family with modern amenities and a superior attitude to people who live in caves.
Culture Audience: “The Croods: A New Age” will appeal primarily to people looking for lightweight animated entertainment that people of many different ages and backgrounds can enjoy.
Although not as cohesively written as 2013’s animated cavedweller comedy “The Croods,” the 2020 sequel “The Croods: A New Age” checks all the right boxes for escapist entertainment but offers some sly social commentary on the hypocrisy of self-appointed “hipster lifestyle” gurus. “The Croods: A New Age” pokes fun at so-called “enlightened” people who think they’re open-minded, but are really very bigoted against other people who don’t have the same lifestyles as they do. It’s this culture conflict that takes up a good deal of the movie’s plot until the last third of the movie where it delivers a predictable, crowd-pleasing “race against time” rescue scenario.
Directed by Joel Crawford, “The Croods: A New Age” picks up not long after where “The Croods” ended. The cavedweller Crood family from the first “Croods” movie is still intact: Grug (voiced by Nicolas Cage) is still an over-protective patriarch who thinks he always knows best. Grug’s wife Ugga (voiced by Catherine Keener) is still the sensible, more even-tempered spouse in the marriage. Ugga’s mother Gran (voiced by Cloris Leachman) is still a sassy, outspoken grandmother.
Grug and Ugga’s three children also have the same personalities: Eldest child Eep (voiced by Emma Stone) is an adventurous, independent-minded daughter in her late teens; middle child Thunk (voiced by Clark Duke) is likable but a somewhat dimwitted guy in his mid-teens; and youngest child Sandy (voiced by Kailey Crawford), who would be kindergarten-age if these kids went to school, isn’t old enough to have meaningful conversations, so she’s mainly in the movie to look adorable.
The Croods also have a relatively new member of their clan, or “pack,” as they like to call their familial group: Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), an orphaned human from the modern world who spent most of the first “Croods” movie being the target of disapproval by Grug, especially when Guy and Eep fell in love with each other. Guy has now been accepted into the Croods pack. Eep and Guy, who are about the same age as each other, are still blissfully in love.
Guy and Eep are thinking of taking their relationship to the next level (getting their own place together, getting married, and starting their own family), but Grug doesn’t want Guy and Eep to leave the pack to start their own lives. “Eep will never leave us!” Grug declares to Ugga early in the movie. Ugga is more realistic about Eep eventually moving out of the family domain, but she doesn’t press the issue either way.
Guy and the Croods are still on their journey to find a promised land called Tomorrow, which Guy says is a utopia that he knew about when he was a child and when his parents were still alive. The land of Tomorrow is a place where dreams can come true, food is plentiful, and people don’t have the daily struggles of trying to survive the harsh environment that’s a way of life for cavedwellers.
And lo and behold, they end up finding Tomorrow. It’s a world filled with colorful plants, butterflies and creature comforts such as indoor plumbing. (There’s a joke scene in the movie where the cavedwellers marvel at how a toilet works.) But is Tomorrow really the paradise that Guy described? They’re about to find out.
The first two people they meet upon arriving in tomorrow are a married couple named Phil Betterman (voiced by Peter Dinklage) and Hope Betterman (voiced by Leslie Mann), who look and dress like New Age hippies but have the thinly veiled, condescending attitude of uptight bigots. Hope is the more insulting one of the two spouses. Upon meeting the Croods, she says, “I thought cave people died off years ago!”
It turns out that Guy already knows Phil and Hope Betterman because the spouses were the best friends of Guy’s parents, who died in a tar catastrophe, and the Bettermans raised Guy until he was old enough to be on his own. When Guy lived with the Bettermans, he was a close friend to their only child, a daughter named Dawn (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran), who is friendly and somewhat tomboyish. Needless to say, the entire Betterman family is ecstatic to see Guy again.
However, Phil and Hope are disappointed that Guy is in a relationship with Eep, partly because this snooty couple looks down on cavedwellers but mostly because they want Dawn and Guy to end up together. Phil and Hope concoct various matchmaker schemes to try to achieve that goal. Just like Grug was extremely paranoid and overprotective of Eep in “The Croods,” so too are Phil and Hope when it comes to Dawn. The Betterman spouses shield Dawn from the outside world because they don’t want her associating with people such as cavedwellers.
“The Croods: The New Age” could have gone down a very tiresome and predictable path with this love-triangle story, by pitting Dawn and Eep against each other in a catty rivalry. Instead, Dawn and Eep become immediate friends, but that has a lot to do with the fact that Dawn really isn’t interested in having a romance with Guy. Dawn’s parents keep pushing her in that direction though, because they think Guy is too good to be with a cavedweller such as Eep.
Publicly, Hope and Phil are polite to the Croods. Privately, Hope and Phil are appalled by the Croods’ primitive ways. The Croods are sloppy eaters, they have a tendency to burst through the walls instead of opening doors, and they’re sometimes loud and unruly. Hope says to Phil at one point in the story: “I don’t know if cave people belong in the modern world.”
Meanwhile, Phil finds out he and Grug have a common wish: They both don’t want Guy to end up marrying Eep. And so, Phil manipulates Grug into scheming with him to break up Eep and Guy. However, when Ugga finds out about this plan, she gets upset with Grug and makes him see that he’s just being used and that Phil and Hope must think that they’re stupid.
The movie tends to drag when it becomes about this social-class warfare between “modern” Phil and Hope and “primitive” Grug and Ugga. It’s an obvious metaphor for the political divides that can exist between liberal elites and those whom the elites think of as “less progressive” or “backwards.” Likewise, the movie continues the notion from the first “Croods” movie that people who are stuck in their ways can be a detriment to themselves and the people around them.
“The Croods: A New Age” doesn’t take sides or make political statements, because both couples act in less-than-wonderful ways during the story. However, there’s a definite message in the movie about hypocrisy: People who think they’re well-meaning in trying to instill their lifestyle beliefs on others can end up rudely treating those who don’t share the same beliefs as “outsiders” who deserve to be disrespected. And mostly, the movie is about tolerance for other people’s lifestyle choices if those choices aren’t hurting anyone.
Four people (Kevin Hageman, Dan Hageman, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan) are credited with writing the screenplay for “The Croods: A New Age.” And the movie does have a tone of “too many cooks in the kitchen” in how this entire story is constructed. The last third of the movie tries to cram in a lot of action in a somewhat messy way. It’s as if the filmmakers remembered that children with short attention spans are a sizeable percentage of the movie’s audience, and the filmmakers felt obligated to pack in some suspenseful chase scenes in this sometimes rambling and unfocused story.
“The Croods: A New Age” director Crawford makes his feature-film directorial debut with this movie, after years of working as a story artist for several animated films, including the first three “Kung Fu Panda” movies, “Trolls” and “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.” Visually, “The Croods: A New Age” looks better than “The Croods,” because of advances in digital animation since the first “Croods” movie was released. In terms of story, this sequel is inferior to the original, because it’s a little bit all over the place. The plot jumps from the possible love triangle to the tension over social classes to a somewhat bonkers rescue mission that involves a feud over stolen bananas, punch monkeys, Gran losing her wig, and the kidnapping of some of the story’s main characters.
The voice actors elevate the sometimes banal dialogue, with Mann and Cage standing out in their portrayals of the movie’s two characters who have the most opposite personalities (Hope and Grug) in the story. Stone as Eep and Reynolds as Guy also give very good performances, but the love story of Eep and Guy is often overshadowed by the bickering among the rival married couples. And speaking of being overshadowed, the Croods’ two youngest kids (Thunk and Sandy) aren’t given much to do, and their characters have no bearing on this movie’s plot, which essentially wastes the talent of Duke and Crawford.
Musically, “The Croods: A New Age” benefits from the fun score by Mark Mothersbaugh and the selectively spare use of pop songs. (For pop-music overload in animated films, people can watch DreamWorks Animation’s “Trolls” movies.) The Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You” and Tenacious D’s memorable cover version of the song are put to good use in key scenes in “The Croods: A New Age.” The movie isn’t going to win any major awards, but it fulfills its purpose in being a reasonably entertaining diversion for people who like comedic adventure animation.
Universal Pictures/DreamWorks Animation released “The Croods: A New Age” in U.S. cinemas on November 25, 2020.
Directed by Sung-ho Hong, with co-direction from Moo-Hyun Jang and Young Sik Uhm
Culture Representation: This animated re-imagination of the “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” features an all-white cast of characters.
Culture Clash: The Seven Dwarfs are cursed by a spell that has made them into dwarfs, and Snow White’s evil stepmother wants possession of the red shoes worn Snow White, because the shoes can make someone look young and beautiful .
Culture Audience: “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs” will appeal to anyone who’s a fan of the original “Snow White” fairy tale and anyone who’s looking for a mildly entertaining and predictable reimagination of this classic.
Imagine the classic fairytale “Snow White” reimagined as a story about the importance of judging people for who they are rather than for their physical appearances. It’s this positive message that uplifts the lightweight and mostly enjoyable animated “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs,” which can be entertaining to watch for people of any generation. The story will be completely predictable to adults, but the appealing animation and the briskly paced adventure aspects of the story (the movie is 92 minutes long) should keep most viewers interested from beginning to end.
Written and directed by Sung-ho Hong (and co-directed by Moo-Hyun Jang and Young Sik Uhm), “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs” begins with a twist on the origin story of the Seven Dwarfs. It’s explained that they used to be tall, good looking young men who were members of a heroic group known as the Fearless Seven. They are described as “the greatest heroes of Fairy Tale Island.”
However, one day the Fearless Seven made the mistake of attacking a fairy princess who looked like a witch, so she cursed them by turning them into green dwarfs. The only way to break this curse is for them to get a kiss from the most beautiful girl in the world. Feminists might cringe at this aspect of the story, but if you’re easily offended by stories that have old-fashioned ideas of the roles of males and females, then avoid fairy tales altogether.
The Seven Dwarfs (formerly known as the Fearless Seven) have become outcasts in society and their only mission now is to find the most beautiful girl in the world. As far as the world is concerned, the Fearless Seven have disappeared and have been missing for more than a year by the time that the Seven Dwarfs meet Snow White. The Seven Dwarfs are so ashamed of how they look that they deny that they are the Fearless Seven if anyone suspects that they are.
The Seven Dwarfs are Merlin, the group’s friendly leader (voiced by Sam Claflin); Arthur (voiced by Simon Kassianides), the often-impulsive warrior who tries to pull his Excalibur sword out of a stone; Jack (voiced by Frederik Hamel), a finicky Frenchman; Hans (voiced by Nolan North), a gung-ho German; and triplets Pino, Noki and Kio (voiced by Frank Todero), who are relegated to sidekick roles with personalities that can’t be distinguished from one another.
Meanwhile, an evil witch named Regina (voiced by Gina Gershon) has a pair of high-heled red shoes that have the power to make the person wearing them look young, thin and conventionally beautiful. These shoes are her most-prized possession because wearing the shoes can changes Regina’s appearance from a mean-looking old hag (her real physical appearance) to someone whose physical appearance is in keeping with conventional standards of beauty.
Snow White (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz) is a princess who lives with her widower father, the king of the land. The major difference between this Snow White and other versions of Snow White is that this Snow White happens to be plus-sized and self-conscious about her looks. However, her father accepts and loves her for exactly who she is. At the beginning of the story, Snow White has just turned 18 and is set to inherit adult royal duties.
And it’s around this time that Regina shows up in town with a strange mirror, and people in the town start mysteriously disappearing. Regina, who has disguised herself as a beautiful young woman (thanks to wearing the red shoes), has found a way to charm the king and get him to marry her, but the king disappears not long after the marriage. Snow White finds the magical red shoes, turns into a thin and conventional pretty young woman, and flies away on a broom to look for her father. An enraged Regina then does what she can in her royal stepmother power to find Snow White and the red shoes.
During Snow White’s quest to find her father, she encounters the Seven Dwarfs. They think she could be the most beautiful girl in the world. Therefore, much of the movie revolves around the Seven Dwarfs trying to find out if Snow White is the one who can break their curse. Meanwhile, because she has other people do the dirty work for her, she is seen back at the castle with her talking Magic Mirror (voiced by Patrick Warburton), which gives her advice on what to do next.
Snow White has been declared a fugitive thief, so when she meets the Seven Dwarfs, she lies and tells them her name is Red Shoes. She wants them to help her find her father, but they don’t want to admit that they’re the heroic group called the Fearless Seven. However, they all have to dodge people who are out to get Snow White, since there’s a reward for anyone who can capture her.
There’s kind of a cringeworthy scene were Arthur awkwardly tries to kiss Snow White/Red Shoes, but she’s resistant because she’s not attracted to him at all. And it should come as no surprise to people looking for a fairy tale romance in this story that Snow White falls for another dwarf in the group. It’s very easy to guess who it is. The movie plays around a lot with the idea of whether or not this budding romance will survive if Snow White and her would-be beau have their true physical selves revealed to each other.
There’s also a subplot of a spoiled royal named Prince Average (voiced by Jim Rash), who is throwing a birthday party for himself, and he’s obsessed with getting “beautiful people” to attend his party. What he wants most is for a beautiful princess to be his date for the party, so he sends his minions to go out and find one and bring her back to him. It’s really not all that much different from real life, when rich people hire supermodels to be at their parties.
In fact, some parts of “Red Shoes” have some underlying sly commentary about how shallow people can become so obsessed with youth and beauty that it can turn them into soulless people who lose sight of what really matters in life. This isn’t a movie that needs to be over-analyzed, but there is an interesting metaphor that can be found between the Magic Mirror and what’s going with a lot of people who over-use Instagram and other social media for ego validation. “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs” essentially has the message that people who put a fake image of themselves out there the world so that they can be rewarded for it in some way end up doing the most damage to themselves.
In an animation world where movies from Pixar, Disney Animation and DreamWorks Animation get most of the major awards and blockbuster sales, “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs” (from Locus Animation Studio) isn’t going to make a dent in that domination. However, the animation and other visuals in “Red Shoes” are very good for a movie that has the fraction of the budget that a movie from Pixar, Disney Animation or DreamWorks Animation would have.
If “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs” looks and sounds very influenced by Disney, that might be because the movie’s character design and animation direction are by Jin Kim, whose credits include the Disney animated films “Fantasia 2000,” “Frozen II” and “Tangled.” Also complementing the film well is the musical score by Geoff Zanelli, whose movies credits include the Disney live-action films “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” However, there are elements of “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarves” that are also influenced by a film from a Disney rival: DreamWorks Animation’s first “Shrek” movie.
The subplot with Prince Average makes the story a little cluttered at times, but the movie doesn’t drag too much and there’s enough humor in it so that it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously. And as is the case with many reimagined fairy tales that have been updated with modern sensibilities, this Snow White is definitely not a damsel in distress who needs to be rescued by a prince at the end of the story.
Disney’s 1937 animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” stuck to the fairy tale that had traditional gender roles in who does the rescuing. The overall message of “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs” has a more impactful message about how true love can be found if it isn’t based solely on how someone looks and if you have self-acceptance first.
Lionsgate released “Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs” on digital and VOD on September 18, 2020, and on Blu-ray and DVD and September 22, 2020.
Available in the original Japanese version (with English subtitles) or in a dubbed English-language version.
Culture Representation: This Japanese animated fantasy film takes place primarily in an unnamed Japanese city, with teenagers as the lead characters and adults as supporting characters, representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A teenage girl, whose scientist parents work at a local aquarium, encounters two mysterious aquatic teenage boys who were found at sea and who want to get away from the scientific experiments that have forced on them.
Culture Audience: “Children of the Sea” is a family-friendly film that will appeal mostly to fans of Japanese anime and animated adventure films.
The gorgeous Japanese animated film “Children of the Sea” immerses viewers into a fantasy world that compares and contrasts life on land and life underwater, but there’s a very “real world” environmental message that is present throughout the story. Directed with both enchanting whimsy and technical prowess by Ayumu Watanabe, “Children of the Sea” has some eye-popping animated visuals that deserve to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Daisuke Igarashi wrote the “Children of the Sea” adapted screenplay from his manga of the same title.
The story, which takes place in an unnamed Japanese city. is told from the point of view of a teenage girl named Ruka Azumi (who’s about 15 or 16 years old) during her summer break from regular school sessions. Her vacation gets off to a rocky start when Ruka, who is a rugby player for her school, is wrongfully accused of starting a fight with a fellow student during rugby practice. The other student, who was playing on the opposing team, was the one who was the physical aggressor, because she deliberately tripped Ruka during the game.
A supervising teacher calls Ruka into his office and scolds her for being a “troublemaker.” He doesn’t want to hear Ruka’s excuse that the bullying student was the one who started the fight. And he tells Ruka that if she won’t apologize to the other student, then Ruka shouldn’t bother coming to practice anymore.
Feeling dejected and misunderstood, Ruka decides to go to Enokura Aquarium where her father Masaki works as a scientist. Ruka has happy memories of spending her childhood at the aquarium. One of these memories, which is shown at the beginning of the movie, is when Ruka saw a ghost in the aquarium. Her father is one of the aquarium’s scientists who evaluate aquatic life and do experiments, such as seeing how dolphins respond to certain sounds.
While at the aquarium, Ruka discovers a friendly teenage boy in a back room. He’s about the same age as Ruka, and his name is Umi. He shows Yuka that he has an extraordinary ability to swim and float underwater for long periods of time without any breathing equipment. Ruka is very intrigued by Umi and wants to become his friend.
Ruka’s father tells her that Umi was found 10 years ago with another boy off of the shores of the Philippines. Scientists discovered that Umi and the other boy (who is slightly older than Umi) were raised primarily underwater by dugongs. The boys, who are apparently orphaned and raised as brothers by the dugongs, were kept at the aquarium for research.
One evening, Umi invites Ruka to go with him to see a will o’ the wisp at the beach. Ruka is surprised to see what she thinks is a comet or shooting star, but Ruka insists that it’s a will o’ the wisp. He also tells Ruka that animals shine when they want to be found.
While at the beach, Ruka sees the teenager who is described as Umi’s adoptive older brother: His name is Sora, whose skin is so pale that at first Ruka thinks that Sora is a ghost. Sora has blonde hair and blue eyes, which implies that he’s of European descent, while Umi has the appearance of being Filipino. It’s never explained in the movie how Umi and Sora ended up being stranded at sea together, since both boys don’t seem to have any memories of their human families.
Unlike the amicable reaction that Ruka got from Umi when they first met, the first time she meets Sora, he’s rude to her. Sora tells Ruka that she’s “boring.” He adds, “Umi has me. He’s not interested in you.” It also becomes clear as the story unfolds that Sora is more rebellious and more impulsive than Umi.
Sora is growing tired of being a research subject and wants to spend less time away from the aquarium. This restlessness is one of the main reasons why Sora, Umi and Ruka end up taking a joyride on a boat. It isn’t until they’re in the middle of the sea and that Sora admits he doesn’t know how to sail the boat and he was just winging it as they went along. And so, when the boat’s engine mysteriously stalls, the three teens don’t know how to fix it.
It’s during this fateful boat ride that Ruka discovers Umi’s and Sora’s seemingly magical powers to communicate with the aquatic creatures. She also gets to experience underwater life for the first time in some of the movie’s most visually stunning sequences, including seeing whale shark creatures. Sora eventually warms up to Ruka, but he still feels leery about anyone he thinks might try to break his brotherly bond with Umi.
It’s implied that Ruka has special powers too, but she isn’t fully aware of them yet. Meanwhile, Umi and Sora tells her that numerous creatures in the ocean will be gathering for a Birth Festival underwater and are looking for festival guests. Sora says he’s been traveling the world with a scientist named Jim to research the festival’s connection to Umi and Sora.
The trio makes it back to shore, but it won’t be the last time Ruka, Umi and Sora go out to sea together and experience dangerous situations. There’s a boat they use called the Rwa Bhineda that is a key part of their adventures together. One of the people they encounter near the boat is Angurâdo, a young man who wants to be Jim’s assistant.
There’s also an aquarium scientist named Anglade, who wants to keep Umi and Somi at the aquarium for research, even though it’s becoming obvious that the teenagers are growing into young men and want more independence. And there’s a town eccentric named Dehdeh, an elderly woman with apparent psychic abilities.
Ruka is close to her father, but she has a tense relationship with her mother Kanako, a scientist who also works at the aquarium but is on a leave of absence. The reason is because she’s an alcoholic, which is a secret that has brought shame to the family and has caused Ruka to have resentful feelings toward her mother. Kanako’s work colleagues describe her as “brilliant,” but Ruka doesn’t have much respect for her mother because of how Kanako’s alcoholism has negatively affected the family. It’s one of the reasons why Ruka doesn’t like to spend much time at home.
“Children of the Sea” has subtle and not-so-subtle environmental messages about the world being destroyed by humans’ recklessness and greed. Climate change and how it’s affecting the environment are on display when a megamouth shark and hundreds of fish wash up dead on near the aquarium. A typhoon suddenly occurs during one part of the story. And the movie has constant themes of urgent messages that aquatic animals are trying to communicate with humans.
STUDIO4°C, the animation studio behind “Children of the Sea,” infuses this story of teen rebellion meets environmentalism with a lot of reverential images of aquatic life. Creatures such as dolphins and whales are portrayed as just as intelligent (and sometimes smarter) than humans. And underwater life, although certainly not a utopia, is presented as a lot more harmonious and tranquil than the land inhabited by destructive humans.
The animation also takes risks by having some truly psychedelic imagery toward the end of the movie. Joe Hisaishi’s musical score perfectly complements the mood of each scene. And even though “Children of the Sea” is longer than a typical animated film (the total running time is 111 minutes), director Watanabe makes it a well-paced story. Some of the characters are more layered than others, so viewers will want to keep watching to see what it all means in the end. (There’s also an end credits scene that shows an epilogue to the story.)
The voices of the “Children of the Sea” characters are portrayed by different actors, depending on the version of “Children of the Sea.” The original Japanese version (with English subtitles) has Mana Ashida as Ruka, Hiiro Ishibashi as Umi, Seishu Uragami as Sora, Win Morisaki as Anglade, Goro Inagaki as Masaki Azumi, Yu Aoi as Kanako Azumi, Toru Watanabe as The Teacher, Min Tanaka as Jim and Sumiko Fuji as Dehdeh. There’s also a U.S. version, with the dialogue dubbed in English, that has Anjali Gauld as Ruka, Lynden Prosser as Umi, Benjamin Niewood/Benjamin Niedens as Sora, Beau Bridgland as Anglade, as Marc Thompson as Masaki Azumi, Karen Strassman as Kanako Azumi, Wally Wingert as The Teacher, Michael Sorich as Jim and Denise Lee as Dehdeh.
Some adults might think that animation is mostly for kids, but “Children of the Sea” is a great example of an animated film that can tell an intriguing story that’s relatable to people of any generation. It’s clear that the movie has a viewpoint that if aquatic animals could talk, they would be begging humans to treat the underwater world with more respect because how underwater life is treated affects us all. The movie’s environmental message isn’t preachy, but it shows how people on land are connected to the life that’s underwater and how lessons learned from the past can shape the future.
GKIDS released “Children of the Sea” on digital, Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix on September 1, 2020.
Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in California’s Venice Beach and other parts of the universe, the animated film “Scoob!” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A villain is out to kidnap Scooby-Doo, the lovable, talking Great Dane that’s the best friend of one of the four young people who’ve started a detective agency called Mystery Inc.
Culture Audience: “Scoob!” will appeal primarily to fans of the original “Scooby Doo” TV cartoon series and to people who are looking for lightweight animation for entertainment.
People who loved the original “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” TV series should brace themselves if they see the animated film “Scoob!,” because the uncomplicated charm of the TV show has been turned into a overly busy, often-mediocre film that has a serious identity crisis. The “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” TV series was essentially a detective show, with each mystery solved at the end of each episode. The “Scoob!” movie tries to be too many things at once—a comedy, a mystery, a superhero story, a supernatural horror movie and a sci-fi adventure. But the worst change in the “Scoob!” movie is that Scooby-Doo and the four young detectives at the heart of the “Scooby-Doo” series are split up for most of the “Scoob!” movie.
“Scoob!” begins with showing how the talking Great Dane known as Scooby-Doo ended up with his best friend Shaggy. In the bohemian beach city of Venice, California, a homeless Great Dane puppy is being chased by a bicycle cop and hides out in a mound of sand on the beach. It just so happens that a lonely boy named Norville “Shaggy” Rogers (who’s about 9 or 10 years old) is nearby on the same beach and discovers the dog.
Shaggy names the dog Scooby Dooby Doo. And when the bicycle cop catches up to the dog, Shaggy convinces the cop that he’s the dog’s rightful owner. Shaggy takes Scooby home with him, and they become fast friends. As a token of their friendship, Shaggy gives Scooby a dog collar with a tag engraved with the initials “SD” on it.
Shaggy’s favorite superhero is Blue Falcon, who has a canine sidekick named Dynomutt. Shaggy keeps action figures and pictures of them in his room. Shaggy is such a fan that, for Halloween, he dresses up as Blue Falcon and Scooby as Dynomutt. While they’re out trick-or-treating, some kid bullies steal Shaggy’s candy and knock him and Scooby down on the sidewalk as they run away.
It’s here that Shaggy and Scooby first meet the three young people who will become their close friends: brawny Fred, compassionate Daphne and brainy Velma. For their Halloween costumes, Fred is dressed as a knight in armor, Daphne is dressed as Wonder Woman and Daphne is dressed as Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Shaggy mistakes Daphne for trying to be someone in a “Harry Potter” movie.
Fred, Daphne and Velma offer to help Shaggy after seeing him get knocked down, but he says the only things that are bruised are his “ego and tailfeathers.” (This line is one of the many signs that this movie was written by adults who can’t write realistic kids’ dialogue.) As soon as Scooby and this quartet of new friends start to bond, they encounter their first big mystery together, as they enter what’s rumored to be a haunted house.
They’re immediately terrorized by a menacing ghost in the house. Instead of running away (which is always Shaggy’s inclination), they band together to fight the ghost, which turns out not to be ghost, but a thief who has kept a houseful of stolen electronics and appliances stashed there. And, of course, when he’s arrested, he snarls that he would’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling kids. It’s the first real mystery solved by the four friends and Scooby.
Fast forward about 10 years later, and the four friends are now in their late teens/early 20s. They’ve started a detective agency named Mystery Inc., and are trying to figure out how to raise money to keep the business going. While they have a meeting at a diner, Velma (voiced by Gina Rodriguez) thinks that they should find investors.
And lo and behold, Simon Cowell (voiced by the real Cowell) randomly shows up unannounced at the diner, sits down at the table, and says that he’s willing to invest in the detective agency—but only if they get rid of Shaggy and Scooby, since Cowell thinks they’re useless. Cowell cynically adds, “When you get in trouble, friendship won’t save the day.”
Shaggy and Scooby are so insulted, that they don’t wait around to hear how Fred (voiced by Zac Efron), Daphne (voiced Amanda Seyfried) and Velma react to Cowell’s ultimatum to get rid of Shaggy and Scooby. Leaving in a huff, Shaggy and Scooby end up at a bowling alley, where they encounter bowling balls and bowling pins that turn into minion-like robots with chainsaws for hands.
The robots chase Shaggy and Scooby around a bowling alley. Just then, a blue light beams down. It’s the Falcon Fury spaceship owned by Blue Falcon (voiced by Mark Wahlberg) and navigated by pilot Dee Dee Skyes (voiced by Kiersey Clemons), who rescue Shaggy and Scooby from the robots. Dee Dee tells Shaggy and Scooby that the robots are from a villain called Dick Dastardly (voiced by Jason Isaacs).
While on the ship, Shaggy meets his hero Blue Falcon. The superhero is really a guy named Brian who’s taken over the Blue Falcon superhero persona from his retired father, and he hides his insecurity by putting up a blustery brave front. Dynomutt (voiced by Ken Jeong) has the power to extend his neck to great lengths and he’s a loyal and enthusiastic sidekick to Blue Falcon.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Velma has found out through research that Dick Dastardly is wanted by authorities for stealing archeological artifacts from Peru (including a giant skull of a dog) and for taking genealogical records of dogs from the Global Kennel Club. It’s pretty easy to figure out at this point that Scooby is the target of Dick Dastardly’s evil plans. But why? The movie answers that question, but there’s a lot of filler action, as the movie zigzags from genre to genre the way that the characters zig zig from Earth to outer space.
“Scoob!” has four screenwriters—Adam Sztykiel, Jack C. Donaldson, Derek Elliott and Matt Lieberman—and the whole movie gives the impression that the screenplay had “too many cooks in the kitchen.” It tries to be a comedy, but the jokes aren’t very good. When one of the characters calls athletic Fred “a poor man’s Hemsworth,” Fred asks, “Chris or Liam?” And the “mystery” in the movie is very easy to solve, even for young children who might be watching.
As for the animation, when there are Pixar movies in the world, many other animated films look inferior in comparison. The best action sequences in “Scoob!” are with the fearsome Cerberus (the three-headed hound of Hades), which has to do with the supernatural horror aspect of this messy film. There’s a chase scene through an abandoned amusement park that ramps up the action, but nothing in this movie is awards-worthy.
Although the actors do a good job with the screenplay that they’ve been given, it seems as if the Blue Falcon character was added to the world of Scooby-Doo just to jump on the bandwagon of superhero movies and to create a possible cinematic universe with various Hanna-Barbera characters. And the celebrity cameo from Cowell just seems weird and out of place. Cowell’s son Eric even has a voice role in the movie. (Did someone on the “Scoob!” filmmaking team owe Simon Cowell a favor?) Tracy Morgan has a cameo as Captain Caveman on Mystery Island, but his wacky character is very under-used in a script that needed more originality instead of a derivative superhero subplot.
And since Shaggy and Scooby are separated from Fred, Daphne and Velma during most of the movie, this estrangement ruins the original appeal of the “Scooby-Doo” series, which is all about the teamwork and camaraderie between this lovable dog and his four human friends. Another travesty: Mystery Inc.’s 1970s-style van the Mystery Machine is literally destroyed in the movie, which is an apt metaphor for how this movie wrecks the spirit of the original “Scooby-Doo” series. If “Scoob!” had stuck to a well-crafted story about a good mystery that needed solving—instead of trying to be too many things to too many people—then it would have turned out to be a much better movie.
Warner Bros. Pictures released “Scoob!” on digital and VOD on May 15, 2020.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Chile, the animated film “The Wolf House” tells the story of a woman named Maria, who has escaped from a cult of German religious fanatics, and the house that comes to life after she finds refuge there.
Culture Clash: The nightmarish story of Maria’s isolation in the house has various hallucinations where she is sometimes at odds with entities in the house that morph into other beings.
Culture Audience: “The Wolf House” will appeal primarily to people who like avant-garde animation.
To understand the experimental animated film “The Wolf House,” it’s better that people know in advance that the movie is inspired by the story of Colonia Dignidad, a real-life cult founded in in 1961 in Chile by a German fugitive Paul Schäfer, who ended up being a convicted child abuser. Not knowing this historical background for the film will leave viewers very confused over the point of this often-incoherent movie, which has striking visuals but lacks a well-written storyline.
“The Wolf House” has a movie-within-a-movie concept, since the it’s supposed to be “found footage” of a propaganda film made by a German colony in Chile and narrated by a man called Wolf (voiced by Rainer Krausse), whose voice is heard at the beginning and at the end of the film. Viewers can assume that Wolf is the cult leader, based on he says in the movie’s last scene.
During the course of the movie, the story is told of a young woman named Maria, who lived in the community but was punished for letting three little pigs escape. She was kept in solitary confinement for 100 days and 100 nights until she escaped into the woods and hid in an isolated house.
“The wolf is coming,” Maria says. “But he will not catch me.” When Maria (voiced by Amalia Kassai) begins speaking, she takes over the narration of the majority of the movie that shows what happens inside the house while she’s hiding.
What takes place inside the house is like a fever dream, and it’s up to the viewers to interpret what could be real and what could be Maria’s imagination. The entire movie plays out like a psychedelic, nightmarish fairy tale. Just like Lewis Carroll’s Alice who went down the rabbit hole, Maria in “The Wolf House” experiences her own version of a weird and confined alternative world.
Maria asks for help with food, shelter and water—and a tree comes to life to help her. In the house, she finds two pigs, which she names Pedro and Ana. She gives them water and notices that they have human hands. Small animals also give Maria an apple as a thank you gift. Ana and Pedro eventually morph into two human children, with Pedro as a boy who’s younger than Ana. In “The Wolf House,” Kassai also voices the characters of Ana and Pedro.
Maria reads a book to Pedro called “The Dog and the House,” which is about a disobedient dog who jumped out of a window and was never found again but is presumed dead since the wind brought back the smell of the dog’s broken bones and other injuries. The book is an obvious parallel to what Maria might experience, and it serves as a warning/cautionary tale to anyone else who might think of escaping the cult.
The quirky animation of “The Wolf House” was shot frame-by-frame with digital photography. The ever-morphing characters were presented in two ways: (1) as animated puppets made out of paper, cardboard, masking tape and paint and (2) as animated drawings on the walls of the house. Nothing really stays still in the house, and all is not what they seem to be. Walls and furniture can turn into body parts; people can emerge from different objects; and human characters can change their physical size and hair color, or can morph back and forth into animals or other different things.
When Maria is feeling safe and comfortable, she speaks in Spanish. When she’s feeling angry or threatened, she speaks in German. It’s a clear metaphor for her true self being a Spanish-speaking Chilean, while she takes on the persona of her German cult tormenters when she’s having negative thoughts.
When Maria thinks of humans in degrading terms, they’re visualized as pigs. And when Pedro and Ana morph from being Latino-looking children into blond-haired German-looking children, it’s a metaphor for Nazi-like conformity that gives preference to Aryan-looking people. These types of metaphors in “The Wolf House” are why the movie has a deeper meaning if audiences know in advance that the disturbing history of Colonia Dignidad is the basis of “The Wolf House” screenplay.
“The Wolf House” directors Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña wrote the screenplay with Alejandra Moffat. The script seems to be an unfocused secondary priority that just goes with the flow of whatever strange visual effects that the filmmakers wanted to infuse throughout the story. However, the art direction from León, Cociña and Natalia Geisse succeeds on a much higher artistic level than the movie’s script. There are some truly unique images that make “The Wolf House” a treat for people who might be interested in a more avant-garde alternative to Laika animated films.
For people who don’t have the benefit of knowing what inspired “The Wolf House,” the visuals might be enough to hold an audience’s interest. Unfortunately, Kassai’s narration, which has a whispering sing-song tone, can be extremely grating after a while. “The Wolf House” is definitely not a family film (since children will not understand the movie at all), nor is it a mainstream film for adults. Ultimately, the movie’s concept needed to better articulated in its writing, and “The Wolf House” probably would have been better off as a short film.
KimStim released “The Wolf House” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on May 15, 2020.
Culture Representation: This animated film sequel to 2016’s “Trolls” has a racially diverse cast (white, African American, Latino and Asian) voicing characters based on troll dolls.
Culture Clash: The trolls live in different territories based on the music of their lifestyles, and the queen of the rock territory wants to take over everything.
Culture Audience: “Trolls World Tour” is a family-friendly film that will appeal mostly to kids, adults who young at heart and people who like a variety of hit songs.
On Broadway, there are jukebox musicals that string together a plot in between the performance of hit songs. And now, the jukebox musical trend has reached animated films with “Trolls World Tour,” which is a showcase for some original songs but mostly retro hits from various genres of music. This sequel to 2016’s “Trolls” packs in even more stars in the voice cast than its predecessor movie. The result is an energetic and vibrant ride that is utterly predictable but should be a crowd-pleaser for its intended audience.
Even though the plot of “Trolls World Tour” is pretty simple, there are five people who are credited with writing the screenplay: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky and Elizabeth Tippet. The large writing team for this movie is also a reflection of the huge increase in the size of the “Trolls World” voice cast, compared to the first “Trolls” movie. Walt Dohrn, who co-directed “Trolls” with Mike Mitchell, returns as a director on “Trolls World Tour,” but this time with David P. Smith as co-director. Dohrn voices several of the supporting characters in both movies.
Viewers of “Trolls World Tour” don’t need to see the first “Trolls” movie to understand what’s going on in this sequel, but it helps if more of a backstory is needed for the two central characters in both films: Princess Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) and her best friend/love interest Bark (voiced by Justin Timberlake). In “Trolls,” Bark (who tends to be overly pessimistic) became a reluctant ally and then eventual best friend to Poppy (who tends to be overly optimistic) in the Trolls’ quest to defeat the sad and angry creatures known as Bergens, whose goal was to make everyone in the world as miserable as they are.
In “Trolls World Tour,” the chief villain is Princess Barb (voiced by Rachel Bloom) a rocker girl who leads the Trolls whose music of choice is hard rock/heavy metal. Ozzy Osbourne is perfectly cast for the voice of King Thrash, Barb’s father. Barb’s goal is to have rock music take over all six territories in the Troll Kingdom. Each territory represents the music that embodies the Trolls’ lifestyle in each territory.
The other five territories represent the music genres of pop, techno, country, funk and classical. In the beginning of the movie, Barb and her minions arrive in a fleet of sharks to take over the techno territory. She takes a valuable guitar string from the Techno trolls and then she and her army of rock Trolls then move on to conquer the next territory.
When news of the invasion hits the pop territory, Poppy thinks that Barb has good intentions to unite all of the Trolls. But her father King Peppy (voiced by Dohrn) reveals a secret from the Trolls’ historical past: The Trolls almost had a civil war over their different tastes in music, so the music territories were created so Trolls who liked the same genre of music could live together in harmony. Each territory was bestowed with a magical guitar string that has the power to control that territory.
Barb is on a mission to collect all six of the magical strings to put them on a guitar. Once the guitar has the six strings on it, she’ll play an “ultimate power chord” that will give her and rock music complete control over all the Troll territories. Since “Trolls World Tour” is an animated jukebox musical, Barb belts out several rock songs along the way, including Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” and Heart’s “Barracuda.”
“Trolls World Tour” has several jokes about clichés and criticisms that go with certain music genres. The movie pokes fun at pop for being simple, repetitive “earworm” music. Rock is parodied for attracting low-life burnouts who wear mullets or mohawks and do “devil horn” signs. Country music has a stereotype of being full of sad songs and fans who act like rednecks or country bumpkins.
Classical music is labeled as “boring.” Techno gets criticism for its artists not playing “real” instruments. And funk (whose territory is populated with African American voice actors) calls out rap and pop for over-using funk samples. The original song “It’s All Love (History of Funk)” is a clap back to all the music that lifted funk riffs to make hit songs and funk artists not being paid properly for these samples.
Not for nothing, George Clinton (co-founder of Parliament-Funkadelic, one of the most-sampled groups of all time) is cast as new Trolls character King Quincy, who rules the funk territory Vibe City with Queen Essence (voiced by Mary J. Blige). The funk royals have a son named Prince D, voiced by hip-hop star Anderson .Paak, who performs the original song “Don’t Slack” with Timberlake in the film. And returning Trolls character Cooper (voiced by Ron Funches) from the pop territory finds out that he has a connection to the funk territory.
“Trolls World Tour” once again has Poppy convincing a reluctant and wary Branch to go with her to help stop the chief villain before it’s too late. “Trolls” characters that are also in “Trolls World Tour” are loyal Biggie (voiced by James Corden) and wisecracking Guy Diamond (voiced by Kunal Nayyar), who provide some of the comic relief in the film
But there are so many new characters in “Trolls World Tour” that the movie could feel overstuffed for people who have short attention spans and might have trouble keeping track of them all. Guy now has a son named Tiny Diamond (voiced by Kenan Thompson). Delta Dawn (voiced by Kelly Clarkson) is a sassy, big-haired redhead who is a singer and leader of the country music territory.
Also in the country music territory is Hickory (voiced by Sam Rockwell), a multitalented and brave cowboy who befriends Poppy, much to Branch’s chagrin. Branch has been trying to tell Poppy that he loves her but is afraid to do it, so he gets jealous when it looks like Hickory is winning Poppy’s admiration. Hickory is the biggest standout new character in “Trolls World Tour” since he and his “yee-haw” can-do personality get a lot of screen time.
Some other supporting characters in the movie are the bounty hunters that Barb hires to help her track down the elusive pop guitar string that Poppy has in her possession. The bounty hunters are smooth jazz musician Chaz (voiced by Jamie Dornan), a clarinet-playing Kenny G type who plays hypnotic music that gets on people’s nerves. The other bounty hunters are musical groups representing reggaeton, K-Pop and yodelers. J Balvin has a cameo as the reggaeton leader, and his song “Mi Gente” is in the movie.
There are several familiar hits that get the medley treatment in “Trolls World Tour,” including Spice Girls’ “Wannabe,” Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s “Good Vibrations,” Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out” and LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem.” Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” has the lyrics reworked with the word “trolls” replacing the word “girls.” Dierks Bentley’s song “Leaving Lonesome Flats” (written for “Trolls World Tour”) is featured in a country music segment. And an electronic-dance music concert in the movie’s opening scene has the DJ playing Daft Punk’s “One More Time.”
“Trolls World Tour” music directors are Timberlake and Ludwig Goransson, the musician who won an Oscar and a Grammy for the “Black Panther” score, as well as Grammys for co-writing and producing Childish Gambino’s “This Is America.” Timberlake and Goransson co-wrote and produced the majority of the original songs in “Trolls World Tour,” such as the ballad “Perfect for Me,” “Don’t Slack” and “Just Sing (Trolls World Tour),” which is the movie’s obvious signature anthem. The music is very catchy, but won’t be as huge as Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling!,” the Oscar-nominated song from the first “Trolls” movie.
In its plot about Barb the villain trying to make all the Trolls conform to the way she wants them to be, “Trolls World Tour” has a message that people can live peacefully while respecting each other’s differences. It’s a message that comes wrapped in a lot of musical numbers and action sequences, but it’s something that audiences can take to heart. And along the way, some people might learn more about music genres that they might have previously dismissed because of certain prejudices.
Universal Pictures/DreamWorks Animation released “Trolls World Tour” for rental only on digital and VOD on April 10, 2020.