Review: ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,’ starring the voices of Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar Isaac, Issa Rae, Jake Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez

May 31, 2023

by Carla Hay

Spider-Man/Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation)

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”

Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Power and Justin K. Thompson

Some language in Spanish with no subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and in the fictional multiverse called the Spider-Verse, the superhero animated film “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” features a racially diverse cast of characters (black, white and Latino) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: American teenager Miles Morales, who is one of many spider characters in the Spider-Verse, encounters various heroes and villains in the Spider-Verse. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching animated movies that have an inconsistent visual style and a very muddled plot.

Jessica Drew (voiced by Issa Rae), Gwen Stacy (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld), Peter B. Parker (voiced by Jake Johnson) and his daughter Mayday in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation)

Just like a tangled web from a scatterbrained spider, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is a convoluted mess. This overstuffed movie takes too long to define the plot. It’s a barrage of inconsistent visuals that often look like ugly comic-book graffiti. And it’s a huge disappointment as a sequel to 2018’s Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (based on characters from Marvel Comics), a visually stunning, highly entertaining film that showed tremendous potential as the next great “Spider-Man” movie series. Superhero movies are supposed to tell viewers within the first 30 minutes what the story is going to be about and who the villain is, but the 140-minute “Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse” fails to deliver those basic elements until the movie is more than halfway done.

“Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse” (directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Power and Justin K. Thompson) also commits one of the worst sins of a movie sequel: It’s very unwelcoming to newcomers. People who didn’t see or don’t know what happened in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” will be confused from the very first scene of “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” And even if viewers saw and remember “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” they will have their patience tested by how the overly long “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” jumps from one subplot to the next without much explanation or resolution. Characters appear, disappear for long stretches of time, and then might or might not reappear with any meaningful context on what they’re really supposed to be doing in this movie.

In “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” Miles Morales, also known as web-slinging superhero Spider-Man (voiced by Shameik Moore) is a student in his last year of high school. Miles is the movie’s central character, and he seems to be just as confused by what’s going on in his world as may viewers will be. Miles (who lives in New York City’s Brooklyn borough) is one of several people or creatures who have a Spider superhero alter ego. In the Spider-Verse, these various Spider iterations can time jump and appear in other universes, depending on if they have the power to do so, or are sent there by someone else. Unlike the teenage Peter Parker in the “Spider-Man” franchise, or even the Miles Morales in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” the Miles in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is barely shown in school or interacting with his schoolmates.

That’s not what’s irritating about this movie. What’s irritating about “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is that it’s so enamored with the concept of various Spider beings, it overloads in introducing these characters but doesn’t have much real character development for them. There are moments of wisecracking jokes (the movie’s comedy is best appreciated by teenagers and adults), but these quips don’t make up for the rest of the uninspired plot and dialogue. And the movie’s big climax just drags on and on, like a rambling stand-up comedian who doesn’t know when to get off the stage.

Miles’ main ally in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is Gwen Stacy (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld), a teenager who’s close to Miles’ age and who might or might not be his love interest. Gwen has a superhero alter ego named Spider-Gwen, who was the last person known to see the adult Peter Parker (voiced by Jake Johnson), also known as the most famous Spider-Man, before Peter died. (This death scene is shown as a flashback of Spider-Gwen at Peter’s side when he dies in a massive urban wreckage.) Gwen’s widower father George Stacy (voiced by Shea Whigham), who’s had a rocky relationship with Gwen, is determined to arrest Spider-Gwen, not knowing that his daughter is really Spider-Gwen.

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” has such a poorly constructed narrative, the only backstory that viewers get about Gwen is her vague voiceover narration in the movie’s opening scene: “I didn’t want to hurt him, but I did. He’s not the only one.” After the flashback of Parker Parker dying in the wreckage, Gwen says in a voiceover: “I never really made another friend after that—except one, but he’s not here.” That other friend, of course, is Miles Morales. But only Spider-Man experts or people who saw “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” will know what Gwen is babbling about in this opening scene.

Gwen is the drummer for an all-female rock trio called the Mary Janes. (The band’s name is a cheeky nod to Mary Jane Watson, who is Peter Parker’s girlfriend in other “Spider-Man” stories.) The beginning of the movie shows the band rehearsing and then Gwen quitting in anger. Why? Don’t expect a good explanation, except she appears to be angry over Peter’s death but she can’t talk to anyone about it. It’s a scene that’s ultimately pointless, like many other scenes in this long-winded film.

After her temper tantrum, Gwen goes home, where she has a bratty attitude with her father, who tells her that the police have gotten a break in the Peter Parker/Spider-Man death case. George says to Gwen: “Too punk rock to hug your old man?” She then quickly hugs him, and all seems to be forgiven. But as soon as you know that George and his police colleagues have made progression in their Peter Parker death investigation, you know what’s eventually going to happen.

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” also shows that Miles’ home life is affected by his superhero antics. A lot of time in this movie is spent on repetitive and not-very-interesting subplots about Miles’ parents—Jefferson Davis (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry) and Rio Morales (played by Luna Lauren Velez, previously known as Lauren Velez)—getting annoyed and worried because Miles is constantly tardy or absent from places where he needs to be. A running “joke” in the movie is that Miles’ parents keep adding to the number of months that they say Miles is grounded.

Miles pops in and out of a meeting that he’s supposed to have with his parents and his school principal (voiced by Rachel Dratch) to discuss his plans after high school. The principal is worried that Miles might be squandering his potential, since he’s been skipping classes. And there are some racist overtones when the principal says she wants to fabricate a narrative for Miles’ college applications by saying on the applications that Miles (who is Afro-Latino) is a poor, underprivileged kid with a rough childhood. (He’s not. Miles actually comes from a stable middle-class family.) Fortunately, the principal’s awful idea is nixed.

In the meeting, it’s mentioned that Miles wants to go to Princeton University to study physics. Rio gets upset because she thinks New Jersey is too far away from Brooklyn. (It’s not.) And then, Miles is out the door before the meeting is over because he has to attend to some secretive Spider-Man superhero business. His plans for what he wants to do after graduating from high school are never mentioned again in the movie. It’s just a time-wasting scene.

n “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Miles’ relationship with his parents looks authentic. In “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” Miles’ relationship with his parents looks fake and rushed. There’s a very disjointed sequence where Miles is late for a rooftop party that his family is having to celebrate Jefferson getting promoted from lieutenant to captain at the New York Police Department. The death of Jefferson’s thieving criminal brother Aaron, which was shown in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” is treated as an quick afterthought in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” Miles introduces Gwen to his parents in this rooftop party sequence, which keeps getting interrupted by Gwen and Miles going in and out of the Spider-Verse.

During this very sloppily told and often visually unappealing movie, other characters show up, disappear, then show up again, and might disappear again, with the movie never clearly defining who some of them are and what is purpose of these characters. A villain who comes and goes with no real significance is Adrian Toomes, also known as The Vulture (voiced by Jorma Taccone), who gets into a battle with Spider-Gwen. Don’t expect the movie to give an explanation of who The Vulture is and where he came from, because it’s never mentioned in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.”

Miles later thwarts a convenience store robbery by Jonathan Ohnn, also known as The Spot (voiced by Jason Schartzman), a portal-jumping villain character with a black hole for a face and who looks like he’s wearing a white full body suit with Dalmatian patterns. The Spot appears and disappears into portal holes, with no explanation for viewers who aren’t familiar with this character from Marvel comic books. The only clue offered is when The Spot tells Miles, “I’m from your past.”

Other characters who are dropped in and out of scenes are Miguel O’Hara (voiced by Oscar Isaac), a mysterious motorcycle-riding character dressed in a Spider-Man costume; Jessica Drew (voiced by Issa Rae), a no-nonsense, highly trained fighter who happens to be pregnant; and Lyla (voiced by Greta Lee), who is Miguel’s artificial-intelligence assistant. A version of the adult Peter Parker shows up, as a married father of a baby daughter named Mayday, who seems to fill the movie’s quota to have a cute kid character in the movie. A LEGO universe is briefly shown as nothing more than product placement for LEGO.

There are also international versions of Spider superheroes. Hobart “Hobie Brown,” also known as Spider-Punk (voiced by Daniel Kaluuya), is a snarling, sarcastic Brit who seems to be influenced by a 1980s-era Billy Idol. Spider-Punk is the only character who does not have a non-generic personality. Margo Kess, also known as Spider-Byte (voiced by Amandla Stenberg), is an American, openly queer computer expert, whose presence in the movie barely makes a difference to the story. Ben Reilly, also known as Scarlet Spider (voiced by Andy Samberg), is a clone designed to look like Peter Parker. Spider-Man India (voiced by Karan Soni) doesn’t even get his own birth name in the movie, which gives him a brief, goofy appearance that reeks of tokenism.

Some of the movie’s animation is deliberately made to look like unfinished sketches from a comic book. There might be some people who like this visual style, but most viewers of superhero movies want to see consistency in the animation style of movies in the same series. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” have almost entirely different teams of screenwriters and directors—and these difference show to the movie’s detriment. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman directed “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” which was written by Rothman and Phil Lord. “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” was written by Lord, Christopher Miller and Dave Callaham.

There are huge parts of the “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” that look like an experimental art project gone wrong. The animation sometimes look jagged, unpolished and blurry. As for the movie’s unfocused plot, it looks like it was made only for the type of people who know Spider-Man inside jokes or who religiously look for Easter Eggs in “Spider-Man” visual content. A typical family with children under the age of 10 who see this movie will probably feel alienated by how so much of the film is cluttered and unclear. And it begs the question: “Why mess up such a good thing?”

Not all of the visuals in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” consists of animation. There are a few Spiderverse scenes where people appear as cameos in live-action visuals. Donald Glover has one of these cameos. (In real life, Glover famously campaigned to get the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the early 2010s. Andrew Garfield ended up getting the role.) Another cameo is from sassy convenience store owner Mrs. Chen (played by Peggy Lu), who is a minor character in the “Venom” movies, which are connected to the “Spider-Man” franchise. People who haven’t seen the “Venom” movies just won’t know or care about this Mrs. Chen cameo. These cameos are nothing more than stunt casting and add nothing to the plot.

It seems like “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is trying to be an artsy superhero animated film. The problem is that the “Spider-Man” movie brand was made for a wide variety of people, not just comic-book enthusiasts who are obsessive about Spider-Man “canon,” which in comic-book terms means the story as it was originally presented in the comic books. The movie has an annoying tendency to assume all viewers are going to be Spider-Man experts.

And speaking of “canon,” expect to hear a lot of about “canon disruption” in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” Pity any viewer of this steaming pile of pretentiousness who doesn’t have encylopedic knowledge of what is and what is not “canon” in the Spider-Verse. Because yes, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is a very pretentious animated film that is sure to baffle and disappoint many people who think they’re going to see a continuation of what made “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” so special.

Anyone who’s letting children under the age of 10 watch the very messy “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” should be warned that these children will most likely be bored and/or confused, unless all they care about is seeing bright, splashy visuals on screen. The voice cast members for “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” do what they’re supposed to do. But the plot is so jumbled and smug with its fan-servce pandering, by the time the end of “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” announces that the story continues in “Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse” (due out in 2024), many viewers will be thinking to themselves: “No, thank you.”

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Animation will release “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” in U.S. cinemas on June 2, 2023.

Review: ‘That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime the Movie: Scarlet Bond,’ an adventure anime film that continues the story after Season 2 of the anime TV series

April 29, 2023

by Carla Hay

Rimaru Tempest in “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime the Movie: Scarlet Bond” (Image courtesy of Crunchyroll)

“That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime the Movie: Scarlet Bond”

Directed by Yasuhito Kikuchi

Available in the original Japanese version (with English subtitles) or in a dubbed English-language version.

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional kingdoms and villages, the animated film “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime the Movie: Scarlet Bond” (based on the manga series and TV series) features an all-Japanese cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: Heroes race against time to find a tiara that absorbs a toxin that can save the decimated kingdom of Raja. 

Culture Audience: “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime the Movie: Scarlet Bond” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the manga series and TV series on which the movie is based, but everyone else might be bored or confused.

Lacua in “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime the Movie: Scarlet Bond” (Image courtesy of Crunchyroll)

Whenever a movie is made out of a popular book series or a TV series, the question that must be asked is: “Will most viewers who are new to this franchise understand and enjoy the movie, without having seen any of the source material?” Unfortunately, the answer is “no” for Japanese animated film “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime the Movie: Scarlet Bond.” The movie’s visuals can be engaging, but the story is too jumbled and told in a trite manner. Most of the characters are also forgettable, unless a viewer is already a fan of the anime TV series and manga series.

Directed by Yasuhito Kikuchi and written by Kazuyuki Hudeyasu (with screenplay contributions from Junichiro Okumura and Otoe Yashika), “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime the Movie: Scarlet Bond” is based on Fuse’s 2013 to 2016 novel series “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime,” which was turned into a manga series and an anime TV series. The anime TV series’ first season debuted in 2018, while the second season aired in 2021. “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime the Movie: Scarlet Bond” is a movie that takes places after the second season of the anime series.

In all of these stores, Mikami Satoru is a 37-year-old man who dies and is reincarnated as blue slime that is blind and deaf. But he combines two abilities called Predator and Great Sage to become a blue-haired superhero named Rimuru Tempest, who goes on various adventures. Under the Predator power, he can shapeshift into anything to disguise himself. With the Great Sage power includes several skills involving superintelligence and some psychic abilities.

In “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime the Movie: Scarlet Bond,” a mercenary is wounded in a battle in the beginning of the story. He wakes up in the bedroom of the palace of the Queen Towa, the ruler of small kingdom called Raja that mines gold. However, Raja is currently devastated and is a shadow of its former self, because miners depleted one of Raja’s biggest gold dens.

Queen Towa doesn’t know the name of this mercenary, who has partial amnesia and is very concerned about going back to his village to save it. She thinks he’s a hero, so she gives him the name Hiiro. After recovering from his injuries, the newly named Hiiro (who is a survivor of the Ogre race) goes back to his village and finds it empty and looking desolate. He then returns to Raja.

Meawhile, Rimuru Tempest has been told that Geld, an orc who is an ally fighter, is under attack in a forest. Around the same time, Hiiro finds his long-lost best friend from childhood in the forest. His best friend was a like a brother to Hiiro, and he now has a new name: Benimoru, who introduces Hiiro to Geld. Hiiro and Benimoru not only treat each other like brothers, but these red-haired men also have a physical resemblance to each other.

Benimoru and Geld have become friends, even though Geld was part of the invasion that destroyed the village where Hiiro and Benimoru grew up. Geld is remorseful for his involvement, and Benimoru has forgiven him. Other people are not as forgiving.

Hiiro and Benimoru reunite with some of the people from their hometown village, including Benimoru’s pink-haired younger sister Shuna and her purple-haired friend Shion. Hiiro, Benimoru, Geld, Shuna and Shion eventually cross paths with Rimuru Tempest.

Meanwhile, Queen Towa has collapsed and finds out from a minister leader that her collapse came from toxins released from the gold mines of Raja. It’s a curse that will take over her entire body, just like what happened to other previous queens of Raja. The only way that the curse can be lifted is to wear a tiar that can neutralize the toxin. But there’s a catch: The wearer of the tiara will absorb the curse’s poison and is at risk of dying.

Rimuru, Hiiro, Benimoru, Geld, Shuna and Shion team up to help Queen Towa in finding the tiara. They travel to different lands, including the Great Forest of Jeru, which is guarded by a Storm Dragon called Veldora. There’s also a chief villain named Lacua, who does what chief villains usually do in stories like this. Also appearing in the movie is a chief prosecutor named Violet.

The voices of the “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime the Movie: Scarlet Bond” characters are portrayed by different cast members, depending on the version of the movie. The original Japanese version (with English subtitles) has Miho Okasaki as Rimuru, Yuma Uchida as Hiiro, Riko Fukumoto as Towa, Makoto Furukawa as Benimaru, Subaru Kimura as Lacua, Tomoaki Maeno as Veldora, Miyu Tomita as Violet, Sayaka Sembongi as Shuna, M・A・O as Shion and Taro Yamaguchi as Geld. There’s also a U.S. version, with the dialogue dubbed in English, that has Brittney Karbowski as Rimuru, Jonah Scott as Hiiro, Cherami Leigh as Towa, Ricco Fajardo as Benimaru, Tony Oliver as Lacua, Chris Rager as Veldora, Cristina Valenzuela as Violet, Tia Ballard as Shuna, Michelle Rojas as Shion and Cris George as Geld.

“That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime the Movie: Scarlet Bond” is not a completely terrible movie. It’s just a movie that wastes a lot of time for a story that is very basic. There is nothing clever or inventive in this predictable tale. And the characters’ dialogue is awfully generic. Most of the characters have bland and forgettable personalities. It’s not a movie that will inspire a lot of newcomer viewers to seek out the source material or anticipate any other movie in the series.

Crunchyroll released “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime the Movie: Scarlet Bond” in select U.S. cinemas on January 20, 2023. The movie was released in Japan on November 25, 2022.

Review: ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie,’ starring the voices of Chris Pratt, Charlie Day, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jack Black, Seth Rogen, Keegan-Michael Key and Fred Armisen

April 4, 2023

by Carla Hay

Toad (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key), Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt), Donkey Kong (voiced by Seth Rogen) and Princess Peach (voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy) in “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” (Image courtesy of Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures)

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie”

Directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, and in the fictional Mushroom Kingdom and the Dark Lands, the animated film “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” (based on Nintendo’s “Super Mario Bros.” games) features a cast of characters that are humans and talking creatures.

Culture Clash: Bumbling brother plumbers Mario and Luigi are unexpectedly transported to a magical world, where Luigi is captured by an evil turtle, and Mario teams up with various allies (including a feisty princess) to try to rescue Luigi. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Super Mario Bros.” franchise fans, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching animated films that have simple and amusing plots.

Luigi (voiced by Charlie Day) and Bowser (voiced by Jack Black) in “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” (Image courtesy of Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures)

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is entirely predictable but still entertaining, thanks to its playful comedy, appealing visuals and talented voice cast. Jack Black is a scene stealer as turtle villain Bowser. You don’t have to know anything about Nintendo’s “Super Mario Bros.” games in order to enjoy this movie. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is the very definition of an undemanding crowd pleaser that can appeal to a variety of age groups.

Directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” (written by Matthew Fogel) is an origin story of what is obviously planned to be a series of movies. The beginning of the film shows a battle in a magical world where a king and his army defending the royal palace from an invader. Fans of the “Super Mario Bros.” games will know who these characters are already. The movie later shows these characters again in more detail.

Back on Earth, viewers see two brothers who are plumbers. Confident older brother Mario (voiced by Chris Pratt) and his neurotic younger brother Luigi (voice by Charlie Day) have recently launched a plumbing business together in their hometown of New York City, where they are based in the Brooklyn borough. The brothers have proudly filmed a TV commercial for their new business. They have spent their life savings on this commercial.

Not everyone is impressed with this commercial. At a local diner, a wrecking crew employee named Spike (voiced by Sebastian Maniscalco) makes fun of the commercial. Luigi says defensively, “It’s not a commercial. It’s cinema.” Spike also thinks it was foolish for Mario and Luigi to quit their day jobs to start this new business.

The brothers have a large family that includes their father (voiced by Charles Martinet), their mother (voiced by Jessica DiCicco), the brothers’ Uncle Tony (voiced by Rino Romano) and the brothers’ Uncle Arthur (voiced by John DiMaggio), and not all of these relatives are supportive of the brothers’ new business venture. (Martinet does the voices of Mario and Luigi in the “Super Mario Bros.” video games.) During a family meal at a dining table, Mario and Luigi have to endure some taunting, especially from their uncles, who think that the brothers’ plumbing business will fail. The brothers’ mother is supportive though.

“The Super Mario Brothers Movie” shows the brothers going on their first plumbing job since their new business opened. It’s a house call to fix a leaking bathroom sink faucet. And the job is a disaster, involving a major mishap with an unfriendly dog named Francis. By the time the brothers leave the home, the sink hasn’t been fixed and the home has a lot of damage to it.

Not long after this plumbing fiasco, the brothers see on the local TV news that parts of Brooklyn have been flooded because a major water main has broken. Mario and Luigi rush to the scene to see if they can help. The brothers end up in a giant underground tunnel and unexpectedly get whisked through a portal that transports the brothers to a magical world.

However, the brothers land in different places in this magical world. Mario lands in the Mushroom Kingdom, which s populated by inanimate giant mushrooms and small talking mushrooms, all with polka dots. The talking mushrooms are called Toads, Mushroom People or Mushrooms. Luigi lands in a desolate forest area called the Dark Lands, full of dead trees. Luigi is soon abducted by the movie’s chief villain: a spike-wearing giant turtle named Bowser (voiced by Black), who wants to take over the Mushroom Kingdom and marry Princess Peach (voiced by Anya Taylor-Joy), the human ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom.

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” includes Mario finding his way around the Mushroom Kingdom with the help of a friendly mushroom named Toad (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key), who is Princess Peach’s loyal attendant. Some hijinks ensue when Mario is perceived as an untrustworthy intruder by certain people in the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario eventually meets the princess, who has her own story of how she ended up in the Mushroom Kingdom.

In addition to rescuing Luigi, the heroes of the story also have to fight off an invasion from Bowser and his army, which includes Kamek (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson), who is Bowser’s menacing and most dutiful henchman. Along the way, Princess Peach and Pario have to convince the powerful Kong army of primates from the Jungle Kingdom to help defeat Bowser. That’s how Mario meets the king Cranky Kong (voiced by Fred Armisen) and his immature son Donkey Kong (voiced by Seth Rogen), who is a powerful but goofy warrior.

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” has enough touches of dark comedy to keep it from being annoyingly overloaded with juvenile jokes. Making a cameo in the movie is the cyan Luma character named Lumalee (voiced by Juliet Jelenic), who has a star-shaped, flame-like physical appearance that makes her look like she’s a cute and upbeat character, but she spews a lot of pessimistic comments that unnerve those who are around her. Bowser has a secret desire to be a heavy metal rocker who can belt out power ballads, so there are a few hilarious scenes showing him privately singing corny love songs that he wrote for Princess Peach while playing the piano.

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” leans heavily into nostalgia for the 1980s, because Nintendo’s “Super Mario Bros.” games were launched in that decade. Most of the movie’s prominently placed pop songs are from the 1980s. They include Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” a-ha’s “Take on Me” and Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero.” Brian Tyler’s competent musical score for “The “Super Mario Bros. Movie” keeps things moving along at a zippy pace with some nods to 1980s-inspired synth music.

The movie’s visuals have all the characteristics of above-average animation using modern technology, but the designs and hues of the characters and locations are throwbacks to 1980s animation and the original Nintendo “Super Mario” games. All of it is proof that any movie version of the “Super Mario” video games is better as animation, rather than as a live-action movie. (The less said about 1993’s awful live-action “Super Mario Bros.” movie, the better.)

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” has a well-cast ensemble, with everyone doing their parts to be engaging in their performances. As the chief villain Bowser, Black is the standout performer, because he gives this villain a larger-than-life personality that will make viewers anticipate what Bowser will say and do next. There’s also a part of the story where Bowser shows he’s not just a two-dimensional antagonist: He really is kind of lovelorn over Princess Peach.

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” isn’t without flaws. The movie has a world where there are very few female characters. Princess Peach is the only female character in the movie with a prominent speaking role. There’s really no good excuse for why the filmmakers couldn’t create more than one female character to have significant roles in the adventure parts of the story. Some viewers might also dislike how brothers Mario and Luigi are not together for the vast majority of the movie.

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” has a very formulaic story that is watchable because the characters have their share of charm. The movie has a mid-credits scene featuring Bowser and an end-credits scene that hints at what a sequel’s plot might be. There are no real surprises at all to “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” which does not reinvent anything from the Nintendo games, and it’s not a groundbreaking animated film. For fans who have been anticipating this movie, think of it as the cinematic equivalent of comfort food for “Super Mario Bros.” enthusiasts and people who want to see lightweight, escapist animation.

Universal Pictures will release “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” in U.S. cinemas on April 5, 2023.

Review: ‘Blue’s Big City Adventure,’ starring Josh Dela Cruz and the voice of Traci Paige Johnson

March 11, 2023

by Carla Hay

Blue (voiced by Traci Paige Johnson) and Josh Dela Cruz in “Blue’s Big City Adventure” (Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon/Paramount+)

“Blue’s Big City Adventure”

Directed by Matt Stawski

Culture Representation: Taking place mainly in New York City, the live-action/animated/musical film “Blue’s Big City Adventure” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Asian, white, African American and Latino) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Josh and his dog best friend Blue travel to New York City so that Josh can audition for a Broadway musical, but they encounter obstacles along the way. 

Culture Audience: “Blue’s Big City Adventure” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “Blue’s Clues & You!” TV series and musical family-oriented films.

Josh Dela Cruz and Blue (voiced by Traci Paige Johnson) in “Blue’s Big City Adventure” (Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon/Paramount+)

As long as viewers know in advance that children under the age of 10 are the target audience for “Blue’s Big City Adventure,” it’s much more enjoyable to watch. It’s sweet, sincere, and has some cute musical moments. The movie is based on Nickelodeon’s “Blue’s Clues & You!” series, which is a spinoff revival of Nickelodeon’s 1996 to 2006 TV series “Blue’s Clues.” Both shows are about the live-action/animated adventures of an inquisitive dog named Blue (shown in animated form) and his human best friend. It’s completely lightweight and harmless entertainment with positive messages of self-acceptance and empathy for others.

Directed by Matt Stawski and written by Angela Santomero, “Blue’s Big City Adventure” has a simple plot. Blue’s cheerful best friend Josh (played by Josh Dela Cruz) gets an audition in New York City for a Broadway musical starring Rainbow Puppy (voiced by Brianna Bryan), one of the recurring characters in the “Blue’s Clues” series. Josh finds out about this audition when he gets a letter from Rainbow Puppy, who comes to life in the envelope.

The next thing you know, Josh and Blue are in New York City, with four of their non-human friends along for the ride: a bar of soap named Slippery Soap (voiced by Jacob Soley); an alarm clock called Tickety Tock (voiced by Ava Augustin); a shaker of salt named Mr. Salt (voiced by Nick Balaban); and a shaker of pepper named Mrs. Pepper (voiced by Gisele Rosseau). They board a bus that floats magically into a Times Square billboard.

The sights and sounds of bustling Times Square are overwhelming and fascinating for these new visitors. Josh has directions to the audition in his “handy-dandy notebook.” And predictably, the notebook gets lost, and Josh doesn’t remember the address. There are some other obstacles on the way to the audition.

“Blue’s Big City Adventure” has several original songs performed as musical scenes in the movie. A standout is “On My Way,” which is the featured tune when Josh and his group first arrive in New York City. The pals’ big city adventure takes them to famous places in New York City, such as Central Park, Grand Central Station and, of course, the Broadway Theater District.

Several well-known entertainers have nameless cameos or supporting roles. Alex Winter plays a taxi driver who gives Josh and Blue a ride. BD Wong is the musical’s director. Phillipa Soo (of “Hamilton” fame) plays an auditioner. Tony-winning actress Ali Stoker plays a version of herself. The movie also features former “Blue’s Clues” stars Steve Burns (as Steve) and Donovan Patton (as Joe) together in a scene with Dela Cruz.

“Blue’s Big City Adventure” is as bubbly and sugary as a soft drink. The movie doesn’t try to be masterful entertainment. It’s entirely predictable, but it doesn’t feel like a complete waste of time to watch. The musical numbers are perky and uplifting. And all of the characters are inoffensively appealing. In other words, it’s adorable family-oriented entertainment for kids and people who are kids at heart.

Paramount+ premiered “Blue’s Big City Adventure” on November 18, 2023.

Review: ‘Mummies’ (2023), starring the voices of Joe Thomas, Eleanor Tomlinson, Celia Imrie, Hugh Bonneville and Sean Bean

March 1, 2023

by Carla Hay

Nefer (voiced by Eleanor Tomlinson) and Thut (voiced by Joe Thomas) in “Mummies” (Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Mummies” (2023)

Directed by Juan Jesús García Galocha

Culture Representation: Taking place in London and in an underworld in Egypt, the animated film “Mummies” features a cast of characters that are Egyptian mummies and humans.

Culture Clash: A male mummy and a mummy princess are expected be engaged in an arranged marriage, but they are reluctant to get married to anyone, and their travel from their underworld in Egypt to modern-day London in search of a valuable wedding ring that was stolen from them. 

Culture Audience: “Mummies” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching any type of fantasy animation, no matter how dull and predictable it is.

Sekhem (voiced by Santiago Winder), Croc and Thut (voiced by Joe Thomas) in “Mummies” (Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Mummies” could have been a wildly imaginative adventure about the contrasts between ancient Egypt and modern London, but this boring animated film has a clunky narrative, unremarkable visuals and a stale plot. Perhaps some viewers will be satisfied with “Mummies” if they have very low standards or haven’t seen many animated films. However, this movie is so derivative and trite, it seems like a throwaway from the 1980s.

Directed by Juan Jesús García Galocha, “Mummies” has the most basic of basic plots that is really a very lukewarm, watered-down version of a Disney princess movie. Javier Barreira and Jordi Gasull wrote the frequently awkward screenplay, which was originally written as a Spanish-language film, but the movie has an English-language version too. The language difference isn’t the problem, because the dialogue in the movie would be just as witless and dull, no matter what the language.

“Mummies” begins by showing a championship charioteer named Thut (voiced by Joe Thomas) in an ancient Egyptian underworld called the World of Mummies, populated entirely by mummified creatures that are human and non-human. Thut holds the record for winning the most chariot races in the World of Mummies. Thut is in a chariot race and wins, but one of his chariot wheels falls off, and he tumbles out of his chariot. It’s a blow to his confidence, and he never enters a chariot race again.

Publicly, Thut tells people that he retired because he has no more storage space for trophies. Privately, Thut has become afraid of moving at a fast speed because of his chariot accident. As a retired charioteer, Thut occupies his time cashing in on his past glories by signing autographs. He is also the sole guardian of his energetic 8-year-old brother Sekhem (voiced by Santiago Winder), who greatly admires Thut. Sekhem has a baby crocodile as a pet named Croc, who acts like a puppy and is Sekhem’s constant companion.

Meanwhile, a greedy archaeologist named Lord Sylvester Carnaby (voiced by Hugh Bonneville), who is visiting Egypt from London, finds the tomb of an ancient Egyptian named Princess Nefer. To the dismay of Lord Carnaby, the tomb is empty. He has two bumbling sidekicks named Dennys (pronounced Dennis) and Danny (both voiced by Dan Starkey), who are fraternal twins. Viewers of “Mummies” will learn nothing about these two subordinate characters, who are essentially useless and take up space.

Princess Nefer (voiced by Eleanor Tomlinson) is actually alive and well, as an undead mummy living in the World of Mummies. In this movie, mummies do not want to interact with living human beings. The filmmakers’ world building in “Mummies” is so poorly constructed and vaguely explained, when certain mummy characters inevitably cross over into the living world, this transition just looks very tossed-off and underwhelming.

Thut and Nefer meet by chance one day on the street in the World of Mummies. Nefer and Thut trade sarcastic commentary and don’t seem to like each other very much. It’s at this point you know that they will eventually be each other’s love interest. However, Thut and Nefer tell everyone they know that they are not ready to get married to anyone. Thut says he wants to permanently remain a bachelor. Nefer, who is an only child, tells her father Pharaoh (voiced by Sean Bean): “I need at least 100 more years before I get engaged.”

Nefer loves to sing, but her old-fashioned mother (voiced by Celia Imrie) scolds Nefer for singing out loud. She tells Nefer that singing is inappropriate for royalty and should only be done by entertainers. (Karina Pasian is the singing voice of Nefer.) The only thing that Nefer’s parents want for Nefer is for her to get married, so that she can produce and heir to continue the family legacy.

In this World of Mummies, a royal family heirloom is a magical trinket in the shape of phoenix, which was given by the goddess of love. Through an ancient ritual, the phoenix comes to life and is supposed fly to the person who will become the spouse of any unmarried heir to the throne. Nefer’s family does the ritual, and the phoenix (which looks like a burning flame) flies near Thut’s home and is accidently hit with a rock by Sekhem.

When Nefer and Thut find out that the phoenix has “chosen” them to get married, they both resist the idea. Thut is told that he has to safeguard the wedding ring anyway. Through a series of events, the ring is stolen by Lord Carnaby, who brings it to London to sell and put on display in a prominent museum. Thut, Sekhem, Croc and Nefer then go to London to retrieve the ring and experience culture shock at all the modern technology.

In between the mindless dialogue and terribly staged action sequences, “Mummies” has a few musical scenes where Nefer sings, including a silly sequence where she ends up performing in a West End musical that just happens to be about Egyptian mummies. There’s nothing wrong with the singing or any of the cast members’ voice work, but the movie’s original songs and musical scenes are very bland and forgettable. You know that “Mummies” is creatively lacking in innovation when it has to over-rely on the Bangles’ 1986 hit “Walk Like An Egyptian” for its biggest musical moments.

Adding to the movie’s substandard quality, “Mummies” has a character named Ed (voiced by Shakka), who is a London-based aspiring pop music producer/composer. Ed is illustrated as someone of South Asian heritage, but the “Mummies” filmmakers made him a very corny and cringeworthy subservient stereotype. Predictably, Ed (who first saw Nefer perform in the West End musical) says that he can make Nefer a music star. And there’s some nonsense in the movie about Nessa (with Ed’s help) making a music video that becomes a viral sensation.

Everything about “Mummies” could have been pre-programmed on a computer with a data dump of outdated princess movies where the main goal is for the princess to get married and “live happily ever after.” The World of Mummies is supposed to have characters who live by ancient traditions in Egypt, so no one is expecting this movie to be about progressive feminism. But even depictions of Cleopatra in movies give her some autonomy, while Nefer has no autonomy. Even though Nefer pretends to have a mind of her own, she ultimately follows whatever the male characters tell her to do.

And you already know how this movie is going to end, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the journey along the way is entertaining to watch. In that regard, “Mummies” falls very short. “Mummies” has a few “cutesy” moments, but the overall movie is just so lazy for not bothering to have a truly innovative story and interesting characters. The entire movie is lacking in personality, just like a mummified corpse in a coffin.

Warner Bros. Pictures released “Mummies” in U.S. cinemas and in Spain on February 24, 2023.

Review: ‘New Gods: Yang Jian,’ a fantasy adventure about a mythic figure from China

January 21, 2023

by Carla Hay

Yang Jian in “New Gods: Yang Jian” (Image courtesy of GKIDS)

“New Gods: Yang Jian”

Directed by Zhao Ji

Available in the original Mandarin version (with English subtitles) or in a dubbed English-language version.

Culture Representation: Taking place in China in the years 420 to 589 (during the Wei, Jin, and Southern and Northern Dynasties), the animated film “New Gods: Yang Jian,” a sequel to 2021’s “New Gods: Nezha Reborn,” features an all-Chinese cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: A formerly powerful god, who is now a poor bounty hunter, competes with his long-lost nephew and other rivals to find the treasure of a magical lotus lantern. 

Culture Audience: “New Gods: Yang Jian” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of “New Gods: Nezha Reborn” and any fantasy film involving a hunt for hidden treasure, no matter how substandard the storytelling is.

Chenxiang in “New Gods: Yang Jian” (Image courtesy of GKIDS)

The animated film “New Gods: Yang Jian” is just a mess of fantasy adventure clichés about a hero looking for a hidden treasure, and spells that must be broken. Eye-catching visuals can’t disguise the erratic storytelling and stupid dialogue. The movie’s world building is inadequately explained. The choppy editing seems intended for viewers with short attention spans, yet it still makes the story very dull.

Directed by Zhao Ji and written by Mu Chuan, “New Gods: Yang Jian” is a sequel to the 2021 animated film “New Gods: Nezha Reborn,” also directed by Zhao and written by Mu. Both movies are loosely connected to each other in having the same concept of reincarnation/reinvention for their respective protagonist heroes, but both movies have completely self-contained plots. In other words, it’s not necessary to know anything about “New Gods: Nezha Reborn” before seeing “New Gods: Yang Jian.”

“New Gods: Yang Jian” takes place in China in the years 420 to 589 (during the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties), but most of the story really takes place within a year in a place called the Immortal Realm. The movie has numerous flashbacks that jump around from different decades, thereby further muddling the already poorly constructed plot. A story about finding a hidden treasure should be fairly uncomplicated, but “New Gods: Yang Jian” gets sidetracked with many detours and convoluted explanations that are get quite irritating after a while, in this 126-minute movie that becomes a chore to watch.

In “New Gods: Yang Jian,” Erlang Shen, also known as Erlang Mu, is a poor bounty hunter who used to be a powerful god named Yang Jian. Thirteen years ago, when he was Yang Jian, he trapped his sister Yang Chan beneath a mountain, and Yang Jian was stripped of his powers. (It’s explained why in the last third of the movie.) Yang Jian’s sister has a 13-year-old son named Chenxiang. In the beginning of the movie, Yang Jian has not seen Chenxiang since Chenxiang was a baby.

One day, Erlang/Yang Jian is visited by a mysterious woman named Wanluo, who hires him to find her sister, who disappeared 12 years ago. Wanluo says that the Lamp of Universal Contentment, also known as a magical lotus lamp, was stolen from her sister, and she wants Erlang/Yang Jian to find this magical lamp too. Guess who else is looking for the lamp? Chenxiang, because he thinks getting the lamp will free his mother from the cave.

Other rivals want the lamp too. Erlang/Yang Jian’s adversaries include a hulking duo called the Mo Brothers and a powerful but drunken military general named Shen Gongbao, who used to be a mentor to Chenxiang. Shen Gongbao also has a grudge against Yang Jian. Some other characters appear along the way. One of them is Master Yuding, an elderly and wise teacher of Gold Sunset Cave. Yang Jian used to be a student of Master Yuding.

A major problem with “New Gods: Yang Jian” is that it zips around from one elaborately created location to the next in the Immortal Realm—sometimes with editing that’s so fidgety, a location is shown for less than three minutes before it’s on to the next location. Viewers will feel like visitors who are being rushed through a tour without getting enough time or enough explanation to learn more about each location in the Immortal Realm. These locations include Penglai Fairy Island, Square Pot, Yingzhou and Smuggler’s Point.

“New Gods: Yang Jian” has some unnecessary characters that have no real bearing on the main plot. For example, the beginning of the movie shows bounty hunter Erlang on Penglai Fairy Island, where he narrowly escapes death when a monster named Boss Hai comes after him with an axe. Erlang captures a teenage boy, who is called a “snake oil peddler” and listed as Medicine Boy in the movie’s end credits. Erlang puts Medicine Boy in jail on a ship. None of this action ultimately has any revelance to the outcome of the story. “New Gods: Yang Jian” shows this jailed teenager enough times, it looks he will play an important role in the movie, but he doesn’t.

“New Gods: Yang Jian” also has very unimpressive and sexist portrayals of the movie’s few women and girls, who are either depicted as femme fatales or subservient airheads. Another very unnecessary character is a teenage girl named Xiaotian, who is infatuated with Erlang/Yang Jian. Xiaotian worships him so much, she crawls on all fours when she’s around him, as if she’s a pet animal. The male characters treat her like a pathetic “fangirl” or “groupie.” This Xiaotian character is ultimately not needed at all in the movie, and neither is the misogyny that went into creating this degrading female character.

The hunt for the Lamp of Universal Contentment doesn’t feel like a treasure hunt in the movie but more like plot objective that gets shunted to the side when the movie has more rambling expositions and flashback scenes that clutter up the story. A huge chunk of the movie takes place on a ship (probably the least interesting location), when more time could have been spent in more fascinating-looking places, such as the Fairy Palace or the Square Pot Casino. All of the movie’s fight scenes, except for the final showdown, are very forgettable. As for the characters’ personalities, they are filled with stereotypes and have simple-minded conversations. There isn’t enough comic relief to make watching this shambling movie any easier.

The voices of the “New Gods: Yang Jian” characters are portrayed by different actors, depending on the version of “New Gods: Yang Jian.” The original Chinese version (with English subtitles) has Wang Kai as Yang Jian, Li Lanling as Chenxiang, Ji Gwanling as Wanluo, Li Lihong as Master Yuding and Zhao Yi as Shen Gongbao. There’s also a U.S. version, with the dialogue dubbed in English, that has Nicholas Andrew Louie as Yang Jian, Luke Naphat Sath as Chenxiang, Christine Lin as Wanluo, Parry Shen as Master Yuding and James Sie as Shen Gongbao.

“New Gods: Yang Jian” is the type of animated film that was made to appeal to a wide range of age groups. However, this movie is not going to be very enjoyable to most children under the age of 10, who will easily get restless or bored by a jumbled plot that requires comprehension usually found in people older than the age of 10. Even people who are old enough to understand the plot will get annoyed about how “New Gods: Yang Jian” takes a little over two hours to tell a story that could have been told in a movie that’s 45 minutes or less. “New Gods: Yang Jian” is a treasure-hunt movie that is ultimately not work seeking out by viewers who want to watch a thrilling animated adventure that tells a story in a cohesive and clever way.

GKIDS released “New Gods: Yang Jian” in select U.S. cinemas on November 4, 2022, and re-released the movie in U.S. cinemas on January 20, 2023. “New Gods: Yang Jian” was released in China on August 19, 2022.

Review: ‘One Piece Film Red,’ a fantasy action adventure with pirates and a pop star

January 3, 2023

by Carla Hay

Uta and Luffy in “One Piece Film Red” (Image courtesy of Crunchyroll)

“One Piece Film Red”

Directed by Gorō Taniguchi

Available in the original Japanese version (with English subtitles) or in a dubbed English-language version.

Culture Representation: Taking place on the fictional island of Elegia, the Japanese animated film “One Piece Film Red” tells the story of pirates, a female pop star, and how her past connects to the present.

Culture Clash: The pirates get involved in a battle over the pop star, who wants to create a utopia for her legions of followers.

Culture Audience: “One Piece Film Red” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “One Piece” franchise and adventurous anime films that have some social commentary.

Red-Haired Shanks in “One Piece Film Red” (Image courtesy of Crunchyroll)

“One Piece Film Red” is an exuberant adventure story that will please new and previous fans of the “One Piece” franchise. Beyond the thrilling action scenes is clever social commentary about blindly following anyone in power who promises a utopian existence. People don’t have to know anything about the “One Piece” franchise before seeing the “One Piece Film Red,” but it helps in understanding some of the characters’ motivations, backstories and personalities. The franchise follows the adventures of a group of pirates (some with superpowers) as they battle other people in search of a famous treasure called One Piece.

Directed by Gorō Taniguchi and written by Tsutomu Kuroiwa, “One Piece Film Red” opens with the Straw Hat Pirates going to the fictional island of Elegia. The captain of the Straw Hat Pirates is a teenager named Luffy, who is also known as Straw Hat Luffy or Monkey D. Luffy. He has an upbeat personality and, for better or worse, is often impulsive. A running joke in the “One Piece” series is that Fluffy’s enormous appetite frequently affects his judgment when he is hungry for food.

The Straw Hat Pirates have gone to Elegia to see a young pop star Uta perform in concert. She’s abut the same age as Luffy, who is in his late teens. Luffy has a past connection with Uta because he met her through her biological father: a pirate named Red-Haired Shanks, who is Luffy’s idol. About 12 years earlier, Red-Haired Shanks and his pirate crew were stationed in Luffy’s native land of the Goa Kingdom. That is how Luffy met Uta, who was being raised by single father Red-Haired Shanks.

However, during Red-Haired Shanks’ travels, he left underage Uta in Elegia shortly after Luffy met her. She was adopted and raised by a man called Gordon, the former king of Elegia. Red-Haired Shanks told people that he gave up custody of Uta because she wanted to pursue a singing career, and he believed that Elegia was the best place for her to receive training.

Uta has now become a world-famous pop star with millions of devoted followers. Her performances seem to have a hypnotic effect on people because she has control of Sing-Sing Fruit, which casts a trance-like spell on people who hear Uta sing. She has messages of positivity, which makes her a beloved celebrity. Uthe has announced that she’s planning to bring her followers to a paradise called Sing-Sing World, where she says there is peace and unity.

In order to follow Uta to this world, people have to be willing to leave their regular lives behind. And that makes her a threat to the World Government. Uta comes under attack from various entitities, while Luffy and his crew have to decide which side they will take in this battle. In order to fully understand Uta, they have to uncover more of what happened to her in the past. The movie features original songs performed by Ado as Uta’s songs.

“One Piece Film Red” not only has an intriguing story, but the movie’s visuals are also captivating and enhance viewers’ enjoyment of the story. The movie also has touches of comedy that lighten the mood and make the characters more relatable. “One Piece Film Red” has a lot to say about families, identities, and how they play a role in people’s perceptions of themselves and of society. It’s not a preachy film, but it’s not just mindless fluff either.

The voices of the “One Piece Film Red” characters are portrayed by different actors, depending on the version of “One Piece Film Red.” The original Japanese version (with English subtitles) has Mayumi Tanaka as Luffy, Shūichi Ikeda as Red-Haired Shanks, Kaori Nazuka as Uta (with Ado for Uta’s singing voice), and Kenjiro Tsuda as Gordon. There’s also a U.S. version, with the dialogue dubbed in English, that has Colleen Clinkenbeard as Luffy, Brandon Potter as Red-Haired Shanks, Amanda Lee as Uta, and Jim Foronda as Gordon.

“One Piece Film Red” has moments that will be confusing to people who don’t know anything about the “One Piece” series, but these moments aren’t crucial to undertstanding the overall arc of the story. The movie admirably doesn’t have a predictable ending. “Once Piece Film Red” looks like it will end one way, but then the last few minutes offer a surprise that’s a little bit of a cliffhanger and teaser for what’s next in the “One Piece” saga.

Crunchyroll released “One Piece Film Red” in U.S. cinemas on November 4, 2022. The movie was released in Japan on August 6, 2022.

Review: ‘Inu-Oh,’ a musical thriller from Japan about lost and found identities

December 20, 2022

by Carla Hay

Inu-Oh and Tomona in “Inu-Oh” (Image courtesy of GKIDS)


Directed by Masaaki Yuasa

Available in the original Japanese version (with English subtitles) or in a dubbed English-language version.

Culture Representation: The Japanese animated film “Inu-Oh,” which takes place primarily in the 1300s, tells the story of a rock music duo that becomes popular, but secrets from their past affect their identities.

Culture Clash: The two musicians anger the ruling shōgun when the duo’s popular songs about historical events are rewritten versions of what the ruling power’s version of these events.

Culture Audience: “Inu-Oh” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in anime films that are compelling tales of non-conformity in the midst of pressure to conform.

A scene from “Inu-Oh” (Image courtesy of GKIDS)

“Inu-Oh” is an innovative reworking of a Japanese folk tale, with this anime movie making social commentary about what happens when two musicians from the 1300s give their own retelling of folk tales and suffer the consequences for it. The movie is filled with striking images, noteworthy original music, and a memorable story about identity and staying true to one’s self, even when there is pressure to change. Even though most of the film is set in the 14th century, the message is timeless. “Inu-Oh” had its world premiere at the 2021 Venice International Film Festival.

Directed by Masaaki Yuasa and written by Akiko Nogi, “In-Oh” is based on Hideo Furukawa’s historical novel “Tales of the Heike: Inu-Oh.” The title character of the “Inu-Oh” movie is the third son of a Noh dance troupe leader. Inu-Oh is treated like a freak because he was born with a deformed face, scaled-covered skin, a very long right arm, and his left arm and legs as stubs. Inu-Oh is forced to wear a mask in public. As a boy, his legs were restored when he learned how to dance by watching his father teach other people how to dance.

As an adult, Inu-Oh makes an unexpected friend named Tomona, who also has traumatic past related to his childhood. As shown in the beginning of the movie, agents of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (based on the real person), the third shōgun of the Ashikaga shogunate that ruled from 1368 to 1394, ordered Tomona and his father to hunt for treasure underwater from shipwreck. The wrecked ship is from the defeated Heike people. Tomona and his father find the legendary Grasscutter Sword in a box on the ship. This magical sword, once uncovered, unleashes a force of energy that blinds Tomona and murders Tomona’s father in half by cutting him in half.

Tomona then goes on a quest that extends through his adulthood to find out exactly why this tragedy happened. He is accompanied by the ghost of his father. Tomona then meets a group of blind biwa players and joins this troupe. However, Tomona changes his name to Tomoichi, which makes it hard for his father’s spirit to know where Tomona/Tomoichi is.

Through a series of circumstances, Tomona/Tomoichi meets Inu-Oh. They decide to form a musical duo, with Inu-Oh as the snger/danger, and Tomona/Tomoichi as the biwa player. The movie puts a modern spin on the story by having the duo perform heavy metal music. The duo’s songs have lyrics that are revisions of folk tales.

This musical duo becomes so popular, large and rapturous crowds flock to see the performances. However, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu becomes upset because the lyrics do not conform to the official folk tales. The ruler is also worried that this musical duo will have too much influence over the masses and might prompt a revolution. And you can easily guess what might happen next when it’s decided that Inu-Oh and Tomona/Tomoichi are declared threats to the government.

The voices of the “Inu-Oh” characters are portrayed by different actors, depending on the version of “Inu-Oh.” The original Japanese version (with English subtitles) has Avu-chan (of the rock band Queen Bee) as the adult Inu-oh, Mirai Moriyama as Tomona, Tasuku Emoto as Yoshimitsu Ashikaga, Kenjiro Tsuda as Inu-Oh’s Father, and Yutaka Matsushige as Tomona’s Father. There’s also a U.S. version, with the dialogue dubbed in English, that has Joshua Waters as the adult Inu-oh, Sena Bryer as Tomona, Cory Yee as Yoshimitsu Ashikaga, Jason Marnocha as Inu-Oh’s Father, and Keythe Farley as Tomona’s Father.

In addition to having impressive animation, “Inu-Oh” skillfully explores themes of artistic freedom, as well as individuality versus society “norms.” The movie also respectfully handles disability issues without glossing over the prejudices experienced by disabled people. The music of Inu-Oh is catchy but might not be enjoyed as much by people who are inclined to dislike heavy metal. Overall, “Inu-Oh” is a creative triumph that anime fans will enjoy for how the movie uniquely combines ancient and contemporary storytelling.

GKIDS released “Ino-Oh” in select U.S. cinemas on August 12, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on December 20, 2022, and is set for release on Blu-ray and DVD on January 24, 2023. “Inu-Oh” was released in Japan on May 28, 2022.

Review: ‘The Deer King,’ a fantasy adventure from Japan about a soldier rescuing a girl

December 19, 2022

by Carla Hay

Van in “The Deer King” (Image courtesy of GKIDS)

“The Deer King”

Directed by Masashi Ando and Masayuki Miyaji

Available in the original Japanese version (with English subtitles) or in a dubbed English-language version.

Culture Representation: The Japanese animated film “The Deer King,” which takes place primarily in various places in unspecified ancient time, tells the story of an exiled soldier named Van, who break out of prison, rescues a girl named Yuna, who’s about 3 or 4 years old, and they both go on the run together.

Culture Clash: Van and Yuna must avoid the spread of Black Wolf Fever, as well as the forces that wish to capture the king and the girl.

Culture Audience: “The Deer King” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in anime films and don’t mind if they are bland and predictable.

Yuna in “The Deer King” (Image courtesy of GKIDS)

“The Deer King” had the potential to be compelling anime. Unfortunately, the movie fails to capture the adventurous spirit of the novels and is bogged down by clichés, trite dialogue, and frequently tedious pacing. The animation visuals and voice acting are perfectly fine. It’s the way that the story is told that is a disappointment.

Directed by Masashi Ando and Masayuki Miyaji, “The Deer King” is based on Nahoko Uehashi’s “The Deer King” novel series that began in 2014. The books were also made into a manga series. Ando makes his feature-film directorial debut with “The Deer King,” after previously being an animation whose work as an animation director on 2001’s “Spirited Away,” 2006’s “Paprika” and 2016’s “Your Name.” “The Deer King” had its world premiere at the 2021 Annecy International Animation Film Festival.

It’s not necessary to know anything about “The Deer King” books or manga series to understand “The Deer King” movie, which takes place in a fantasy world in an unspecified ancient time. The movie has an introduction that explains background information for the story: “The kingdom of Aquafa was once ravaged by the empire of Zol. Fearing the mysterious Black Wolf Fever, Zol ceased invading Aquafa’s Fire Horse territory. Despite later skirmishes, both nations held their own. Now, Aquafa is under the dominion of Zol. Today, the fever is thought to be no more.”

A soldier named Van has been held prisoner in a salt mine controlled by the Zol empire. A pack of wolves attack some and kill some people near the salt mine. When the wolves pass by Van’s jail cell, Van notices that a wolf has girl who’s about 3 or 4 years old, who’s trapped inside of the wolf’s mouth. Van later finds out that the girl is named Yunacha, but she goes by her preferred nickname Yuna.

Van gets the wolf to drop Yuna, but Van is injured in the process when the wolf bites Van. The wolf’s bite gives Van supernatural powers to break out of the jail cell. Van takes Yuna, and the two of them escape and hide out from people who who are looking for Van, who had been taken prison after the Battle of the Kashuna River. Meanwhile, Black Wolf Fever (also known as Mittsual), which was thought to have disappeared, has returned and is now rapidly infecting communities.

During their journey, Van and Yuna meet a confident young man named Hohsalle Yuguraul, who calls himself a “sacred doctor”; a loudmouth brute named Mokokan; a female warrior named Sae, who has been tasked with tracking down Van; the ruthless Lord Utala, who blames the Aquafese people for brining back the “curse” of Black Wolf Fever; and farmer couple Tohma and Kiya, who give Van and Yuna some refuge. Magical deer creatures named pyuika are mentioned many times in the story and have a purpose that is very obvious.

For a movie that is supposed to be an action-adventure film, many parts of “The Deer King” are actually quite boring, especially in the middle section. Van has a backstory that is eventually revealed, and it’s the most sterotypical backstory that you can guess for a soldier who was all alone in the world when he became a prisoner of war in a world that has been plagued by Black Wolf Fever. Van and Yuna predictably bond like a surrogate father and a child.

The voices of the “The Deer King” characters are portrayed by different actors, depending on the version of “The Deer King.” The original Japanese version (with English subtitles) has Shinichi Tsutsumi as Van, Hisui Kimura as Yuna, Ryoma Takeuchi as Hohsalle, Tôru Sakurai as Mokokan, Anne Watanabe as Sae, Yutaka Aoyama as Lord Utalu, Chad Horii as Tohma, and Hiromi Kawakami as Kiya. There’s also a U.S. version, with the dialogue dubbed in English, that has Ray Chase as Van, Luciana VanDette as Yuna, Griffin Puatu as Hohsalle, Luis Bermudez as Makokan, Erica Schroeder as Sae, Doug Erholtz as Lord Utalu, Stefan Martello as Tohmo, and Larissa Gallagher as Kiya.

“The Deer King” might satisfy people who will watch any type of animation, no matter what the quality is. But considering all the high-quality and entertaining animation that already exists, “The Deer King” falls short of what could have been offered in this movie. It’s not a terrible movie, but it’s not a very impressive one and should have been a lot better, considering the level of talented animation filmmakers who were involved. “The Deer King” just lumbers along with no surprises and absolutely no clever thrills.

GKIDS released “The Deer King” in select U.S. cinemas on July 15, 2022, after a two-night preview in association with Fathom Events on July 13 and July 14, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on October 4, 2022, and on Blu-ray and DVD on October 15, 2022. “The Deer King” was released in Japan on February 4, 2022.

Review: ‘Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,’ starring the voices of Gregory Mann, David Bradley, Ewan McGregor, Christoph Waltz, Ron Perlman, Tilda Swinton, Finn Wolfhard and Cate Blanchett

December 6, 2022

by Carla Hay

Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) and Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann) in “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” (Image courtesy of Netflix)

“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio”

Directed by Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson

Culture Representation: Taking place in World War II-era Italy in the 1940s (and briefly in 1916), the animated film “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” features cast of human characters (all white Italians) and magical creatures representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An elderly wood carver/carpenter makes a puppet boy that comes alive and then goes on a quest to become a human being. 

Culture Audience: “Pinocchio” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and the original 1940 “Pinocchio” movie and are interested in seeing a unique retelling of this classic story.

Sebastian J. Cricket (voiced by Ewan McGregor) in “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” (Image courtesy of Netflix)

“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” is a stellar example of how to do a highly creative movie remake that maintains the spirit of the original while making imaginative revisions. It’s destined to be a classic in stop-motion animation. The movie takes a while to get to the action-adventure part of the story, so be prepared for a lot of very talkative scenes in the first half of the film. “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” is such a visual treat that lets viewers get to know the characters in a meaningful way, the leisurely pace in the movie’s first half is not too much of a detriment to the film overall.

Oscar-winning filmmaker del Toro had been trying to make a stop-motion animation version of “Pinocchio” since 2002, when the Jim Henson Company acquired the rights to make Carlo Collodi’s 1883 children’s fairy tale “The Adventures of Pinocchio.” “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” (whose animation is inspired by illustrator Gris Grimly’s interpretation of Pinocchio) is directed by del Toro and Mark Gustafson, with the movie’s adapted screenplay written by del Toro and Patrick McHale. The book was famously made into Disney’s 1940 musical animated film “Pinocchio.” “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” keeps the gist of the story (an Italian wooden puppet named Pinocchio that wants to become a human boy) and brings it into the 20th century.

It’s not a political movie or a preachy film, but “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” is primarily set during World War II, when Italy was under the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. A such, “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” has themes about the horrors of war and how people can become puppets under an oppressive government. The movie keeps the original story’s meaningful messages about family love, coping with death and self-acceptance. There are touches of comedy in “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” but people should not expect a perky musical. The movie’s overall tone is dramatic.

“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” begins with a flashback to 1916, in an unnamed part of Italy, where a kind and amiable wood carver/carpenter named Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley) lives happily with his son Carlo (voiced by Gregory Mann), who’s 10 years old. Geppetto is a single parent. Carlo’s mother is not seen or mentioned in the movie. The movie’s intermittent narrator is a nomadic cricket named Sebastian J. Cricket (voiced by Ewan McGregor), who has settled in Geppetto’s home workshop to write a memoir about his extensive travels.

One day, Carlo finds a pine cone and gives it to Geppetto so that Geppetto can plant the pine cone, with the expectation that it will grow into a tree. Carlo gives this gift to Geppetto on the day that he accompanies Geppetto to a carpenter job at the local church, where Geppetto is restoring a giant statue of Jesus Christ on a crucifix. Suddenly, military airplanes appear in the sky, and a bomb is dropped on the church. Geppetto escapes, but Carlo is killed instantly.

About 25 years later, Geppetto is a very lonely elderly man, who is still grieving heavily over the death of Carlo. He sometimes gets drunk to try to cope with his emotional pain. The pine cone that Carlo gave to him all those years ago has now grown into a pine tree. In a drunken rage, Carlo cuts down the tree and makes a wooden boy puppet out of the tree, as a tribute to Carlo. Sebastian observes it all.

One night, the benevolent Wood Sprite (voiced by Tilda Swinton) visits the workshop, and finds out from Sebastian that the puppet was made so that Geppetto wouldn’t be lonely and to remind Gepetto of his son Carlo. (The Wood Sprite is called the Blue Fairy in other versions of “Pinocchio.”) The Wood Sprite brings the boy puppet to life, and names the puppet Pinocchio (also voiced by Mann), while Sebastian witnesses this magical spell. The Wood Sprite calls herself a “guardian” on Earth. She tells Sebastian: “I care for little things, the forgotten things, the lost ones.” And she asks Sebastian to help her look after Pinocchio.

At first, Geppetto is frightened by the sight of Pinocchio being alive, but he eventually loves Pinocchio like a son. One day, Pinocchio follows Geppetto to church, where the parishioners treat Pinocchio with fear and suspicion. The churchgoers think that this talking puppet is demonic, but Geppetto assures them that Pinocchio is just a puppet. Still, Pinocchio is treated like an outcast in the village from then onwards.

The church’s priest (voiced by Burn Gorman) and the village’s podesta (voiced by Ron Perlman), who represent the village’s top authority figures, order Geppetto to send Pinocchio to school, so that Pinocchio can learn the rules and laws of this Italian society. Viewers will have to overlook that most of the main characters have British accents in the English-language version of this movie. Because most of movie’s voice actors do not have Italian accents, it’s one of the few details that “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” gets wrong, but most viewers won’t notice or care.

The very stern podesta has a son named Candlewick (voiced by Finn Wolfhard), who often lives in fear of his domineering father and tries hard to please his father. The podesta is quick to judge others harshly and is eager to dole out punishment to anyone he thinks doesn’t follow his orders. Candlewick and Pinocchio are around the same age, in terms of emotional maturity level, and their relationship at first consists of Candlewick being a bully to naïve Pinocchio.

For example, Candlewick plays a mean-spirited prank on Pinocchio by suggesting that Pinocchio move closer to a fire to get warmer. As a result, Pinocchio’s legs get partially burned off, but Geppetto compassionately makes new and improved legs for Pinocchio. Candlewick and Pinocchio eventually become friends in a poignant storyline where they find out they have more in common than Candlewick thought. Pinocchio also wants to please Geppetto like a dutiful son. These father-son issues are recurring themes in the movie’s story.

Pinocchio doesn’t go to school as planned, and he ends up being lured into working at a carnival as the star act. The carnival is led by greedy and unscrupulous Count Volpe (voiced by Christoph Waltz), who is cruel and abusive to his loyal and sweet-natured monkey Spazzatura (voiced by Cate Blanchett). The rest of “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” has faithful renditions of the original story while adding very different new plotlines to the movie.

Sebastian the cricket (who is a purple instead of the traditional green) is not an ever-present sidekick with Pinocchio. In this movie, Pinocchio actually spends more time with Candlewick. “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” also has a character called Death (also voiced by Swinton), who is the sister of the Wood Sprite. Both sisters are blue magical creatures that talk without moving their mouths. The character of Death has a lot to do with some of the main changes to the story.

There are some pleasant original songs performed in “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” but none that will become iconic such as “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Disney’s 1940 version of “Pinocchio.” Alexandre Desplat, who wrote the terrific musical score for “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” collaborated with Roeban Katz on the movie’s original songs “My Son” (performed by Bradley) and the Mann-performed “Fatherland March,” “Big Baby Il Duce March” and “Ciao Papa.” It certainly would have been easier (and lazier) to try to replicate the Disney songs from 1940’s “Pinocchio,” so the filmmakers of “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” deserve some credit for not relying on the same old type of tunes.

The voice cast in “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” is top-notch and delivers the expected emotions on a very entertaining level. John Turturro has a supporting role as a doctor, while Tim Blake Nelson voices the four Black Rabbits that encounter Pinocchio. Mann’s high-pitched British voice is perfectly fine, but might be a little bit of a distraction for people who think Pinocchio should’ve sounded more Italian or southern European in this movie.

Waltz has played many villainous characters, so his interpretation of Count Volpe has the expected amount of sleaze and smarminess. Blanchett’s voice work is the biggest surprise because many people would never guess she’s the wordless voice of a monkey in this movie. McGregor’s distinctive voice seems underused, since the cricket character isn’t as prominently featured in “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” compared to other “Pinocchio” movies. However, Sebastian gets a big scene in “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” where his strong-willed and opinionated personality is expressed in full force when scolding Geppetto for not appreciating Pinocchio.

As for the movie’s visuals, the animation is striking, gorgeous and often emotionally rousing. It is stop-motion animation that represents the best of what could be done creatively and technically when this movie was made. The ending of “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” is a major departure from the original book and 1940’s “Pinocchio,” but the conclusion is handled in a way that’s of a much higher quality than Disney’s inferior 2022 remake of “Pinocchio.”

Fantasy films of del Toro often walk the line between whimsy and melancholy in telling stories of life and death. “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” is no different and is, without question, one of del Toro’s most impressive movies. Some people looking for more action sequences in this movie might be disappointed, but “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” has much more to offer than being a superficial joy ride.

Netflix released “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” in select U.S. cinemas on November 9, 2022. The movie will premiere on Netflix on December 9, 2022.

Copyright 2017-2023 Culture Mix