Review: ‘Pinocchio’ (2022), starring Tom Hanks and the voices of Benjamin Evan Ainsworth and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

September 8, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tom Hanks and Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) in “Pinocchio” (Image courtesy of Disney Enterprises Inc.)

“Pinocchio” (2022)

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed magical world, the live-action/animated film “Pinocchio” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Latin people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An elderly wood carver 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 star Tom Hanks and the original 1940 “Pinocchio” movie, but all the star power of this “Pinocchio” remake can’t save the movie from being a lackluster retelling of a classic story.

Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) in “Pinocchio” (Image courtesy of Disney Enterprises Inc.)

Watching how Pinocchio’s nose grows in Disney’s original 1940 “Pinocchio” movie is much more interesting to look at than this unnecessary “Pinocchio” movie remake from filmmaker Robert Zemeckis. The original “Pinocchio” movie is a Disney animated classic. This Disney 2022 remake of “Pinocchio,” which is a live-action/animation hybrid, is like watching a substandard imitation dressed up with modern technology. Even having a talented cast isn’t enough to elevate Zemeckis’ version of “Pinocchio” out of its stagnant blandness.

Zemeckis is the director, co-writer (with Chris Weitz) and one of the producers of this version of “Pinocchio,” which is based on author Carlo Collodi’s 1883 Italian children’s novel “The Adventures of Pinocchio.” In addition to the 1940 animated film, there have been several other movie versions of “Pinocchio.” Italian actor/filmmaker Roberto Benigni directed, co-wrote and starred as the title character in a disastrous live-action reimagining of “Pinocchio,” released in 2002. Benigni then starred as Pinocchio creator Geppetto in director Matteo Garrone’s live-action “Pinocchio,” which was released in 2019 in Italy, and in 2020 and 2021 in other countries.

Zemeckis’ “Pinocchio” is the first of two “Pinocchio” movies releasing in 2022. Guillermo del Toro directed Netflix’s musical animated version of “Pinocchio” (due out in December 2022), featuring the voices of Gregory Mann as Pinocchio, Ewan McGregor as Sebastian J. Cricket and David Bradley as Geppetto. We don’t need two “Pinocchio” movies in one year. Enough already.

What viewers will see in Zemeckis’ version of “Pinocchio” is a lazy retread of Disney’s 1940 version, except for a few new characters (that don’t change the overall arc of the story), four new songs and a very different ending that’s the one truly unique thing about Zemeckis’ “Pinocchio.” Some people might not like this new ending, but the intentions are good in sending a message about celebrating self-acceptance. However, it’s not a good sign when a movie remake waits until the very end to show something that’s a surprise departure from the original movie story.

There’s no question that this version of “Pinocchio” has a talented cast, but their talents are not showcased in an exemplary way in the movie. Tom Hanks portrays Geppetto, the lonely and elderly wood carver, who makes a boy puppet named Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) as a companion, because Geppetto is grieving over the deaths of his wife and son. (The movie doesn’t mention how and when they died, but Geppetto has a family photo showing him with his wife and underage son when Geppetto was a young man.) Geppetto also has a pet goldfish named Cleo and a pet cat named Figaro, whose animation makes this feline look very fake. These animal characters add nothing important to the movie.

Geppetto has a home workshop filled with clocks that he’s made, but he refuses to sell them because he says his wife adored these clocks. There’s no explanation for how Geppetto makes a living if he won’t sell what he’s made. However, it’s abundantly clear that this version of “Pinocchio” is a soulless Disney remake when it has blatant shilling of other Disney movies. Many of Geppetto’s cuckoo clocks are basically Disney merchandise, with the clocks revealing characters from Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Toy Story” (the Woody character, voiced by Hanks), “Cinderella,” the Zemeckis-directed “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Dumbo.”

Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the wise, talking cricket who becomes Pinocchio’s companion, is the narrator of this version of “Pinocchio,” and he tells the story as a flashback. This narration choice is awkward because viewers should feel like they’re going along for the ride and experiencing the journey as the characters are experiencing the story, not being guided by a know-it-all creature who tells this narration as a flashback. Jiminy Cricket’s hindsight narration ends up being a detriment to the movie.

One night, a northern star beams a light into Pinocchio, who is turned into a living, talking puppet. Jiminy Cricket is there to witness the whole thing. Shortly afterward, Pinocchio is visited by the Blue Fairy (played by Cynthia Erivo), who touches him with her wand and gives Pinocchio a mind of his own. The Blue Fairy tells Pinocchio that in order for him to become a real boy, “You have to be brave, truthful and unselfish.”

Pinocchio later finds out that when he tells a lie, his nose temporarily elongates. The bigger the lie, the longer his nose gets. When he tells the truth again, his nose goes back to its original size. This pivotal plot development gets very underwhelming treatment in this “Pinocchio” remake, compared to how it was better-used in the original “Pinocchio” movie.

Of course, Geppetto is shocked that Pinocchio has come to life. He treats Pinocchio like a son, but Pinocchio still longs to be human. There’s a lot of talk in the movie about Pinocchio wanting a conscience as part of his humanity. And it isn’t long before Pinocchio ends up being separated from Geppetto. Pinocchio unwittingly becomes part of a traveling circus and is financially exploited by a magician named Stromboli (played by Giuseppe Battiston), who is helped by two con artists: a sneaky red fox named Honest John (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) and his mute alley cat sidekick Gideon.

Other familiar “Pinocchio” characters are in this remake: street urchin boy Lampwick (played by Lewin Lloyd) befriends Pinocchio. And the villainous Coachman (played by Luke Evans, hamming it up to the hilt) is also in the movie. This “Pinocchio” remake keeps the same story line for Pleasure Island, which has some of the movie’s best visual sequences.

There are three new characters that give this version of “Pinocchio” more female representation than the original “Pinocchio” movie: a talking seagull named Sofia (voiced by Lorraine Bracco); a circus puppeteer named Fabiana (played by Kyanne Lamaya), who wears a leg brace that’s mentioned in the movie; and a French ballerina puppet named Sabina (voiced by Jaquita Ta’le), who is Fabiana’s constant companion. These characters don’t change the basics of the story, but they just allow the movie to have more diverse characters interact with Pinocchio.

This version of “Pinocchio” has somewhat of a useless sequence of Pinocchio trying to fit in with human children at a school. The school has a teacher named Signora Vitelli (played by Sheila Atim) and a headmaster (played by Jamie Demetriou), who expels Pinocchio from the school when the headmaster finds out that Pinocchio is not a human boy. It’s just another way to show why Pinocchio is desperate to become human, because Pinocchio wants to please his father by going to school to get an education.

This remake of “Pinocchio” makes a half-hearted attempt to be a musical, but there are only seven songs that are sung in the movie. Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard wrote four original songs for this movie, with all of them unremarkable and not worthy of praise: “When He Was Here With Me” and “Pinocchio Pinocchio,” performed by Hanks; “I Will Always Dance,” performed by Lamaya; and “The Coachman to Pleasure Island,” performed by Evans. The Leigh Harline/Ned Washington-written songs from 1940’s “Pinocchio” that are in this “Pinocchio” remake are “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor’s Life for Me),” performed by Key; “I’ve Got No Strings,” performed by Ainsworth; and “When You Wish Upon a Star,” performed by Erivo.

This version of Pinocchio has a mishmash of international language accents, some delivered in better ways than others. Hanks’ Geppetto accent drifts in and out of sounding Italian and American. Lloyd’s version of Lampwick has an accent that sounds half-British, half-Brooklynite. It’s as if the actors know this “Pinocchio” movie is far from award-worthy, and some of them didn’t bother to work on having a consistent talking accent for their characters.

Disney has been getting criticism for doing inferior remakes of classic Disney animated films. This version of “Pinocchio” is an example of why this criticism exists. Disney had such little faith in this version of “Pinocchio,” it was not released in theaters. Disney also placed a review embargo on this version of “Pinocchio,” so that critics could not publish reviews of the movie before Disney+ released the movie to the public. This late embargo is always a sign of a bad film. Pinocchio should hold his nose for being in this stinker movie.

Disney+ premiered “Pinocchio” on September 8, 2022.

Review: ‘DC League of Super-Pets,’ starring the voices of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart

July 26, 2022

by Carla Hay

Merton (voiced by Natasha Lyonne), PB (voiced by Vanessa Bayer), Krypto (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), Chip (voiced by Diego Luna) and Ace (voiced by Kevin Hart) in “DC League of Super-Pets” (Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“DC League of Super-Pets”

Directed by Jared Stern; co-directed by Sam Levine

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the fictional city of Metropolis, the animated film “DC League of Super-Pets” features a racially diverse cast (white, black, Asian and Latino) portraying talking animals, superheroes and citizens of Metropolis.

Culture Clash: Inspired by DC Comics characters, “DC League of Super-Pets” features a group of domesticated pets, including Superman’s dog Krypto, fighting crime and trying to save the world from an evil guinea pig that is loyal to supervillain Lex Luthor.

Culture Audience: “DC League of Super-Pets” will appeal primarily to fans of DC Comics, the movie’s cast members and adventure-filled animated movies centered on talking animals.

Lulu (voiced by Kate McKinnon) in “DC League of Super-Pets” (Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Even though “DC League of Super-Pets” sometimes gets cluttered with subplots and characters, this animated film is a treat that has a winning combination of pets and superheroes. There’s plenty to like for people of many ages. In addition to the appeal of having familiar characters from DC Comics, “DC League of Super-Pets” is a well-cast film for its voice actors, because the cast members bring their own unique flairs to the characters. It’s helpful but not necessary to have knowledge of DC Comics characters before watching this movie.

Directed by Jared Stern and co-directed by Sam Levine, “DC League of Super-Pets” makes good use of mixing zany comedy, engaging action and some heartwarming and touching moments. Stern makes his feature-film directorial debut with “DC League of Super-Pets,” which he co-wrote with John Whittington. Stern and Whittington also co-wrote 2017’s “The Lego Batman Movie.” Where “DC League of Super-Pets” falters is when it tries to cram in certain plot developments to the point where “DC League of Super-Pets” comes dangerously close to biting off more than it can chew. (No pun intended.)

If you have no interest in watching an animated movie about pets and would-be pets of superheroes, then “DC League of Super-Pets” probably is not for you. The world already has more than enough animated films about talking animals. However, “DC League of Super-Pets” mostly succeeds at being entertaining when putting comic book characters in a predictable but dependable story of a group of misfits that become friends while trying to save the world.

“DC League of Super-Pets” begins by showing how Superman (whose birth name is Kal-El) ended up with his loyal Labrador Retriever dog Krypto. Kal-El was born on the planet Krypton. When he was a baby, Krypton went under attack, so his parents put Kal-El on a spaceship alone and sent him to Earth for his safety. Kal-El’s parents Jor-El (voiced by Alfred Molina) and Lara (voiced by Lena Headey) say their emotional goodbye to Kal-El.

Jor-El says, “Krypton is about to die.” Lara adds, “But you, dear son, will live on.” Suddenly, the family’s Labrador Retriever puppy jumps on the spaceship with Kal-El. At first, Jor-El wants to try to get the dog back, but the space ship has already been set in motion. Lara tells Jor-El: “Our boy will need a friend.” Jor-El says to the dog: “Watch over our son.”

Years later, Kal-El is now an adult living in the big city of Metropolis under the name Clark Kent. He’s a bachelor who works as a reporter at the Daily Planet newspaper, but Clark Kent is an alter ego to his secret identity: a superhero named Superman (voiced by John Krasinski), who has super-strength, X-ray vision and the ability to fly. The dog, named Krypto (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), is still his loyal companion and knows about the secret life of Superman, because Krypto often fights crime alongside Superman.

Krypto has superpowers that are the same as Superman’s superpowers. And they both have the same weakness: an energy force called kryptonite that can drain their superpowers. Krypto and Superman are a lot alike, when it comes to how they view crime and justice. However, Superman and Krypto are very different when it comes to adapting to life on Earth: Superman/Clark Kent is social with humans, while Kypto is very aloof with other pets on Earth.

An early scene in the movie shows Krypto trying to get Superman to wake up because Krypto wants to go for a walk. But “walking the dog” for Superman really means “flying through the air with the dog.” Krypto often leads the way on the leash. The Metropolis in “DC League of Super-Pets” is designed to look like a modern, well-kept city with many tall buildings, just like in the comic books.

In this version of Metropolis, Superman is such a familiar sight, no one really thinks it’s unusual to see Superman in a park with his dog Krypto. It’s during one of these park outings that Krypto sees that things at home will soon change for Superman and Krypto. Superman/Clark Kent and his Daily Planet journalist co-worker Lois Lane (voiced by Olivia Wilde) are very much in love, and they meet at the park for a date. They show lovey-dovey public displays of affection, much to Krypto’s dismay.

The relationship between Superman/Clark Kent and Lois has gotten serious enough where it looks like this couple could be headed toward marriage. Krypto is jealous and fearful that Superman/Clark Kent will no longer have the time and attention for Krypto if Lois moves in with them. Krypto doesn’t dislike Lois. Krypto just sees her as a threat to the comfortable existence he has always known with Superman/Clark Kent.

As Krypto worries about how his home life will change if Lois moves in, some other pets in Metropolis are worried if they’ll ever have a permanent home. At an animal shelter called Tailhuggers, several pets are up for adoption, but so far, they have no takers. The shelter is run by a bachelorette named Patty (voiced by Yvette Nicole Brown), who is very kind to the pets and keeps them under vigilant protection.

Brash and sarcastic hound dog Ace (voiced by Kevin Hart) is the leader of the shelter pets. Other animals at the shelter are elderly turtle Merton (voiced by Natasha Lyonne), cheerful pig PB (voiced by Vanessa Bayer) and nervous squirrel Chip (voiced by Diego Luna), who are Ace’s closest friends at the shelter. Also at the shelter is a cat name Whiskers (voiced by Winona Bradshaw), whose loyalty to the shelter pets is later tested.

Ace is anxious to run away from the shelter and is constantly plotting his escape. He tells his animal shelter friends that he knows of a paradise-like farm upstate where they can all go to live freely. One day, Ace actually manages to run away from the shelter, but he doesn’t go far. He’s literally stopped in his tracks by “law and order” Krypto, who uses his superpowers to freeze Ace’s legs to the sidewalk when he sees that Ace is a runaway shelter dog. Needless to say, Ace and Krypto clash with each other the first time that they meet.

Meanwhile, Superman has a crime-fighting incident where he summons the help of his Justice League superhero colleagues: Batman (voiced by Keanu Reeves), Wonder Woman (voiced by Jamila Jamil), Aquaman (voiced by Jemaine Clement), Green Lantern (voiced by Dascha Polanco), The Flash (voiced by John Early) and Cyborg (voiced by Daveed Diggs). Through a series of incidents, all of these superheroes are captured by billionaire supervillain (and longtime Superman nemesis) Lex Luthor (voiced by Marc Maron), who is keeping his captives hidden in a secret lair. Lex also has a cynical assistant named Mercy Graves (voiced by Maya Erksine), who isn’t in the movie as much as she could have been. Mercy’s screen time is less than five minutes.

All of that would be enough of a plot for this movie, but “DC League of Super-Pets” also has a plot about a devious guinea pig named Lulu (voiced by Kate McKinnon), who manages to escape from a Lex Luthor-owned scientific lab that was experimenting on guinea pigs. Somehow, Lulu gets ahold of orange kryptonite (she’s immune to kryptonite), she develops telekinesis powers, and goes on a mission to prove her loyalty to Lex by trying to destroy the Justice League.

Lulu has an army of former lab guinea pigs to do her bidding. Two of Lulu’s most loyal of these accomplices are mutant guinea pigs that also have newfound superpowers: Mark (voiced by Ben Schwartz) is fiery red and can shoot flames, while Keith (voiced by Thomas Middleditch) is ice-blue and has the ability to freeze things. Lulu also has a plot to (cliché alert) take over the world.

It should come as no surprise that Krypto ends up joining forces with Ace, Merton, PB and Chip to try to save the Justice League and save the world. During the course of the story, certain superpowers are gained, lost and possibly gained again for certain characters. Viewers of “DC League of Super-Pets” should not expect the Justice League superheroes and Lex Luthor to get a lot of screen time, because the movie is more about the pets.

Lulu’s revenge plot gets a little convoluted, but not so confusing that very young children won’t be able to understand. The movie has the expected high-energy antics, with animation and visual effects that aren’t groundbreaking but are aesthetically pleasing on almost every level. Once viewers get used to all the characters that are quickly introduced in the movie, it makes “DC League of Super-Pets” more enjoyable.

The movie has some recurring jokes, such as self-referencing all the movies and licensing deals that come from comic-book superheroes. “DC League of Super-Pets” also has a running gag of guinea pig Lulu being insulted when she’s often misidentified as a hamster. After one such misidentification, Lulu snarls, “A hamster is just a dollar-store gerbil!”

Lulu has some of the funniest lines in the movie. When she sees the DC League of Super-Pets together, she makes this snarky comment: “What is this? PAW Patrol?” And even though Batman isn’t in the movie for a lot of time, he also has some memorable one-liners, which he delivers in a deadpan manner.

It soon becomes obvious that these Super-Pets have another purpose besides saving the world: Each pet will be paired with a Justice League superhero. PB is a big fan of Wonder Woman. This star-struck pig thinks that Wonder Woman has the confidence and independent spirit that PB thinks is lacking in PB’s own personality.

Turtles are known for walking slow, so it should come as no surprise that Merton admires The Flash, whose known for his superpower of lightning-fast speed. Ace sees himself as an “alpha male” who strikes out on his own when he has to do so, which makes Batman a kindred spirit. Chip is attracted to the fearlessness of Green Lantern. As for Aquaman and Cyborg, it’s shown at the end of the movie which pets will be paired with them.

Amid the action and comedy, “DC League of Super-Pets” also has some meaningful messages about finding a family of friends. Ace has a poignant backstory about how he ended up at an animal shelter. Ace’s background explains why he puts up a tough exterior to hide his vulnerability about being abandoned.

Johnson (who is one of the producers of “DC League of Super-Pets”) and Hart have co-starred in several movies together. Their comedic rapport as lead characters Krypto and Ace remains intact and one of the main reasons why “DC League of Super-Pets” has voice cast members who are perfectly suited to each other. Hart is a lot less grating in “DC League of Super-Pets” than he is in some of his other movies, where he often plays an over-the-top-buffoon.

Even though Ace is an animated dog, he has more heart than some of the human characters that Hart has played in several of his mediocre-to-bad movies, Law-abiding Krypto and rebellious Ace have opposite personalities, but they learn a lot from each other in ways that they did not expect. All of the other heroic characters have personal growth in some way too.

“DC League of Super-Pets” is a recommended watch for anyone who wants some escapist animation with entertainment personalities. The movie’s mid-credits scene and end-credits scene indicate that “DC League of Super-Pets” is the beginning of a movie series. It’s very easy to imagine audiences wanting more of these characters in movies if the storytelling is good.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “DC League of Super-Pets” in U.S. cinemas on July 29, 2022.

Review: ‘Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank,’ starring the voices of Michael Cera, Ricky Gervais, George Takei, Aasif Mandvi, Michelle Yeoh and Samuel L. Jackson

July 13, 2022

by Carla Hay

Hank (voiced by Michael Cera) and and Jimbo (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank (Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Align and Aniventure)

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank”

Directed by Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier and Chris Bailey

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the fictional town of Kakamucho, the animated film “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” features a racially diverse cast (white, black, Asian and Latino) portraying talking animals.

Culture Clash: Inspired by the 1974 comedy film “Blazing Saddles,” a dog named Hank is chosen to be a samurai to save a town of cats, but Hank doesn’t know not he’s been set up by villain who wants to rid the town of the cats and wants Hank to be killed.

Culture Audience: “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” will appeal primarily to fans of “Blazing Saddles” and people who enjoy family-oriented films with positive messages of self-confidence and not judging people by physical appearances.

Ika Chu (voiced by Ricky Gervais) and Ohga (voiced by George Takei) in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” (Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Align and Aniventure)

No one should expect “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” to be award-worthy. But as family entertainment with positive messages, memorable characters and an action-filled story (that sometimes gets jumbled), the movie delivers on a satisfactory level. Although “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” was inspired by the classic 1974 film “Blazing Saddles,” anyone expecting the dark comedy of “Blazing Saddles” will be sorely disappointed.

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” is an animated film geared to people of various ages (mostly underage kids), so the tone of the movie is lighthearted and lightweight. Because it’s an animated movie with talking animals and a theme of an underestimated animal training to be a protective fighter, “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” might also get some comparisons to the 2008 animated film “Kung Fu Panda.” “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” isn’t as good as “Kung Fu Panda” and is unlikely to have as large of a fan base that the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise has, but not all movies aspire to be classics.

Directed by Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier and Chris Bailey, “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” has the benefit of very talented voice cast members who give the movie’s characters unique personalities. This is not the type of animated film where it’s hard to tell the characters apart from each other. Ed Stone and Nate Hopper wrote the adapted screenplay for “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank,” which also gives screenwriting credit to “Blazing Saddles” screenwriters Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor and Alan Uger.

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” begins with showing a town called Kakamucho, which is populated entirely by cats. Although the town could exist anywhere, the Kakamucho residents follow ancient Japanese military traditions of shoguns and samurai. The town has recently been plagued by bandits. The shogun of Kakamucho will be arriving soon and will be asked by find samurai who can protect the town. “Blazing Saddles” director/co-writer Brooks is the voice of Shogun, a British shorthair cat.

However, the story’s villain wants to get rid of the residents of Kakamucho, so that he can use the land for greedy redevelopment purposes. The villain is a scheming Somali cat named Ika Chu (voiced by Ricky Gervais), a character that people might or might not enjoy watching, depending on how they feel about Gervais and his cutting British comedy that he brings to this cat’s personality. In movies like this, every villain has a sidekick. Ika Chu’s sidekick is Ohga (voiced by George Takei), a burly Manx cat who leads Ika Chu’s army.

Ika Chu has concocted a plan where he decides to fool a dog into thinking that the dog has been selected as a samurai to protect Kakamucho. Because cats and dogs have been enemies, Ika Chu is counting on the dog to be killed by the Kakamucho residents. Because it’s against the law to kill a samurai, Ika Chu will then have the entire town arrested, and then have the land to himself.

The dog who becomes the unwitting target of Ika Chu’s dastardly plan is Hank (voiced by Michael Cera), a socially awkward beagle who has recently been released from prison. It’s implied that Hank might have been unjustly imprisoned simply because he’s a dog in a cat’s town. Iku Chu summons Hank and lies to him by saying that Hank has been chosen as the samurai to protect Kakamucho. When Hank expresses skepticism, Ika Chu spontaneously scratches the word “samurai” on a coffee mug and gives it to Hank as an “official” memento that Hank is now an appointed samurai.

Hank has no idea how to be a samurai, so he enlists the help of tuxedo cat Jimbo (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), a washed-up and cranky samurai, who spends a lot of time getting drunk on catnip. Jimbo is very reluctant to become a sensei mentor to Hank, but he eventually agrees. Jimbo isn’t entirely convinced that a dog will be accepted by the cats of Kakamucho.

Hank and Jimbo do a lot of arguing during this training, but they have somewhat of a emotional breakthrough when Hank finds out that he’s met Jimbo before. Hank tells Jimbo about a time several years earlier when an unidentified samurai cat rescued Hank from being bullied by some bad dogs. Jimbo reveals that he was that cat.

Jimbo eventually opens up to Hank about something painful from his past too. Years ago, Jimbo was head of security at the birthday party for his employer, an elite feline named Toshi. However, Jimbo accidentally caused a major disaster at the party. The accident resulted in Toshi’s in-laws to become sterile. This mishap embarrassed Jimbo so much, he quit being a samurai and became a bitter recluse.

Although this is a fictional animated film, “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” has a lot to say about prejudices that can negatively divide individuals. It’s a message that’s explicitly stated in the film, but one that’s still meaningful. The bigotry between the cats and dogs in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” is obvious symbolism for bigotry in hate groups that teach people to hate others based on their identities or physical appearances.

Observant viewers will also notice how “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” shows something that often happens in real life: opinions and thoughts from young females are often dismissed just because they’re young females. In the movie, a young female Persian cat named Emiko (voiced by Kylie Kuioka), who wants to be a samurai, is intelligent and observant. However, her smart ideas are often ignored, or an older male in the community takes credit for her ideas. The way that Emiko handles this disrespect and what happens to her in the end are good lessons for people of any age.

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” gets a little messy with a tad too many subplots. One of these subplots involves a giant ginger cat named Sumo (voiced by Djimon Hounsou), who is at various times feared and adored. Sumo arrives in Kakamucho as a fighting enemy to Hank, but will Sumo ends up as a friend?

In “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank,” the female cats are often the calm voices of reason amid the chaos. Yuki (voiced by Michelle Yeoh) is a cheerful Persian cat who is Emiko’s mother. Little Mama (voiced by Cathy Shim) is a wise matriarch of Kakamucho. There’s also a clownish duo of friends: klutzy calico cat Chuck (voiced by Gabriel Iglesias) and tuxedo cat Ichiro (voiced by Aasif Mandvi), who are like the Laurel & Hardy of Kakamucho.

The movie has no shortage of action, with some scenes working better than others. The last third of the movie consists of a flurry of battles and chase sequences that should hold viewers’ interest, despite predictable outcomes. The visuals in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” are good but not outstanding. The most striking visuals are the outdoor scenic shots and many of the action scenes.

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” makes some sarcastic self-referential comments on movie clichés that can be found in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank.” When Hank begins training under Jimbo’s tutelage, Hank says, “This is the training montage.” Jimbo replies, “This is my favorite part—the part where you suffer.” A movie that can laugh at itself in this way can’t be taken too seriously.

Paramount Pictures will release “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” in U.S. cinemas on July 15, 2022.

Review: ‘Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko,’ starring the voices of Shinobu Ôtake and Cocomi

June 25, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kikuko (voiced by Cocomi) and Nikuko (voiced by Shinobu Ôtake) in “Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko” (Image courtesy of GKIDS)

“Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko”

Directed by Ayumu Watanabe

Japanese with subtitles

Culture Representation: The Japanese animated film “Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko,” which takes place primarily in an unnamed village in Japan, tells the story of an unlucky-in-love single mother named Nikuko and her teenage daughter Kikuko, with a cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Kikuko is somewhat of an outsider at her school, where she pines over a boy she has a crush on, she longs to be accepted by a clique of popular girls, and she is often embarrassed by her mother’s goofy and larger-than-life personality.

Culture Audience: “Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in anime films about family love and the true meaning friendship.

Nikuko (voiced by Shinobu Ôtake) in “Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko” (Image courtesy of GKIDS)

“Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko” tells a moderately entertaining story about an eccentric single mother and her teenage daughter, who is the story’s narrator. This comedy/drama anime film isn’t great though. It has some problematic mocking of the title character’s large body. The movie’s title is a little misleading because Nikuko (the mother character, voiced by Shinobu Ôtake) isn’t in the film as much as you might think a title character would be. The story is really about Nikuko’s daughter Kikuko (voiced by Cocomi), who is Nikuko’s only child. The movie spends a lot of time on Kikuko’s social interactions with Kikuko’s peers.

Directed by Ayumu Watanabe, “Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko” is based on Kanako Nishi’s 2014 novel of the same name. The novel was also made into a manga series. Satomi Ohshima wrote the “Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko” movie screenplay. The movie’s animation and performances from the voice actors are perfectly fine. The screenplay is where “Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko” falters the most.

The beginning of “Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko” has a montage, with voiceover narration from Kikuko (who’s about 14 or 15 years old), explaining some of Nikuko’s background. Nikuko has a pattern of choosing love partners who are liars, cheaters and con men. These loser boyfriends break Nikuko’s heart and often drain her of her money.

Every time Nikuko has one of these bad breakups, she then moves to another city in Japan, as if she wants to start a new life and try to put her heartbreak behind her. It’s mentioned that Nikuko grew up in an unnamed small town. She moved to Osaka at age 16, and then Nagoya at age 27, and then Yokohana at age 30, and then Tokyo at age 33. And now, at age 35, Nikuko has moved with Kikuko (whom she calls Kukurin as a nickname) to an unnamed small city in Japan.

Nikuko and Kikuko live on a small fishing houseboat owned by Nikuko’s friendly boss Sassan (played by Ikuji Nakamura), who also owns a restaurant/bar called Uwogashi Grill House. Nikuko, who works as a server at Uwogashi Grill House, has had working-class jobs all of her life. She was working at another bar where she met one of her swindler ex-boyfriends. Nikuko doesn’t like to discuss who Kikuko’s father is, so Kikuko has gone through life not knowing anything about her father.

All of Nikuko’s relocations and romantic disappointments have left her “tired,” according to Kikuko. Despite being unlucky in love and experiencing a lot of betrayal, Nikuko has a jolly and exuberant personality. She’s very friendly to strangers, but she doesn’t have many friends. It’s an indication that underneath her extroverted persona, Nikuko is hiding a lot of loneliness and emotional pain.

However, Nikuko gets her greatest joy from being a mother. Kikuko and Nikuko love each other very much, but Kikuko is in that teenage stage of life where Kikuko wants more independence. Nikuko has her share of quirks. As Kikuko explains in the movie’s introduction, Nikuko likes to make puns about numbers and kanji. Nikuko also has an almost juvenile outlook on life, because she likes to make childlike jokes with people. By contrast, Kikuko is serious-minded and introverted.

Nikuko is also the type of person who’s impossible not to notice in a room, because she often talks loudly and can be clumsy. Nikuko also occasionally gets drunk in public. When she gets drunk, she becomes even louder and goofier. And when a parent acts this way, you know what that means for a child, especially if that child is a teenager: That parent is often an embarrassment to the child.

The beginning of “Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko” somewhat oddly lists Nikuko’s measurements, which seems redundant because people watching the movie can already see that she’s a large-sized woman, in terms of her weight proportion to her body. But for anyone who cares, Nikuko’s measurements are listed as being 151 centimeters tall (which is nearly 5 feet tall) and weighing 67.4 kilograms (or about 148 pounds). One of the movie’s flaws is that it seems fixated on Nikuko’s body size as a way to explain why Nikuko is a social misfit.

It’s not really body shaming, but several times throughout the movie, Nikuko’s body size and eating habits are used for slapstick jokes. She often falls down or gets into physically uncomfortable predicaments because of her weight. There are also multiple scenes of Nikuko devouring large quantities of food, because the filmmakers obviously intended viewers to laugh at Nikuko when she eats.

The movie also has some unnecessary and tacky scenes of Nikuko farting or burping. No one watching this movie needs to know how Nikuko’s digestive system is processing gas, but there it is in unavoidable scenes in “Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko.” The movie also hints that Nikuko might have sleep apnea, based on the way she loudly snores and seems to have some difficulty breathing when she sleeps. Any health issues that Nikuko might have are treated as jokes—and this mockery is the movie’s biggest failing.

Nikuko’s physicality is used as the movie’s “comic relief,” but it’s not the movie’s main story. Most of “Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko” is about Kikuko’s angst over her social situation at her school. This not-very-original teen storyline has Kikuko wanting to be liked by a clique of popular girls, led by a snob named Mori.

Kikuko has a schoolmate named Maria (voiced by Izumi Ishii), who was Kikuko’s closest friend at school. However, Maria has been shunned by Mori and her clique, just because they think Maria isn’t cool enough to hang out with them. Because Kikuko wants to be accepted by Mori’s clique, Kikuko has recently been snubbing Maria too. Kikuko says in a voiceover about her social life at school: “When I transferred here, Maria was the first one to talk to me.” And now, Kikuko says she doubts that Maria will ever talk to her again.

Kikuko, who has a tomboyish appearance, is also insecure about how she looks. She has a secret crush on a schoolmate named Ninomiya (voiced by Natsuki Hanae), who is somewhat of a loner and has a reputation for being a little rebellious. Ninomiya, a shaggy-haired teen who has long bangs that almost cover his eyes, seems to know what Kikuko has a crush on him because he notices that she often stares at him.

One day at school, when Ninomiya and Kikuko are talking with each other, he praises Maria for “dressing like a princess and looking feminine.” This comment makes Kikuko jealous, so she tells Ninomiya that Maria had a plan to be the center of attention, and it backfired. Kikuko tells Ninomiya it’s the reason why Mori’s clique has made Maria an outcast.

It’s a catty side to Kikuko that makes her look small-minded and petty. When Ninomiya points out that Maria and Kikuko used to be close friends, Kikuko has to come to terms with how she also played a role in enabling bullying and making Maria feel excluded. The movie shows how Kikuko then handles this reckoning.

Meanwhile, the movie continues with scenarios that show Kikuko being embarrassed by Nikuko. They take a mother-daughter trip to an aquarium. You can easily predict what happens when Nikuko encounters a wet floor.

And then, there’s a School Sports Day at Kikuko’s school, where students and their parents compete against each other in athletic competitions. You can also easily guess what that means for Nikuko and Kikuko. Ninomiya will be watching whatever ends up happening, which adds to Kikuko’s anxiety about this event.

“Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko” has a lot of slapstick comedy, but the movie takes a sharp turn into serious drama when a secret is revealed in the last third of the film. It’s here where “Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko” somewhat redeems itself in how it portrays Nikuko, who no longer becomes a caricature in this part of the movie. How this secret is revealed puts Nikuko in a different context than just embarrassing herself and Kikuko in a buffoonish way.

The reveal of this secret is meant to add more depth to the story, but it comes so late in the movie, some viewers might perceive it as a manipulative plot twist. Other viewers might be emotionally moved by this secret, while some viewers might even shed some tears over it. After the secret is revealed, it brings up some questions that the movie never answers. Even with all of its shortcomings, “Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko” has a meaningful message about family love and true friendships, but viewers have to watch a lot of the movie’s cliché-driven scenarios before it finally gets to this message.

GKIDS released “Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko” in select U.S. cinemas on June 3, 2022, with a sneak preview on June 2, 2022. The movie is set for release on digital, VOD, Blu-ray and DVD on July 19, 2022. “Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko” was originally released in Japan in 2021.

Review: ‘Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,’ starring the voice of Jenny Slate

June 21, 2022

by Carla Hay

Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) and Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate) in “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” (Image courtesy of A24)

“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On”

Directed by Dean Fleischer Camp

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the animated/live-action film “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” has a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one Latina) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A young male seashell and his grandmother, who are living by themselves in an Airbnb rental house after their other family members have gone missing, have to adjust to a new life when a documentary filmmaker moves into the house.

Culture Audience: “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” will appeal primarily to people who like quirky films that blend animation with live action.

Marcel (voiced by Jenny Slate) and Dean Fleischer Camp in “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” (Image courtesy of A24)

“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” could have been an excessively cute film about tiny sea shells with human-like characteristics, but this unique movie is an offbeat charmer with an appealing mix of comedy and sentimentality about life and love. The movie has an artistic blend of live action and stop-motion animation that looks organic, not forced. And although there are some parts of the film that get repetitive and not all of the jokes land well, the positive aspects of “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” far outnumber any of the movie’s small flaws. “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” had its world premiere at the 2021 Telluride Film Festival and made the rounds at other film festivals, including South by Southwest (SXSW), the Seattle International Film Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival.

The origin story of “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” is self-referenced throughout the movie, which has a plot that’s similar to how the movie’s title character first became an international sensation. In real life, filmmaker Dean Fleischer Camp and actress Jenny Slate did a series of short comedy videos called “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,” beginning in 2010. In these videos, Slate voiced the character of Marcel, a talkative one-inch sea shell with one eye, human feet and a wryly observant and inquisitive view of life. Based on the way that Marcel talks, he has the intelligence and emotional maturity of a human boy who’s about 9 or 10 years old.

These videos about Marcel became a worldwide hit on the Internet and inspired children’s books written by Slate and Flesicher Camp. And now, there’s an entire movie about Marcel. The feature film “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,” directed by Fleischer Camp (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Slate and Nick Paley) takes viewers on Marcel’s often-emotional journey to find his missing family members. Marcel lives in a middle-class house somewhere in Los Angeles, where the unmarried human couple named Larissa (played by Rosa Salazar) and Mark (played by Thomas Mann), who previously occupied the house, had a bitter breakup. The house is now being used as an Airbnb rental.

Marcel’s wise and practical grandmother Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) is Marcel’s only family member who hasn’t gone missing. Among the those who have gone missing in Marcel’s family (they are all one-eyed small shells with feet) are Marcel’s parents Mario and Connie and Marcel’s brother Justin. What bothers Marcel and Connie the most is that they didn’t have a chance to say goodbye, and they have no idea where the other family members went. Marcel and Connie have photos and illustrations of their family members as visual mementos.

Marcel and Connie have a very close relationship. She often teaches Marcel things about life, often in answer to Marcel’s seemingly endless stream of questions. Connie and Marcel also love to watch “60 Minutes” together and are big fans of “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl. Marcel describes Connie as very independent and resourceful. For example, Marcel says that Connie taught herself how to farm. Connie also loves to garden and spends a lot of her time in the home’s garden.

At times, Marcel has a childlike wonder and curiosity about the modern world. Other times, he has a simple clarity about how to react to difficulties or problems because he doesn’t have as much emotional baggage or insecurity as someone who is an adult. Throughout the movie, there are whimsical moments and more serious moments where Marcel’s personality and quirks get various reactions to those around him.

In the beginning of the movie, Marcel says that he and Connie are living by themselves in the house, along with their pet lint named Alan. Their solitude ends when an Airbnb renter moves into the house with his white terrier mix dog named Arthur. He’s a mild-mannered filmmaker named Dean Fleischer-Camp (playing a version of himself), who needs a new place to stay because he has recently separated from his wife. In a case of art imitating life, Slate and Fleischer Camp (who used to spell his surname as Fleischer-Camp) got married in 2012 and then got divorced in 2016.

As expected, Marcel is curious about the house’s new human resident, and the feeling is mutual. It takes Marcel much longer to get used to Arthur, Dean’s dog, since Marcel is sometimes annoyed by how the dog smells and keeps interrupting Marcel like a curious and playful dog would do. Marcel shows Dean around the house, including the potted plant where Marcel sleeps on a slice of bread. Marcel describes where he sleeps as his “breadroom.”

Marcel might seem like a precocious child, but he doesn’t know a lot about modern technology. Dean tells Marcel that he’s making an online documentary. Marcel’s response is “Online? You lost me.” Eventually, Dean shows Marcel how the Internet works when Dean begins posting videos of Marcel online. The videos become an international sensation, with Marcel developing a huge fan base. (Sound familiar?)

Marcel is overwhelmed and often flabbergasted by all this newfound attention. However, he thinks it can be put to good use when he asks Dean to help get the word out about Marcel’s missing family members. You can easily predict which TV news show might get involved. Someone who doesn’t really want to get too caught up in the fanfare is Connie, who is very skeptical of the Internet and all modern technology.

The first third of “Marcel the Shell With the Shoes On” seems like a series of skits weaved together, with a lot of wisecracking remarks from Marcel, as he and Dean start to get to know each other and eventually become friends. The other two-thirds of the movie begin to have more substance when the story focuses more on the search for Marcel’s family members. The movie has themes of love, heartbreak and grief that are handled with sensitivity without being mawkish.

For example, Marcel begins to notice after a while that Dean is very curious about Marcel, but Dean is very reluctant to talk about himself. And it’s not just because Dean wants to be an journalistic documentarian. Dean is having difficulty processing the breakup of his marriage. Dean’s preoccupation with Marcel’s problems are a way for him to cope with or avoid his own personal problems.

The movie doesn’t fully show Dean on camera until a pivotal part of the story when he’s essentially forced to talk about himself. It’s a clever way that the movie has Dean “coming out of the shadows” that reflect his own willingness to be open up more about himself and show more vulnerability. Fleischer Camp gives a solid performance, but the character of Dean seems to know that Marcel is the real star of the show.

“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” has terrific voice work from Slate and Rossellini, who make an endearing and believable duo as a grandparent and grandchild. Connie isn’t a new character, but this movie is the first time that Connie gets her own backstory and story arc. Not everything in “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” is comedic, since the movie has some tearjerking moments that might catch some viewers by surprise. In a cinematic era when animated/live-action hybrid films are so focused on dazzling viewers with big adventures that are visual spectacles, it’s nice to have a movie like “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” that focuses more on everyday emotional connections and appreciating loved ones during life’s ups and downs.

A24 will release “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” in select U.S. cinemas on June 24, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on July 15, 2022.

Review: ‘Lightyear,’ starring the voices of Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, Peter Sohn, Uzo Aduba and James Brolin

June 13, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from bottom left: Sox (voiced by Peter Sohn), Izzy Hawthorne (voiced by Keke Palmer), Mo Morrison (voiced by Taika Waititi), Darby Steele (voiced by Dale Soules) and Buzz Lightyear (voiced of Chris Evans) in “Lightyear” (Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar)

“Lightyear”

Directed by Angus MacLane

Culture Representation: Taking place in various part of the universe, the animated film “Lightyear” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing people and robots connected in some way to travel in outer space.

Culture Clash: In this prequel to the “Toy Story” movies, heroic astronaut Buzz Lightyear tries to make things right when he causes an accident that strands several human beings on a foreign planet that is frequently under attack.

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Toy Story” movie fans, “Lightyear” will appeal primarily to people interested in animated films about time travel in outer space, but should be prepared for a plot that’s more convoluted than the average family-oriented animated film.

Buzz Lightyear (voiced of Chris Evans) and Alisha Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba) in “Lightyear” (Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar)

In the animated film “Lightyear,” the plot about time travel in outer space often gets messy, but the movie has good messages about teamwork and confronting the past without dwelling on the past. The movie’s title character is astronaut Buzz Lightyear, who became the basis of a talking toy character that is one of the main stars of the “Toy Story” series. “Lightyear” is the movie that shows his origin story and shows why the movie resulted in Buzz becoming a popular toy. It’s a “movie within a movie” premise that has some stumbling blocks, but it works out well enough to be entertaining overall for people who enjoy animated films that take place in outer space.

Directed by Angus MacLane (who co-wrote the “Lightyear” screenplay with Jason Headley), “Lightyear” could easily be a stand-alone movie that doesn’t require anyone to see any of the “Toy Story” films. That’s because, with the exception of Buzz and villain Emperor Zurg (who was first seen in “Toy Story 2”), all of the characters in “Lightyear” are being introduced to movie audiences for the first time. Tim Allen is the voice of Buzz in the “Toy Story” movies. Chris Evans is the voice of Buzz in “Lightyear,” which depicts a young-man version of Buzz in the beginning of movie. It’s a seamless transition, considering that the Buzz in “Lightyear” is not really the same Buzz who’s in the “Toy Story” movies.

The opening scene of “Lightyear” shows that Buzz is part of an exploratory mission in outer space where he and his fellow astronauts from Earth visit other planets in a spaceship nicknamed The Turnip, because Buzz thinks the ship looks like a “root vegetable.” The Turnip has an on-board computer called IVAN (voiced by Mary McDonald-Lewis), which has the type of artificial intelligence that can have conversations with people. Buzz is an astronaut called a Space Ranger, whose duties including peacekeeping and law enforcement in the universe.

Buzz and his commander Alisha Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba) are part of a crew of more than 1,000 scientists and technicians who are heading back to Earth for what they think has been a successful mission. They are about 4.2 million light years away from home when disaster strikes. Their space vessel picks up a signal that there’s a new planet called T’Kani Prime that hasn’t been explored yet for possible untapped resources. Buzz becomes curious about this unknown planet, so he makes the fateful decision to take a detour to visit T’Kani Prime.

The explorers find out too late that it’s an extremely hostile planet with dangerous vines and giant bugs that attack. While under attack, The Turnip sustains some damage, including damage to the hyper-speed crystal that allows the ship to travel to other dimensions. Buzz, Alisha and most of their crew survive, but they are now stranded in this strange and unwelcome world.

Up until this point, Buzz was an overconfident (and some might say arrogant) Space Ranger. However, he feels humility and tremendous guilt over his colossal error in judgment. He vows to make things right and to find a way to get everyone back home to Earth. But the hyper-speed crystal keeps malfunctioning and isn’t working at the speed it used to have. Buzz worries that this malfunction might leave everyone permanently stranded.

After every attempt to use the malfunctioning hyper-speed crystal with The Turnip in outer space, a dejected Buzz has to return back to T’Kani Prime. However, he finds out the first time this happens that four minutes of his time in outer space equal four years of time on T’Kani Prime. And so, every time Buzz comes back from a failed hyper-speed attempt, years have passed, while Buzz does not age at that same pace. Buzz also finds out that the faster he flies into outer space, the further into the future he travels.

After one of his early attempts to get back to hyper speed, Buzz returns to T’Kani Prime and is assigned a cat robot named Sox (voiced by Peter Sohn), who is described in the movie as an “emotional transition robot.” Sox is intuitive and acts as an all-around helper for physical tasks, getting encyclopedia information, and offering words of advice and comfort. During a few of the action scenes, Sox also has a recurring catch phrase/joke about buying time to stall any antagonists in the scene.

Buzz finds out after coming back from a failed hyper-speed trip that Alisha has fallen in love and gotten engaged to a female crew member named Kiko. He’s happy for the couple, but he also feels sad that the lives of other people are passing him by, and he still hasn’t found a way to get everyone back to Earth. Buzz’s frustration at not being able to achieve his goals as quickly as he thought he would is the movie’s obvious message about how life can have unexpected setbacks.

As shown in a montage sequence, Alisha and Kiko get married, and they have a son together. Their son gets married and has a daughter named Izzy (voiced by Keira Hairston), who from a young age, has been determined to follow in her beloved grandmother Alisha’s footsteps as a commander Space Ranger. As for what eventually happens to Alisha, that’s easy to predict, considering that T’Kani Prime is not a planet that can stop the aging process.

None of this is really spoiler information, because the majority of “Lightyear” is about what happens when Buzz ends up going on a mission with Izzy when she becomes a young woman (voiced by Keke Palmer) and other members of a motley crew of explorers. (This plot is in the “Lightyear” movie trailers.) What happened to cause this mission?

The stranded community’s gruff new commander Colonel Burnside (voiced by Isiah Whitlock Jr.) abruptly informs Buzz that Buzz’s most recent mission was his last one, because the program is being shut down. As part of the shutdown, Sox will be decommissioned and probably become part of a robot scrap heap. The stranded scientists have built a laser dome over their community for protection, because they’ve resigned themselves to thinking that they might never be able to leave T’Kani Prime—at least not in their lifetime.

Colonel Burnside orders that Sox get taken away from Buzz. However, Buzz can’t bear the thought of Sox “dying,” so he escapes with Sox in The Turnip. Through a series of circumstances, Buzz and Sox come back to T’Kani Prime, 22 years later. Izzy is now a young woman who’s part of a group of wannabe Space Rangers called the Junior Zap Patrol. And the planet has come under attack by giant robots, led by an entity named Emperor Zurg (voiced by James Brolin), who is somewhat of a generic villain.

Guess who’s going on a mission to save the planet and possibly the universe? Buzz and Sox join forces with Junior Zap Control members Izzy, goofy Mo Morrison (voiced by Taika Waititi) and sarcastic Darby Steel (voiced by Dale Soules) to often awkward results. That’s because the Junior Zap Control is untrained and often incompetent. And even though Izzy wants to be a Space Ranger, she’s terrified of being in outer space.

“Lightyear” has a few surprises, but the movie mostly sticks to a familiar formula in “heroes who save the world” sci-fi/fantasy stories. One of the movie’s greatest strengths is that it introduces characters with memorable personalities and quirks, with Sox being the one that viewers might be talking about the most. Some viewers might think Sox is adorable, while other viewers might think Sox is annoying. Either way, this character was clearly designed by the “Lightyear” filmmakers to sell Sox toys and other merchandise in the real world.

“Lightyear” falters in having a few characters that are somewhat useless or too predictable. Supporting characters such as Airman Díaz (voiced by Efren Ramirez) and Featheringhamstan (voiced by Bill Hader) seem very two-dimensional and underdeveloped. Some of the jokes are very simple-minded. And all of Buzz’s zipping back and forth between eras and dimensions doesn’t leave enough room for Buzz to slow down and develop relationships with other humans where he can connect with them without missing several years out of their lives.

The movie’s world building of T’Kani Prime is more focused on what the planet looks like, rather than the sociology of the planet. However, there’s one interesting dietary quirk that’s revealed about T’Kani Prime that different from how things are done on Earth: The descendants of the stranded community have developed a custom of preparing and eating sandwiches with bread on the inside instead of the outside.

“Lightyear” has the distinction of being the first Pixar Animation Studios movie made specifically for IMAX screens. The visuals are definitely up to Pixar standards, but the visual effects in “Lightyear” are not really game-changing or extraordinary. The voice actors bring a lot of spark to their roles, even if some of the movie’s dialogue is unremarkable and the plot gets a little muddled.

Some viewers will like the time traveling aspects of “Lightyear,” while others will not. And a big twist revealed in the last third of the movie could be divisive to audiences, depending on people’s expectations on how the movie’s characters should be. “Lightyear” spends so much effort trying to be way ahead of the audience, some viewers will feel annoyed by being expected to keep up with all the time jumping, while other viewers will be up for the challenge and enjoy the ride.

Disney/Pixar Animation Studios will release “Lightyear” in U.S. cinemas on June 17, 2022. Disney+ will premiere the movie on August 3, 2022.

Review: ‘The Bob’s Burgers Movie,’ starring the voices of Eugene Mirman, John Roberts, Kristen Schaal, Dan Mintz, H. Jon Benjamin, Kevin Kline and Zach Galifianakis

May 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Linda Belcher (voiced by John Roberts), Louise Belcher (voiced by Kristen Schaal), Gene Belcher (voiced by Eugene Mirman), Tina Belcher (voiced by Dan Mintz) and Bob Belcher (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) in “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” (Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“The Bob’s Burgers Movie”

Directed by Loren Bouchard and Bernard Derriman

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed beach city in a U.S. state that resembles New Jersey, the animated film “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: The working-class Belcher family, which owns a fast-food restaurant called Bob’s Burgers, becomes involved in a murder mystery in the midst of having financial problems over a bank loan.

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of fans of “The Bob’s Burgers” TV series, “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” will appeal primarily to people interested in zany animated films that have comedy, drama and musical numbers that can be enjoyed by people of various generations.

A scene from “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” (Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

Whenever there’s a movie based on a long-running TV series, one of the biggest mistakes that can happen is when the filmmakers make the movie confusing to viewers who’ve never seen the TV series. Fortunately, “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” (which is based on the animated TV series “Bob’s Burgers”) does not fall into that trap. In fact, the movie is a great example of how to please existing fans, as well as how to win over newcomers to a franchise.

“Bob’s Burgers” (which premiered in 2011 and is televised in the U.S. on Fox) tells the ongoing story of the Belcher clan, a family of five whose patriarch owns and operate a small fast-food restaurant called Bob’s Burgers in an unnamed beach city in an unnamed U.S. state. (The show has dropped hints over the years that the state is probably New Jersey.) “Bob’s Burgers” creator showrunner Loren Bouchard wrote the screenplay for “The Bob’s Burgers Movie,” which Bouchard co-directed with Bernard Derriman.

Here are the five people in the Belcher family:

  • Bob Belcher (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin), the pessimistic Bob’s Burgers owner, who’s always worrying that the restaurant is on the brink of failing.
  • Linda Belcher (voiced by John Roberts), Bob’s eternally optimistic wife, helps manage Bob’s Burgers. Linda and Bob are both 44 years old.
  • Tina Belcher (voiced by Dan Mintz), Bob and Linda’s “boy crazy” eldest child, who’s 13 years old. Tina has a crush on a fellow teenager named Jimmy Pesto Jr. (also voiced by Benjamin), who is the son of the man who owns Jimmy Pesto’s Pizza, the biggest competitor to Bob’s Burgers.
  • Gene Belcher (voiced by Eugene Mirman), Bob and Linda’s mild-mannered middle child, who is 11 years old. Gene, who is a keyboardist, is preoccupied with his fledgling pop/rock band The Itty Bitty Ditty Committee.
  • Louise Belcher (voiced by Kristen Schaal), Bob and Linda’s feisty youngest child, who is 9 years old. Louise is fond of wearing a pink rabbit-ears hat, and she dislikes being perceived as a weak and cowardly kid.

“The Bob’s Burgers Movie” keeps things simple by not having too many of the characters that are in the “Bob’s Burgers” TV series take up a lot of screen time. (The character of Jimmy Pesto Sr. is not in the movie, because voice actor Jay Johnston has reportedly been dropped from the “Bob’s Burgers” franchise.) “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” could be a stand-alone story, with people never having to see the TV series to understand the movie. It’s a wise choice in the movie’s narrative, considering that many people seeing the “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” haven’t see any episodes of the TV series.

The essential plot of “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” intertwines two major problems experienced by the Belcher family: a bank loan deadline and a murder mystery. In the beginning of the movie, Bob’s Burgers is struggling to stay in business. Bob and Linda are denied an extension on a bank loan, which needs to be paid back in seven days. The day that Bob and Linda get this bad news, the street where Bob’s Burgers is located has a water main break because of old and leaky pipes underground. The breaking of the water main causes a massive sinkhole, right in front of the Bob’s Burgers entrance.

Bob’s Burgers temporarily uses a side door as its entrance and puts a sign out front saying that the restaurant is still open. But the damage to the business is devastating, since Bob’s Burgers gets no customers the day after the sinkhole has appeared. Bob starts to panic over how he’s going to pay back the loan, while Linda firmly believes that everything will eventually work out for the best. Linda thinks that all they have to do is make enough sales to get the money to pay back the loan.

Meanwhile, Louise (who is a student at Wagstaff School) is being harassed by a student bully named Chloe Barbash (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), who makes fun of Louise, by calling her a “baby” for wearing a rabbit-ears hat. (The hat’s origin story is revealed in this movie.) This taunting then triggers Louise into attempting to prove to the other Wagstaff School students that Louise is no “baby” and that she’s braver than most children. Louise comes up with the idea to explore the sinkhole, and she enlists her siblings Gene and Tina to videorecord this expedition.

To the Belcher kids’ shock, Louise finds a skeleton of a man in the sinkhole. The police are called, and the sinkhole becomes a crime scene. A medical examination reveals that the man was murdered by being shot. The identity of the murdered man is revealed to be a local carnival worker named Danny D’Angelo, also known as Cotton Candy Dan. It’s also revealed that the murder took place six years ago. (The movie’s opening scene has a big hint that is connected to the murder.)

Calvin Fischoeder (voiced by Kevin Kline), the wealthy and pompous landlord for Bob’s Burgers, becomes the prime suspect in the murder, so he’s arrested. Also affected by this arrest are Calvin’s neurotic younger brother Felix Fischoeder (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) and Calvin’s talkative lawyer cousin Grover Fischoeder (voiced by David Wain), who is Calvin’s defense attorney. Bob fears that if Calvin is sent to prison for murder, Bob’s Burgers will lose its lease.

And so, there’s a “race against time” for the case to be solved, with the Belcher kids doing their own private investigation. A cranky cop named Sergeant Bosco (voiced by Gary Cole), who is a regular on the “Bob’s Burgers” TV series, is leading the police investigation. And, not surprisingly, he’s annoyed by anyone he thinks will be interfering in the case. Just like in the TV series, Sergeant Bosco can be a friend or a foe to the Belcher family in “The Bob’s Burgers Movie.”

Meanwhile, with the bank loan deadline approaching, Bob becoming increasingly desperate. And so, loyal Bob’s Burgers customer Teddy (voiced by Larry Murphy), who works as a contractor handyman and is Bob’s closest friend, comes up with the idea for Bob’s Burgers to set up a temporary food cart on the city’s beach boardwalk—even though Bob doesn’t have a permit to sell food on the boardwalk. Desperate times lead to desperate decisions, so they decide to take a chance and operate the food cart on the boardwalk anyway.

Teddy, who is a lonely and divorced bachelor, volunteers to be help operate the food cart by being the cook. Linda dresses up as a hamburger to entice customers. The movie has some amusing moments where Linda thinks that her selling skills are based on how sexy she thinks she looks in this ridiculous-looking burger costume. Bob predictably gets annoyed by Linda’s antics, and he becomes paranoid about getting busted for operating the food cart without a license.

“The Bob’s Burgers Movie” also has recurring comedic moments about each of the Belcher kids’ current obsessions. Tina has fantasies about asking Jimmy Jr. to be her boyfriend for the summer, so there are dreamlike romantic scenarios that play out in Tina’s imagination. Gene dreams of becoming a rock star, so there are musical numbers in the movie with The Itty Bitty Ditty Committee performing the music. Louise imagines herself as a popular kid with a “badass” reputation among her schoolmates, so there are scenes of Louise doing whatever she thinks it will take to have this courageous and heroic image.

“The Bob’s Burgers Movie” isn’t a mindless kiddie film, because it has plenty of jokes that adults will appreciate more than underage children will. These jokes have to do with social class and status issues that are presented in the story. Observant viewers will notice that all the grief that Louise goes through to change her image isn’t much different than all the trouble that adults go through to project a certain image, so that they can be considered “successful” by society.

The musical numbers in “The Bob’s Burger Movie” are very entertaining and amusing, particularly the performances of “Sunny Side Up Summer” and “Not That Evil.” Fortunately, this isn’t a movie where people break out into song every 10 minutes, because it would ruin the flow of the narrative. The mystery-solving part of the story gets a little convoluted and messy, but not too complicated.

“The Bob’s Burger Movie” continues the gender-swapping choices made in the “Bob’s Burgers” TV series casting, with men voicing some of the female characters, and women voicing some of the male characters. Benjamin (the voice of Bob) also voices the character of Ms. LaBonz, one of Louise’s teachers at Wagstaff School, while Roberts (the voice of Linda) is the also the voice of Jocelyn, one of Louise’s Wagstaff School classmates. As previously mentioned, Mintz is the voice of Tina.

There are also some celebrity cameos in gender-swapped roles. Jordan Peele continues as the voice of Fanny, Calvin’s much-younger singer girlfriend, who has a checkered past and a gold-digging agenda. Sarah Silverman and Laura Silverman are, respectively, the voices of Ollie and Andy, who are Jimmy Pesto Sr.’s twin sons.

In response to criticism that the “Bob’s Burgers” TV series cast white actors to voice African American characters, “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” has added some racial diversity to the cast. Nicole Byer (host of Netflix’s cooking competition “Nailed It!”) is the voice of Olsen Benner, an African American TV reporter, who has been voiced by Pamela Adlon in the “Bob’s Burger” TV series. Ashley Nicole Black (a writer for “Ted Lasso”) is now the voice of Harley, an African American girl who’s a classmate of Louise’s at Wagstaff School. Katie Crown was previously the voice of Harley.

Even with a lot of side characters, “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” remains focused on the Belcher family. The Belcher kids get a lot of screen time with the murder investigation, which is a more interesting and funnier part of the movie than the part of the movie about Bob, Linda and Teddy selling burgers on the boardwalk. And out of all the Belcher children, Louise is the one with the standout character arc. There’s not a bad actor in this entire cast.

“The Bob’s Burgers Movie” has wide appeal, but it’s not a movie that some people might enjoy if they’re looking for more dazzling visuals in an animated film. However, for viewers who care more about animated movies that have characters with memorable personalities, some snarky jokes, and an engaging story that’s easy to follow, then “The Bob Burgers Movie” delivers this type of entertainment in a lighthearted and playful way.

20th Century Studios will release “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” in U.S. cinemas on May 27, 2022.

Review: ‘The Bad Guys,’ starring the voices of Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Awkwafina, Craig Robinson, Anthony Ramos, Zazie Beetz and Richard Ayoade

April 21, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tarantula (voiced by Awkwafina), Snake (voiced by Marc Maron), Shark (voiced by Craig Robinson), Piranha (voiced by Anthony Ramos) and Wolf (voiced by Sam Rockwell) in “The Bad Guys” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

“The Bad Guys” (2022)

Directed by Pierre Perifel

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city that resembles Los Angeles, the animated film “The Bad Guys” features a cast of characters depicting talking animals and humans.

Culture Clash: Five talking animals, which have reputations for being villains that scare people, are in a thieving gang and have various conflicts about their reputations and redemptions.

Culture Audience: “The Bad Guys” will appeal primarily to people interested in adventure-filled animated films that have messages about the dangers of misjudging people based on physical appearances.

Diane Foxington (voiced by Zazie Beetz) and Wolf (voiced by Sam Rockwell) in “The Bad Guys” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

Amid the high-energy antics of the animated film “The Bad Guys” are meaningful messages about redemption and the pitfalls of misjudging people based on stereotypes. This comedic movie has some sly anti-hero subversiveness that shines, even when the plot gets a little messy and jumbled. “The Bad Guys” also has plenty of eye-catching visuals and memorable action sequences to satisfy viewers who are looking for thrills as well as laughs in this entertaining movie.

Directed by Pierre Perifel, “The Bad Guys” is based on Aaron Blabey’s “The Bad Guys” children’s books. The movie has elements from the first four books of “The Bad Guys” book series. Etan Cohen wrote the screenplay for “The Bad Guys” animated film, which is Perifel’s feature-film directorial debut. It’s a rollicking adventure that has massive appeal with people of various ages. The movie also avoids the mistake of overstuffing it with too many characters.

In “The Bad Guys,” the title characters are a gang of five animals that are social outcasts because they’re perceived as “bad creatures” that humans fear because these creatures have the ability to kill humans. Because they have reputations for being “bad,” they’ve all decided to become self-fulfilling prophecies of those reputations. They are a gang of thieves in a U.S. city that is unnamed, but it’s designed to look like Los Angeles, and it’s populated with humans, talking animals and non-talking animals.

The five talking animals in “The Bad Guys” gang are:

  • Wolf (voiced by Sam Rockwell), the group’s smooth-talking leader, who is a master pickpocket.
  • Snake (voiced by Marc Maron), Wolf’s frequently grumpy best friend, whose specialty is safecracking.
  • Tarantula (voiced by Awkwafina), a hyperactive and sarcastic computer hacker, who has the nickname Webs.
  • Shark (voiced by Craig Robinson), a somewhat goofy master of disguises.
  • Piranha (voiced by Anthony Ramos), a short-tempered loose cannon, who has the ability to spread noxious fumes when he passes gas.

In the beginning of the movie, it’s Snake’s birthday, which the rest of his friends want to celebrate, but Snake does not want a birthday party because he hates birthdays. Snake doesn’t even want to have a birthday cake, although he does mention that he’s interested in a delicacy that he wouldn’t mind having for his birthday: guinea pigs.

Not long after Snake and Wolf have a back-and-forth debate over how they are going to celebrate Snake’s birthday, the gang robs a bank. As they all make their getaway in a car driven by Wolf, he sneers, “Go bad or go home.” Back at their hideout, the five pals celebrate Snake’s birthday with some cake. He reluctantly enjoys the party.

This gang is the ultimate anathema to Misty Luggins (voiced by Alex Borstein), the city’s hot-tempered human police chief who feels personally humiliated every time that these troublemaking pals get away with their crimes. Someone else who is determined to stop this gang of thieves is the newly elected governor named Diane Foxington (voiced by Zazie Beetz), a confident and intelligent fox. Governor Foxington announces at a press conference about these criminals: “These so-called bad-guys are second-rate has-beens.”

The five gang members see the governor insulting them on TV, so they decide to prove her wrong. Wolf is aware that the downfall of many gangs is when they make their crimes too personal, but he can’t resist the idea of making the governor regret calling the gang a bunch of laughable hacks. The gang members also take delight in embarrassing Police Chief Luggins and her police department.

It just so happens that an upcoming gala presents the ideal opportunity for the gang to do a very high-profile heist. A famous, publicity-seeking philanthropist guinea pig named Professor Robert Marmalade IV (voiced Richard Ayoade) is being honored for his charitable work with the Good Samaritan Award. At this event, this valuable prize will be given in the form of a large trophy called the Golden Dolphin, which is a portable dolphin statue made out of gold.

Access to the Golden Dolphin is highly restricted. Governor Foxington, who will present the award to Professor Marmalade, is the only one who has clearance to a room where the Golden Dolphin is being kept before the ceremony. The room can only be opened through an eye detection sensor on the door, with the sensor programmed to open when it sees an eye of Governor Foxington.

The gang concocts an elaborate plan to crash the gala and steal the Golden Dolphin. And, of course, not everything goes according to the plan. Not surprisingly, Wolf plays the role of a charming gala guest to distract Governor Foxington. Because they are both canines, it’s repeated in the movie that wolves and foxes aren’t very different from each other. And you know what that means, especially when Wolf and Governor Foxington exchange the type of romantic comedy banter of a would-be couple trying to pretend they’re not attracted to each other.

“The Bad Guys” has some plot twists that are somewhat unexpected, while other plot twists are very easy to predict. Marmalade is a do-gooder who believes that criminals can be redeemed, so he very publicly declares that this gang of five should be given a path to redemption. Most of the movie’s plot is how the gang takes this redemption offer but secretly plans to steal the Golden Dolphin anyway.

The movie also has a subplot about guinea pigs being held captive for scientific experiments at a place called Sunnyside Laboratories. A human TV reporter named Tiffany Fluffit (voiced by Lilly Singh) provides some mild comic relief as a character written as a parody of TV reporters who care more about their egos, fame and tabloid stories than in being good journalists. And there’s a cute, unnamed cat (that doesn’t talk like a human), which ends up teaching Wolf and his gang some lessons in compassion.

“The Good Guys” is a well-cast movie, since all of the voice cast members for the main characters bring a distinctive edge to each of their respective characters’ unique personalities. “The Bad Guys” is not a movie where the characters are easily confused with each other, because each has something memorable that sets that character apart from everyone else. In an animated movie business that’s over saturated with stories about talking animals, “The Bad Guys” is an above-average winner that is sure to inspire sequels.

DreamWorks Animation will release “The Bad Guys” in U.S. cinemas on April 22, 2022. The movie was released in other parts of the world, beginning on March 17, 2022.

Review: ‘The Mitchells vs. the Machines,’ starring the voices of Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Michael Rianda, Eric André and Olivia Colman

March 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rick Mitchell (voiced by Danny McBride), Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson), Aaron Mitchell (voiced by Mike Rianda) and Linda Mitchell (voiced by Maya Rudolph) in “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” (Photo by courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation/Netflix)

“The Mitchells vs. the Machines”

Directed by Michael “Mike” Rianda and Jeff Rowe

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of United States in 2020, including Kansas and California’s Silicon Valley, the animated movie “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A teenage aspiring filmmaker, who’s about to start her first year of college, reluctantly goes on a road trip with her family when they all experience an apocalypse where machines try to take over the world.

Culture Audience: “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching family-oriented animation films that have larger commentaries about modern society.

Aaron Mitchell (voiced by Mike Rianda), Rick Mitchell (voiced by Danny McBride), Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson) and Linda Mitchell (voiced by Maya Rudolph) in “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” (Photo by courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation/Netflix)

The animated film “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” puts a high-energy spin on the over-used apocalypse concept, by balancing heartwarming earnest about family with biting satire about technology obsessions. The movie has an entirely predictable story arc, but there are enough engaging characters and comedy in this adventure story to make it a memorable experience that will inspire repeat viewings.

Written and directed by Michael “Mike” Rianda and Jeff Rowe, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” has the type of protagonist that is often at the center of animated films: a teenager on the cusp of adulthood and restless to assert independence from the rest of the family. However, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” has a teen protagonist who often isn’t seen in animated films: a female aspiring filmmaker.

Her name is Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson), who is excited to start her first year of at an unnamed college in California, where she plans to study filmmaking. It will be the first time that she will be living apart from her family in her unnamed hometown in Michigan. Katie’s family includes her sometimes-bumbling but well-meaning father Rick Mitchell (voiced by Danny McBride); sensible and even-tempered mother Linda Mitchell (voiced by Maya Rudolph); and nerdy younger brother Aaron (voiced by Rianda), who is about 12 or 13 years old. The movie never mentions what Rick and Linda do for a living.

Aaron is so fascinated with dinosaurs, he randomly calls strangers in the phone book to find out if they like dinosaurs too, so he can find other people to talk to about his dinosaur obsessions. It’s an example of the personality quirks that “Mitchells and the Machines” has for some of the main characters that set this animated film apart from others that tend to have very generic and forgettable characters. Aaron is also at an age where he feels awkward around girls. He’s too young to date but he’s also not sure how to express himself when he’s attracted to a girl.

Katie has her own insecurity issues (she thinks of herself as an outsider at her high school), but one thing she is sure about is that she wants to be a storyteller in filmmaking. Flashbacks show that ever since she was a very young child, Katie wrote and directed stories, with Aaron often being someone she “cast” in roles to act out these stories. Katie and Rick used to have a very close father-daughter bond, but sometime around the time she reached adolescence, they began to drift apart emotionally.

Katie says early on in the story: “My parents haven’t figured me out yet. To be fair, it took me a while to figure myself out. My little brother Aaron gets me, but he has his own weird interests.”

Rick is an outdoorsy type who likes to fix things, but he isn’t as skilled as he would like to think he is. Rick doesn’t really understand Katie’s love of creative arts, which is one of the reasons Rick and Katie have become alienated from each other. Linda is more understanding of Katie’s filmmaker aspirations, but Linda isn’t as immersed in cinema as much as Katie is.

Katie’s irritation with Rick grows to new levels when they have an argument over the dining table because she’s working on her laptop computer during this meal. Rick wants Katie to stop working on the computer and pay attention to the family while at the table. Rick takes the computer, a tug of war ensues between Rick and Katie, and it ends with the computer being dropped and getting broken.

But that’s not all. Katie becomes even angrier at her father when he announces that he canceled the plane ticket for Katie’s trip to California for her college enrollment. Instead, Rick has decided that all four of the Mitchells will take a road trip together to the college. It will mean that Katie will miss the college’s orientation week, which she sees as a crucial way to get to start making friends and getting to know the campus before classes begin.

Meanwhile, in Cupertino, California (which, not coincidentally, is the headquarters of Apple Inc.), a 21-year-old billionaire technology mogul named Mark Bowman (played by Eric André), the found of PAL Labs, makes a major announcement at a PAL Labs event: The company, which is famous for inviting the PAL digital assistant (a hand-held device that looks a lot like an iPhone) is about to introduce Pal Max Robots, which are essentially walking versions of a PAL digital assistant.

The Mitchell family’s road trip starts on September 22, 2020. Even though Katie doesn’t really want to be stuck with her family, she takes solace in making videos to document this excursion. But something goes terribly wrong: The PAL operating system, which has extraordinary artificial intelligence, finds out that the digital assistant will be “downgraded” and eventually marketed as obsolete, compared to the PAL robots.

And so, the PAL operating system (voiced by Olivia Colman) incites and mass rebellion of all machines to take over the world and capture humans at PAL’s command. The Mitchells are on the road when this Machine Apocalypse turns their lives upside down, as they try to escape from being captured. People who’ve seen enough of these movies can predict what happens in the story and the lessons learned by the family members along the way.

One of the many ways that “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” pokes fun at how technology has taken over people’s lives (and not necessarily for the better) is when it shows how people get social media envy when they think other people on social media are living much more glamorous lives, based on what’s presented on social media. Linda has a lot of this envy about the Posey family, a seemingly picture-perfect clan of three whose lives are fashionably curated and documented on social media platforms such as Instagram.

In a case of inspirational casting where art imitates life, real-life spouses John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, who have put their lives on social media, are the voices of spouses Jim Posey and Hailee Posey, who have a bright and inquisitive daughter named Abbey Posey (voiced by Charlyne Yi), who is about the same age as Aaron Mitchell. Abbey predictably becomes Aaron’s crush but he doesn’t know how to handle his feelings about her.

In many scenes, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” makes clever spoofs and observations about how, if the machines we used came alive, they would have a love/hate relationship with people. Humans overly rely on technology, but think no matter what happens, people are smart enough to be superior to technology.

Meanwhile, technology has the power to being people from long distances together, but it can alienate people who are in close proximity. Just go to any party and see how many people would rather look at their phones than engage with other people at the party. It’s why Katie’s father Rick, who’s a self-confessed “technophobe,” is the most insulted int he family when Katie would rather look at a computer or phone screen than talk to him. You can bet that Rick’s technophobia is a big part of the battles that the Mitchells have to do against the warring machines.

All of the voice cast members take on their roles with gusto, especially Jacobson, McBride and Colman, whose hilarious villain antics and quips as PAL are among the movie’s many highlights. In addition, the animation conveys a thrilling array of zany misadventures, and problem solving in the midst of an apocalypse. This is not a movie where viewers will get bored, because there’s so much hyperactivity going on.

Of course, the heart of “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is about family relationships and accepting flaws and quirks in loved ones when it’s unlikely those flaws and quirks are going to change. The Mitchells start off their road trip as an emotionally fractured family. And the movie’s message is that it shouldn’t have to take an apocalypse to appreciate family members whose love might not be perfect but it’s there when it matters.

Netflix premiered “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” on April 30, 2021.

Review: ‘Jujutsu Kaisen 0,’ an adventurous movie prequel from Japan

March 26, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rika Orimoto and Yuta Okkotsu in “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” (Image courtesy of Crunchyroll)

“Jujutsu Kaisen 0”

Directed by Sunghoo Park

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 Tokyo and Kyoto (and briefly in Sendai City), with teenagers as the lead characters and adults as supporting characters.

Culture Clash: A socially awkward 16-year-old boy, who is haunted by the spirit of childhood friend, decides to become a sorcerer to put this break the curse of the spirit.

Culture Audience: “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” will appeal primarily to fans of the “Jujutsu Kaisen” manga and TV series, as well as people who are interested in sci-fi/fantasy anime.

Panda, Maki Zen’in and Toge Inumaki in “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” (Image courtesy of Crunchyroll)

In this dazzling and often comedic prequel to the “Jujutsu Kaisen” series, “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” should please fans of the series as well as impress new fans who might have this movie as their first “Jujutsu Kaisen” experience. “Jujutsu Kaisen” follows a familiar pattern of anime about teenagers and other young people who have magical powers. Unlike most male protagonists in anime, the central character in “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” is wracked with insecurities.

Directed by Sunghoo Park and written by Hiroshi Seko, “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” is based on Gege Akutami’s “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” manga series, which is a prequel to the “Jujutsu Kaisen” series. If you’ve made it this far in the review, chances are you’re familiar with the series already. If not, you don’t have to know what that the “Jujutsu Kaisen” series is about to understand or appreciate “Jujutsu Kaisen 0,” which could be viewed as a stand-alone movie.

In “Jujutsu Kaisen 0,” Yuta Okkotsu is a lonely and insecure 16-year-old, who is called on to become a reluctant sorcerer. The movie opens in November 2016, in Tokyo, where Yuta is being attacked by four bullies in his school. Suddenly, a giant ghost that looks like a monster appears and fights back, severely injuring the bullies. Who or what is this ghost?

The avenging spirit is Rika Orimoto, Yuta’s childhood best friend, who died when they were about 9 or 10 years old in their hometown of Sendai City. Rika was tragically killed when she was hit by a car on a street, and Yuta witnessed everything. Not long before she this accident happened, Rika had given Yuta a promise ring and vowed that they would get married to each other when they became adults. Rika also promised to never leave Yuta.

It’s a promise that has caused problems for Yuta, who is blamed for injuring the bullies. Rika has also aggressively come to Yuta’s “rescue” on other occasions, with violent results. Meanwhile, a group of unseen judges gather to decide what will happen to Yuta. The judges have summoned a young adult sorcerer named Satoru Gojo to go to Yuta and train him to banish the spirit of Yuta, among other things.

Satoru Gojo tells a skeptical and terrified Yuta that Yuta will be taken to Jujutsu High, a special school for sorcerer training. Feeling like an outcast anyway, Yuta goes along with the plan. There are only three others who are part of this training program:

  • Maki Zen’in, a sassy and sarcastic know-it-all, who initially disrespects Yuta, because she thinks that Yuta doesn’t have what it takes to be a successful sorcerer.
  • Toge Inumaki, who is quiet and less combative than Maki, and who his more willing to help Yuta.
  • Panda, a panda that provides a lot of comic relief for being over-exuberant, which can lead to clumsy moments.

The rest of the movie follows their adventures in sorcerer training, as well as what happens in the inevitable showdown to rein in Rika. “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” doesn’t fall into the trap that other adventure films fall into when they try to clutter up the story with too many characters. By keeping the story streamlined, focused and easy to understand, “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” can have wide appeal to many different age groups.

The voices of the “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” characters are portrayed by different actors, depending on which version of “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” that you see. The original Japanese version (with English subtitles) has Megumi Ogata as Yuta Okkotsu, Yuichi Nakamura as Satoru Gojo, Kana Hanazawa as Rika Orimoto, Mikako Komatsu as Maki Zen’in, Koki Uchiyama as Toge Inumaki and Tomokazu Seki as Panda. There’s also a U.S. version, with the dialogue dubbed in English, that has Kayleigh McKee as Yuta Okkotsu, Kaiji Tang as Satoru Gojo, Anairis Quiñones as Rika Orimoto, Allegra Clark as Maki Zen’in, Xander Mobus as Toge Inumaki and Matthew David Rudd as Panda.

One thing in “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” that might be an issue for some viewers is how it depicts the female characters as the most problematic. Rika’s obsessive love and her appearance in monster form are over-the-top ways to make feminine infatuation look demonic. She also has temper tantrums that make her look mentally ill. In addition, Maki is the most difficult living human in the story. However, there is some redemption for at least one of these female characters, even though she’s portrayed as very antagonistic for most of the story.

The visually striking animation in “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” is at its best during the last third of the movie, when the biggest battles happen. The movie’s pacing keeps a level of interest that serves the story quite well. Overall, “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” is the type of anime that does justice to the manga version. Stay for the end-credits scene if you want a hint of how the story might continue in a movie sequel.

Crunchyroll released “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” in U.S. cinemas on March 18, 2022. The movie was released in Japan in 2021.

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