Review: ‘The First Slam Dunk,’ a thrilling anime film about striving for basketball glory and coping with grief

February 23, 2024

by Carla Hay

Hanamichi Sakuragi in “The First Slam Dunk” (Image courtesy of GKIDS)

“The First Slam Dunk”

Directed by Takehiko Inoue

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

Culture Representation: Taking place in Japan, the animated film “The First Slam Dunk” (based on the “Slam Dunk” manga series) features a cast of Japanese characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 17-year-old basketball fanatic, who is the point guard on his high school team, wants to win the inter-high basketball championships while he is coping with the death of his older brother, who was also a basketball star. 

Culture Audience: “The First Slam Dunk” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the manga series and anime films with memorable characters, great action scenes, and emotional resonance.

Takenori Akagi in “The First Slam Dunk” (Image courtesy of GKIDS)

“The First Slam Dunk” is one of the best basketball movies you could ever see. It’s a suspenseful and emotionally gripping film that balances a story of achieving sports greatness and coping with grief. Simply put: “The First Slam Dunk” is an artful cinematic adaptation of the “Slam Dunk” manga series on which it is based. There have also been a “Slam Dunk” TV series (which was on the air from 1993 to 1996), video games and other movies based on the “Slam Dunk” manga series.

“Slam Dunk” manga creator Takehiko Inoue wrote and directed “The First Slam Dunk” (his very impressive feature-film debut), based on his 1990 to 1996 manga series of the same name. “The First Slam Dunk” is an example of how the creator of a manga series can be the best person to also a direct a movie based on the series. Fans of “The First Slam Dunk” manga series will be immensely pleased with this movie version, which should also win over new fans.

“The First Slam Dunk” (which takes place in Japan) is centered on the story of a basketball team’s quest to win a high-school championship and a star player on the team who is dealing wt the death of his beloved older brother. The movie’s main protagonist is Ryota “Ryo” Miyagi, the point guard (#7) of Shohoku High School’s basketball team. Ryota, who is 17 years old, is still grieving over the death of his older brother So-Chan “Soto” Miyagi, who died when Soto was 12 and Ryota was 9. Soto is the one who influenced Ryota to become a basketball player.

Ryota lives at home with his widowed mother Kaoru and his younger sister Anna. A flashback shows that after the death of the children’s father, when Soto was still alive, Soto told his mother Kaoru: “I’ll be the family captain, Ma. Soto tells Ryota that Ryota can be the assistant captain. Coincidentally, Soto and Ryota were born on the same month and date, just three years apart.

Ryota is haunted by the memories of Soto. Winning a championship means more to him than just getting a title. For Ryota, it means making his family proud and honoring Soto’s legacy. Much of “The First Slam Dunk” consists of games that Shohoku High School’s basketball teams on their quest for the championship. They want to unseat the reigning championship team from Sannoh Kogyo High School, which has a star player named Kazunari Fukatsu.

The other members of the Shohoku High School basketball team are team captain Takenori Akagi (#4), three-point shooter Hisashi Mitsui (#14), a former MVP of his junior high school; small forward Kaede Rukawa (#11); and power forward Hanamichi Sakuragi (#10), who is the team’s biggest rebel. In the “Slam Dunk” manga series, Hanamichi is the central character.

The road to the championship isn’t easy, of course. There are crushing defeats, injuries, self-doubt and conflicts among the team members. The basketball scenes are absolutely thrilling and will make viewers almost feel like they’re watching a live-action game. There’s also a little bit of romance, since Haruko Akagi (Takenori’s younger sister, who also plays basketball) is the love interest of Hanamichi.

The voices of “The First Slam Dunk” characters are portrayed by different cast members, depending on the version of the movie. The original Japanese version (with English subtitles) has Shugo Nakamura as Ryota Miyagi, Kenta Miyake as Takenori Akagi, Jun Kasama as Hisashi Mitsui, Shinichiro Kamio as Kaede Rukawa, Subaru Kimura as Hanamichi Sakuragi and Maaya Sakamoto as Haruko Akagi. There’s also a U.S. version, with the dialogue dubbed in English, that has Paul Castro Jr. as Ryota Miyagi, Aaron Goodson as Takenori Akagi, Jonah Scott as Hisashi Mitsui, Aleks Le as Kaede Rukawa, Ben Balmaceda as Hanamichi Sakuragi and Abby Espiritu as Haruko Akagi.

You don’t have to be a basketball fan to enjoy “The First Slam Dunk” movie, which is well-written from beginning to end, with many captivating visuals. Hanamichi has the flashiest personality on the Shohoku High School basketball team, but sensitive and thoughtful Ryota is the most endearing team member and is the heart and soul of the movie. “The First Slam Dunk” is not just the name of this move but it could also describe the triumph that the movie is for Inoue as his feature-film directorial debut.

GKIDS released “The First Slam Dunk” in select U.S. cinemas on July 28, 2023. The movie was released in Japan on December 3, 2022. “The First Slam Dunk” will be released on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD on February 28, 2024.

Review: ‘The Storm’ (2024), an animated adventure from China about a wayward man and boy affected by a mysterious black ship

February 1, 2024

by Carla Hay

Daguzi/Biggie and Manou/Bun in “The Storm” (Image courtesy of CMC Pictures)

“The Storm” (2024)

Directed by Yang Zhigang (also known as Busifan)

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unspecified ancient time in China, the animated film “The Storm” features an all-Chinese cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A wayward man becomes a father figure to a boy he found floating in a river, and the two of them experience danger on a mysterious black ship.

Culture Audience: “The Storm” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching adventurous and visually captivating anime with several emotional moments.

A scene from “The Storm” (Image courtesy of CMC Pictures)

The animated adventure film “The Storm” gets a little repetitive, but the visuals are well-done, and the story takes an unexpected turn. The ending is a bold risk that not every viewer will like, but it stands out from other movies of this genre. “The Storm” might get some comparisons to filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s Oscar-winning 2001 film “Spirited Away.” There are a few similarities, but each movie stands on its own as an original story.

Written and directed by Yang Zhigang (also known as Busifan), “The Storm” (which takes place in an unspecified ancient time in China) tells the story of a poor and wayward man named Daguzi, who finds a boy named Mantou, who’s about 8 or 9 years old, when he sees Mantou floating down a river stream. Mantou doesn’t seem to have any family members, so Daguzi decides to take care of Mantou and becomes a father figure to him.

Daguzi and Mantou have nicknames for each other. Mantou has given Daguzi the nickname Biggie. Daguz has given Mantou the nickname Bun. They become very close and develop an emotional bond that is like a father and a son.

Out of financial desperation, Daguzi/Biggie does something illegal to get money. He becomes a fugtive of the law and takes Mantou/Bun with him to go into hiding. Daguzi/Biggie and Mantou/Bun end up in Great Dragon Bay.

On the bay is a mysterious black ship that has a sinister reputation: People who go on the ship often disappear. Daguzi/Biggie and Mantou/Bun go on the ship and find out that there are white jellyfish-like creatures named jellieels that can turn people into jellieelsters after a certain period of time.

As already revealed in the trailer for “The Storm,” Daguzi/Biggie gets bitten by a jellieel. A distraught Mantou/Bun then goes through a race against time to find a turquoise magic mushroom to prevent Daguzi/Biggie from turning into a jellieelster. Along the way, he enlists the help of an army leader named Commander Liu (also known as Miss) and her relative called Uncle Big Hat.

One of the best things about “The Storm” is how it creates a fantastical world that is often stunning to look at and which offers both beauty and danger. The movie’s plot gets a little clunky when it shows the military preoccupations of Commander Liu and her troops. However, the story excels when it’s about the relationship between Daguzi/Biggie and Mantou/Bun. The movie requires a viewer’s full attention in order to appreciate it, because some of the plot zips around, as the two main characters don’t stay in one place for very long.

“The Storm” has overt as well as underlying messages about facing fears and what it means for children to make big decisions without parental guidance. The movie also shows how family members—whether they are biological or chosen—can inspire loyalty and love like no other type of relationships. It’s not a perfect animated film, but there’s a lot to like about it.

There’s plenty of action and suspense, but “The Storm” really succeeds in making viewers care about the characters, especially vulnerable but brave and determined Mantou/Bun. Most viewers will not be prepared for the movie’s ending. Stick around for the movie’s epilogue, which adds to the poignancy of this film’s conclusion.

CMC Pictures released “The Storm” in select U.S. cinemas on January 26, 2024. The movie was released in China on January 12, 2024.

Review: ‘The Peasants’ (2023), starring Kamila Urzędowska, Robert Gulaczyk, Mirosław Baka, Sonia Mietielica, Ewa Kasprzyk, Andrzej Konopka and Cezary Łukaszewicz

January 8, 2024

by Carla Hay

Kamila Urzędowska (sitting at far right) and Robert Gulaczyk (standing) in “The Peasants” (Photo by Julia Spiwakowa/Sony Pictures Classics)

“The Peasants” (2023)

Directed by DK Welchman (also known as Dorota Kobiela) and Hugh Welchman

Polish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the late 1800s, in Lipce, Poland, the animated film “The Peasants” (based on the novel of the same name) features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A young woman is forced into a marriage to a widower who is old enough to be her father, while she has a secret affair with her husband’s married son. 

Culture Audience: “The Peasants” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching unusual-looking animated films with gritty and provocative subjects.

Pictured in front: Kamila Urzędowska and Cezary Łukaszewicz in “The Peasants” (Photo by Malgorzata Kuznik/Sony Pictures Classics)

A gorgeously painted animated film, “The Peasants” tells a haunting, well-acted story about the cruelty of oppressive and violent misogyny in 1800s Poland. The explicit content might be off-putting to viewers who expect animation to be mostly family-friendly. “The Peasants” is by no means a masterpiece film, but it’s a movie with compelling characters and can be fully immersive for viewers who don’t have short attention spans. “The Peasants” had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.

Directed by DK Welchman (also known as Dorota Kobiela) and Hugh Welchman, “The Peasants” is based on Władysław Reymont’s Nobel Prize-winning novel of the same name, which was published between 1904 and 1909. It’s the third movie adaptation of “The Peasants,” after a 1922 and 1973 version. “The Peasants” was also made into a 1972 limited series. The 2023 version of “The Peasants” was filmed with live actors, but the frames of the movie are meticulous painted and presented as animation. DK Welchman and Hugh Welchman used the same animation technique for their 2017 Oscar-nominated animated film “Loving Vincent.”

Just like the novel, the 2023 version of “The Peasants” is told in four chapters named after the four seasons of the year, starting with autumn. The story takes place in the village of Lipce, Poland, where this small community is steeped in rigid and sexist social structures. Women are treated like property that can be bought and sold into marriage. A woman’s worth is based primarily on being a wife and mother.

The time period in which the story takes place (late 1800s) isn’t an entirely an excuse for the horrible way that women and girls are mistreated in the society that’s shown in the movie. Many of today’s communities in various parts of the world still believe in and enforce misogynistic society rules that treat women and girls as inferior and not worthy of having the same opportunities and education as men. It’s an unsettling truth that much of what happens in “The Peasants” is still relevant to what happens today.

In “The Peasants,” the community of Lipce is also a cesspool of gossip. Many of the residents are farmers. The people in the community who are the wealthiest are those who own the most land. Not all of the misogyny comes from men, since many of the women in the community are perpetrators of actions that keep other women oppressed—usually because of jealousy.

It’s in this emotionally toxic environment that 19-year-old Jagna Paczesiówna (played by Kamila Urzedowska) lives with her widowed mother Marcjanna “Dominikowa” Paczes (played by Ewa Kasprzyk), who is determined to have Jagna marry a wealthy man. The wealthiest man in Lipce is a widower named Maciej Boryna (played by Miroslaw Baka), who is old enough to be Jagna’s father. Maciej, who has a domineering personality, is also the most powerful person in Lipce.

Jagna, who has an artistic talent of making cutouts, is envied for her beauty and for being one of the most sought-after women in the community. She has a kind and friendly personality that makes her approachable. Most of the jealousy about Jagna comes from gossipy, middle-aged women, including the mayor’s wife (played by Sonia Bohosiewicz), who doesn’t have a name in the movie. The mayor’s wife likes to think she’s a matchmaker, but she’s really a meddler.

Because Jagna is flirtatious with some of the men who approach her, the gossipers in the community spread lies about her being promiscuous. In this community, the concept of “dating freedom” is very one-sided: Men, whether they are married or not, are allowed to seek out more than one love interest/love partner, while young women are expected to be “virginal” when they get married. It’s a double standard that will have dire consequences for someone in this story.

Even though several men in Jipce want to court Jagna, she has fallen in love with Antek Boryna (played by Robert Gulaczyk), a local farmer who charms her when they first meet by giving her a stork that they see in a pond. There are two major problems with Jagna and Antek being together as a couple: First, Antek is married to Hanka Borynowa (played by Sonia Mietielica), and they have three children together. Secondly, Antek’s father is Maciej, who has his sights set on marrying Jagna as a “trophy wife.”

Antek has tensions with his wife and his father. Antek is unhappily married to Hanka, because he seems to have fallen out of love with her. Hanka is not a difficult wife, but she is understandably upset that Antek has become cold and distant from her, while she remains loyal and committed to the marriage. Antek has arguments with Maciej because Maciej refuses to give Antek any land that Antek think he’s entitled to having as an heir.

Maciej has two other children: a son named Magda (played by Jadwiga Wianecka) and a daughter named Zoska (played by Klara Bielawka), who is married to a man named Michał (played by Cezary Łukaszewicz). Antek is the most outspoken and forceful of Maciej’s children, when it comes to demanding that he get a share of Maciej’s property while Maciej is still alive. Antek and Hanka both think that Maciej is ungrateful for all the work that Antek is doing for Maciej.

Other people in the village who have an effect on what happens in the story include Mayor Piotr (played Andrzej Konopka) and a blacksmith named Michal (played by Cezary Lukaszewicz), who is one of Jagna’s admirers. The mayor’s wife is the first to plant the idea in Maciej’s head that Jagna would make an ideal wife for Maciej. Jagna is courted by Maciej, who knows that Jagna doesn’t feel comfortable with him, but he pursues her anyway.

Jagna doesn’t feel like she’s ready to get married, but her greedy mother makes a deal with Maciej that forces Jagna into marrying him. Antek is predictably upset that his lover is now his father’s wife, but he and Jagna continue to have a secret affair after she marries Maciej. “The Peasants” shows what happens to this love triangle in ways that might be disturbing for some viewers but it’s realistic to how many people act when love and jealousy become entangled with each other.

The acting performances in “The Peasants” are very effective for the characters that have the most development. Urzedowska is the obvious standout as Jagna, who is not naïve but she has an open heart and is experiencing love for the first time. Urzedowska does an admirable job of conveying Jagna’s vulnerability and resilience. Gulaczyk capably handles his role as the complicated Antek, who seems like a romantic lover to Jagna, but can she really trust someone who cheats on his wife in this way?

One of the more effective aspects of “The Peasants” is in the way it shows how the ugly sides of humanity can exist in very beautiful settings. The outdoor locations are vivid and idyllic, such as in scenes where Jagna and Antek meet in rustling fields or near tranquil ponds during their secretive trysts that have an underlying sense of danger if they get caught committing adultery. And during Jagna’s miserable marriage to Maciej, she lives in a luxurious home, but Maciej is abusive to her, and she’s like a wounded bird trapped in a gilded cage.

The pacing of “The Peasants” occasionally drags, and some of the characters are underdeveloped. For example, an organist named Jasio (played by Maciej Musiał), who seems to be interested in Jagna, is given nothing substantial to do in the story. Some viewers might not like how this movie ends. No matter how terrible things get for Jagna in “The Peasants,” the movie has a message of hope that abuse survivors can have a lot of inner strength that cannot be destroyed.

Sony Pictures Classics released “The Peasants” in select U.S. cinemas on December 8, 2023.

Review: ‘Migration’ (2023), starring the voices of Kumail Nanjiani, Elizabeth Banks, Keegan-Michael Key, Awkwafina and Danny DeVito

December 20, 2023

by Carla Hay

Uncle Dan (voiced by Danny DeVito), Gwen (voiced by Tresi Gazal), Dax (voiced by Caspar Jennings), Pam (voiced by Elizabeth Banks) and Mack (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani) in “Migration” (Image courtesy of Illumination Entertainment and Universal Studios)

“Migration” (2023)

Directed by Benjamin Renner; co-directed by Guylo Homsy

Culture Representation: Taking place in the United States and the Caribbean, the animated film “Migration” features a cast of characters portraying different types of birds.

Culture Clash: A family of five mallards (wild ducks) travel outside their home for the first time to go on a vacation in Jamaica, and they encounter various obstacles along the way. 

Culture Audience: “Migration” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching an entertaining, family-oriented animated film.

Gwen (voiced by Tresi Gazal), Dax (voiced by Caspar Jennings), Pam (voiced by Elizabeth Banks), Delroy (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key), Mack (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani) and Uncle Dan (voiced by Danny DeVito) in “Migration” (Image courtesy of Illumination Entertainment and Universal Studios)

Elevated by a stellar voice cast, “Migration” is an amusing and crowd-pleasing animated adventure with memorable characters. The movie offers a positive message about being open-minded enough to go outside comfort zones and experience new things. The story is easy to understand and has appeal for many generations of people.

Directed by Benjamin Renner and co-directed by Guylo Homsy, “Migration” was written by Mike White, the Emmy-winning creator of HBO’s “The White Lotus.” There’s some expected formula to the plot of “Migration,” but the dialogue between the characters is an entertaining delight. “Migration” also has some vibrant visuals that showcase birds on a thrilling aerial journey, as well as the beautiful locations that are visited along the way.

“Migration” begins by introducing the family of mallards (wild ducks) that live somewhere in New England go on this life-changing journey. The family patriarch is Mack Mallard (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani) and the family matriarch is Pam Mallard (voiced by Elizabeth Banks), who are parents of Dax (voiced by Caspar Jennings) and Gwen (voiced by Tresi Gazal). If Dax and Gwen were human, Dax would be about 12 or 13 years old, while Gwen would be about 8 or 9 years old.

The movie’s opening scene shows how Mack and Pam have different personalities and outlooks on life, which are reflected in their parenting styles. Mack teaches his children to be fearful of the unknown, while Pam encourages her children to be curious of the unknown. Mack is shown telling Dax and Gwen a story about duck children who went somewhere they weren’t supposed to go and ended up getting killed. Pam contradicts Mack assures her kids that no one was killed and the story really had a happy ending.

The Mallard family soon meets a lost duck (voiced by Jimmy Donaldson) in local duck habitat called Moosehead Pond. This duck tells the family that he and his flock are making their annual migration south to warmer weather during this winter season. The duck invites the family to migrate too.

Mack is immediately against the idea, because he and his family have never migrated before. After some back-and-forth debate and pleading from the kids, Pam convinces Mack to change his mind, and they decide to go to Jamaica. Joining them on the trip is Mack’s somewhat cranky bachelor Uncle Dan (voiced by Danny DeVito), who shares Mack’s tendency to be afraid of taking risks in life.

Along the way, the Mallards go to New York City, where they meet a group of scrappy pigeons, led by tough-talking fighter named Chump (voiced by Awkwafina), who immediately clashes with Mack. The Mallards also meet a rare Jamaican parrot named Delroy (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key), who has a sincere personality and is beng held captive in a cage by a restaurant chef (voiced by Boris Rehlinger) in the restaurant’s kitchen.

The Mallards help Delroy escape. As a thank you, he offers to show them the way to Jamaica. (This isn’t spoiler information, since Delroy is shown in the movie’s trailers.) The Mallards also spend time at a paradise-like duck farm led by the guru-like Goo Goo (voiced by David Mitchell), which might or might not be the safe haven that it appears to be.

“Migration” has the benefit of very good writing as the foundation for making this movie as engaging as it is. Many animated films make the characters too generic, but each of the principal and supporting characters has a distinctive personality that won’t get confused with any other characters. The character of Uncle Dan is a little underdeveloped though. The movie isn’t overstuffed with too many characters or subplots. “Migration” is ultimately a journey worth taking for anyone who wants to see a well-made animated film.

Universal Pictures will release “Migration” in U.S. cinemas on December 22, 2023.

Review: ‘The Inventor’ (2023), starring the voices of Stephen Fry, Daisy Ridley, Marion Cotillard, Gauthier Battoue and Matt Berry

December 17, 2023

by Carla Hay

King Francis I (voiced by Gauthier Battoue), Leonardo Da Vinci (voiced by Stephen Fry), Princess Marguerite (voiced by Daisy Ridley) and Louise de Savoy (voiced by Marion Cotillard) in “The Inventor” (Photo courtesy of Curiosity Studio/Blue Fox Entertainment)

“The Inventor” (2023)

Directed by Jim Capobianco; co-directed by Pierre-Luc Granjon

Culture Representation: Taking place in Italy and in France, in the 1500s, the animated film “The Inventor” features a cast of all-white cast characters representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: Renowned artist Leonardo Da Vinci tries to find acceptance as an inventor at a time when science and scientific inventions were considered religious blasphemy. 

Culture Audience: “The Inventor” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching a pleasantly simple history-based animated movie that uses stop-motion and 2-D animation.

King Francis I (voiced by Gauthier Battoue) in “The Inventor” (Photo courtesy of Curiosity Studio/Blue Fox Entertainment)

“The Inventor” doesn’t do anything groundbreaking in animation, but it’s a charming option for viewers who want to see an adventure story about Leonardo da Vinci. The movie has positive messages about reaching for our best potential. The visuals (a combination of stop-motion animation and 2-D animation) are the opposite of slick and overly intricate, giving the movie a traditional look that is o. The voice performances are also well-cast.

Directed by Jim Capobianco and co-directed by Pierre-Luc Granjon, “The Inventor” takes place in the 1500s. The movie begins in 1516 in the Italian capital of Rome, where famous painter Leonardo DaVinci (voiced by Stephen Fry) shows fellow painter Francesco Melzi (voiced by Angelino Sandri) his new invention: a telescope. Leonardo wants more out of his life than just being known as an artist. He also wants to be known as a polymath: someone who has many different skills.

Leonardo has an avid interest in science. However, Pope Leo X (voiced by Matt Berry) thinks science is religious blasphemy. The pope wants Leonardo to stick to only painting chapels and doing other paintings.. Leonardo resists this command.

As a compromise, Pope Leo X tells Leonardo: “I command that you create a bauble, a gift that will cement the peace between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of France. If you are successful, I shall allow you to continue your studies. However, [if you fail], you will find you and your curiosity on the heretics’ pile.

It just so happens that in France, King Francis I (voiced by Gauthier Battoue) has invited Leonard to become France’s first person to be a combination architect/painter/engineer for the royal court. Leonardo is introduced to King Francis’ mother Louise de Savoy (voiced by Marion Cotillard) and King Francis’ sister Marguerite (voiced by Daisy Ridley), who is often the target of Francis’ sexist attitude. The king’s architect Il Boccador (voiced by Max Baumgarten) and the king’s engineer Pierre Nepveu (voiced by Natalie Palamides) greatly admire Leonardo and his vision for creating canals, gallerias and gardens.

However, King Francis thinks the plans are too expensive and complicated. When Marguerite says that Leonardo’s ideas are great, King Francis is dismissive when he tells her: “If only you were permitted to wear britches, you’d be every bit my equal.” Marguerite isn’t the type to accept this insult and doesn’t hesitate to try to prove her brother Francis wrong.

Meanwhile, “The Inventor” has some debate about faith versus science, and if they can co-exist in the same outlook on life. Marguerite says to Leonardo: “Faith makes all things possible. Don’t you agree?”

Leonardo replies, “All I know is that blind faith cannot prove the existence of the soul. Using the power of reason, however, observation, and experiment, I endeavor to find that soul … And when I find this immortal soul, I hope people share its answers about life.”

All of this existential talk makes “The Inventor” an animated film that’s geared to people who are at least 8 years old. Children young than 8 will enjoy the visuals but might not fully understand the messages behind the film. Overall, “The Inventor” is enjoyable for what it is but it’s not a classic film that will influence generations of viewers.

Blue Fox Entertainment released “The Inventor” in U.S. cinemas on September 15, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on November 7, 2023.

Review: ‘The Boy and the Heron,’ a fantastical adventure anime movie from filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki

November 26, 2023

by Carla Hay

Mahito Maki and the Grey Heron in “The Boy and the Heron” (Image courtesy of GKIDS)

“The Boy and the Heron”

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

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

Culture Representation: Taking place in Japan, mostly in 1944, the animated film “The Boy and the Heron” features a cast of Japanese human and animal characters representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: A lonely adolescent boy, who’s grieving over the accidental death of his mother, befriends a half-heron/half-man, who leads the boy to fantastical world inside a mysterious tower, where he encounters past versions of various people and a power-hungry group of parakeets. 

Culture Audience: “The Boy and the Heron” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki and time-traveling anime movies that can be enjoyed by various generations.

Himi in “The Boy and the Heron” (Image courtesy of GKIDS)

“The Boy and the Heron” artfully blends heavy issues of grief with the escapism of a thrilling adventure. It’s a beautifully told and moving story that is as much about being a legacy to departed loved ones as it is about establishing one’s own identity. “The Boy and the Heron” had its North American premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.

Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, “The Boy and the Heron” is inspired by but not connected to Genzaburō Yoshin’s 1937 novel “How Do You Live?,” which is the Japanese title of the movie. “The Boy and the Heron” has elements of Miyazaki’s childhood in the movie, which has an original screenplay. Miyazaki (who won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for 2001’s “Spirited Away”) has been synonymous with among the best of what Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli has to offer. “The Boy and the Heron” ends a 10-year gap between Miyazaki’s movies. His previous movie was 2013’s Oscar-nominated “The Wind Rises.”

“The Boy and the Heron” begins with a tragedy. In 1943, in Tokyo during the Pacific War, 12-year-old Mahito Maki is woken up from his sleep to the sound of chaos. His businessman father Shoichi Maki tells him that the hospital where Mahito’s mother Himi works is on fire. The hospital and the fire can be seen from the Maki family home. Mahito (who is an only child at this point) wants to go with his father to the hospital to help save Maki, but Shoichi insists that Mahito stay at home. Unfortunately, Maki does not survive the fire. It’s implied that the fire was caused by a bomb during this war.

The following year, 13-year-old Mahito and Shoichi move to Grey Heron Mansion, in an unnamed city in the countryside. Shoichi, who owns an ammunition factory near the estate, is now married to Himi’s younger sister Natsuko, who is described as a look-alike to Himi. The first time that Mahito meets Natsuko, he finds out that she is pregnant with his younger sibling. It’s a lot to take in for introverted Mahito, who is deep in grief over his mother’s death.

The mansion has seven elderly maids, who dote on Mahito and often work together in a pack. The maids’ names are Kiriko, Aiko, Izumi, Eriko, Utako, Oyuki, and Kazuko. Kiriko is the unofficial leader of the maids. She is often stoic and less talkative than the other maids in the group. Natsuko and all of the maids treat Mahito with kindness. Shoichi is a caring father, but he is very preoccupied with his work.

One day, Mahito notices that a grey heron has flown up to him, as if to try to get his attention. Mahito is told that his grey heron has lived on the property for quite some time. The grey heron will visit Mahito more times over the next several days.

Shortly after moving to this new home, Mahito goes exploring in the estate’s wooded area. He finds a tower that is somewhat sealed off, but Mahito finds a way to peek inside. He’s later told by Natsuko that the tower was built by her granduncle, who had a mental breakdown and disappeared. However, this granduncle left behind a book of his writings. Natsuko also tells Mahito that when Himi was a child, Himi disappeared for a year, but reappeared a year later with no memory of having been gone.

Quiet and shy Mahito has a hard time making friends with other students at his school. The students mostly ignore him or give him hostile stares. Out of frustration and to get out of going to school, Mahito hits himself on the head with a rock. It causes him to bleed profusely. Mahito tells people that he fell down, but his father Shoichi doesn’t believe Mahito. Shoichi thinks that Mahito was assaulted by a bully and is determined to find out who it is.

While Mahito is recovering from his injuries, he gets an unusual visit from the grey heron, who flies to Mahito’s window and squawks, “Mahito, save me!” The heron tells Mahito that Mahito’s mother is still alive and living in the tower. Around the same time, Natsuko goes missing. Through a series of events, Mahito, the heron and Kiriko find themselves trapped in the tower, which is actually a magical place inside that has past versions of some of the people whom Mahito knows.

The grey heron also reveals himself to be half-pelican, half-man, who can wear the pelican part of his body like a costume. It’s best not to go into further details in this review, but it’s enough to say that the story in “The Boy and the Heron” also features pelicans, a parakeet kingdom, and beings called warawara that look like white-colored stars and have a purpose that’s connected to life forces. Some of the scenes in this movie are visually stunning and very immersive.

The voices of “The Boy and the Heron” characters are portrayed by different cast members, depending on the version of the movie. The original Japanese version (with English subtitles) has Soma Santoki as Mahito, Masaki Suda as the Grey Heron, Takuya Kimura as Soichi, Yoshino Kimura as Natsuko, Kô Shibasaki as Kiriko, Aimyon as Himi, Jun Kunimura as the Parakeet King and Kaoru Kobayashi as a wise old pelican. There’s also a U.S. version, with the dialogue dubbed in English, that has Luca Padovan as Mahito, Robert Pattinson as the Grey Heron, Christian Bale as Soichi, Gemma Chan as Natsuko, Florence Pugh as Kiriko, Karen Fukuhara as Himi, Dave Bautista as the Parakeet King and Willem Dafoe as a wise old pelican.

“The Boy and the Heron” explores themes of life, death, and what it might mean to change one’s destiny by going back in time and possibly doing things differently. There are also some sociopolitical observations about how much control people should give leaders over who lives and who dies, as well as some obvious (but not preachy) commentary about the dangers of damaging the environment. There’s a point in the story where Mahito has to decide how much he is going to make his grief control a big decision that he has to make.

The movie has some well-animated and suspenseful action scenes and gives each of the main characters a distinct personality. The voice actors also give very good but not outstanding performances. With so many animated movies stuck in a formulaic rut, “The Boy and the Heron” can be a viable option for people looking for a well-made and entertaining animated film that also has meaningful messages about humanity’s connections to other creatures, the environment, and the life cycles that are unique to all.

GKIDS released “The Boy and the Heron” in select U.S. cinemas on November 24, 2023, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on December 8, 2023. The movie was released in Japan on July 14, 2023.

Review: ‘Wish’ (2023), starring the voices of Ariana DeBose, Chris Pine, Alan Tudyk, Angelique Cabral, Victor Garber, Natasha Rothwell and Jennifer Kumiyama

November 17, 2023

by Carla Hay

Asha (voiced by Ariana DeBose), her pet goat Valentino (voiced by Alan Tudyk) and Star in “Wish” (Image courtesy of Walt Disney Animation Studios)

“Wish” (2023)

Directed by Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn

Culture Representation: Taking place on a fictional Iberian Peninsula island called Rosas, the animated film “Wish” features a racially diverse cast of characters white, black, Latin, and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A 17-year-old girl battles with an egotistical and corrupt king over his control of granting people’s wishes. 

Culture Audience: “Wish” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Disney animation and don’t mind watching an extremely formulaic Disney film.

Asha (voiced by Ariana DeBose) and King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine) in “Wish” (Image courtesy of Walt Disney Animation Studios)

As a Disney animated film, “Wish” is more forgettable than iconic. Even with a talented cast, the movie’s plot, characters, and songs are generic and derivative. Its references to other Disney movies look more like shameless shilling than fond reminiscing.

Directed by Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn, “Wish” is a movie that blandly goes through the motions with its simple plot and Disney self-promotion. The movie’s very formulaic screenplay was co-written by Jennifer Lee and Allison Moore. Buck and Lee are the directors of Disney’s Oscar-winning 2013 blockbuster “Frozen” and 2019 mega-hit “Frozen II.” Unfortunately, “Wish” is nowhere near the quality of these two “Frozen” movies.

The protagonist and narrator of “Wish” is 17-year-old Asha (voiced by Ariana DeBose), who lives on a fictional Iberian Peninsula island called Rosas. Asha lives with her widowed mother Sakina (voiced by Natasha Rothwell) and her paternal grandfather Sabino (voiced by Victor Garber), who is about to turn 100 years old. You know you’re watching a Disney animated film about a plucky heroine if at least one of her parents is dead.

The ruler of Rosas is King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine), a sorcerer who abuses his magical power to grant wishes for people, by allowing only one person a month to get a wish. These wishes look like bubbles, where Magnifico can envision what the wishes are. Sabino is still waiting to get his wish granted.

Not knowing how corrupt and vain King Magnifico is, Asha applies for a job to be his assistant. During the interview process, Asha sees Magnifico’s nasty temper and his obsessive need for control. Asha’s best friend is a royal servant named Dahlia (voiced by Jennifer Kumiyama), who is a cook in the kitchen at the king’s palace.

King Magnifico’s loyal and loving wife Amaya (voiced by Angelique Cabral) is very supportive of him, because she doesn’t see his true personality. It’s a little hard to believe that a queen whose entire life seems to revolve around her king (Amaya isn’t shown doing anything else but being a wife) hasn’t noticed how he abuses his power with these wishes.

And because “Wish” is a very predictable Disney animated film, there’s a wisecracking talking animal or non-human sidekick for the protagonist. It’s a donkey named Valentino (voiced by Alan Tyduk), who is Asha’s constant companion. Another Disney animation cliché: a cute and mute ally to the protagonist. In “Wish,” it’s a golden star named Star, who is summoned from the sky after Asha makes a wish.

Asha has several friends who are mostly forgettable. Here’s how these characters and their voice cast members are described in the “Wish” production notes: “Harvey Guillén as the outspoken-but-heartfelt cynic Gabo; Niko Vargas as quick-with-a-smile optimist Hal; Evan Peters as strong-but-sleepy guy Simon; Ramy Youssef as Asha’s allergy-plagued pal Safi; Jon Rudnitsky as her kind and wiggly-eared friend Dario; and Della Saba as shy-but-surprising sweetheart Bazeema.” One of these pals will betray Asha in a plot development that has absolutely no suspense.

“Wish” also has no surprises, as it plods along from one scene to the next. The action sequences are unremarkable. The dialogue is often terribly written. The voice performances are average overall, although DeBose’s singing is among the few highlights of “Wish.” The movie’s visuals are not very impressive.

“Wish” also fails to have one outstanding song that will become a beloved classic. (Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice co-wrote the seven original and disappointing songs for “Wish.”) If a Disney animated musical film does not have at least one amazing song that can be easily be remembered after the movie is over, then you know how lackluster and unimaginative the movie is.

Walt Disney Pictures will release “Wish” in U.S. cinemas on November 22, 2023. A sneak preview of the movie will be shown in U.S. cinemas on November 18, 2023.

Review: ‘Trolls Band Together,’ starring the voices of Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Eric André, Kid Cudi, Daveed Diggs, Andrew Rannells, Amy Schumer, Troye Sivan and Kenan Thompson

November 4, 2023

by Carla Hay

John Dory (voiced by Eric André), Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) and Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake) in “Trolls Band Together” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

“Trolls Band Together”

Directed by Walt Dohrn; co-directed by Tim Heitz

Culture Representation: This animated film sequel, whch is the third film in the “Trolls” movie seires, has a racially diverse cast (white, African American and Latino) voicing characters based on troll dolls.

Culture Clash: A troll doll named Branch has his secret past exposed as a short-lived boy band member with his brothers, who must all reunite to save one of the brothers, who has been kidnapped by fraternal twin pop stars.

Culture Audience: “Trolls Band Together” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of the “Trolls” movie series, the movie’s cast members, and pop songs from the 1970s to 2000s.

Pictured clockwise, from upper left: Spruce (voiced by Daveed Diggs), Bitty B, also known as Baby Branch (voiced by Alan Kim), Floyd (voiced by Troye Sivan), Clay (voiced by Kid Cudi) and John Dory (voiced by Eric André) in “Trolls Band Together” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation) 

Although not as good as the first two “Trolls” movies, “Trolls Band Together” has its charms with high-energy entertainment and appealing characters. The movie’s biggest flaw: The story is overstuffed with subplots and stunt-casting cameos. There’s nothing award-worthy about “Trolls Band Together,” but it’s the type of animated movie that delivers what it’s supposed to deliver to its intended audience. “Trolls Band Together” (which is the third movie in the “Trolls” series) seems much more geared to children under the age of 8, compared to the first two “Trolls” movies.

Directed by Walter Dohrn and co-directed by Tim Heitz, “Trolls Band Together” is a sequel in the movie series that began with 2016’s “Trolls” and continued with 2020’s “Trolls World Tour.” The movies are based on Good Luck Trolls (toy figurines) created by Thomas Dam. The returning characters in “Trolls Band Together” include Queen Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) and her boyfriend Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake), who go on a mission to reunite Branch with his brothers, who were all in a boy band together. They have to reunite in order to rescue one of the brothers, who has been kidnapped by villainous fraternal twin pop stars. Elizabeth Tippet wrote the “Trolls Band Together” screenplay.

The movie begins with a flashback from about 20 years earlier, to show the boy band BroZone, consisting of five brothers: the leader John Dory (voiced by Eric André), heartthrob Spruce (voiced by Daveed Diggs), the “fun” one Clay (voiced by Kid Cudi), the sensitive one Floyd (voiced by Troye Sivan), and the “baby” Bitty B, which was Branch’s stage name as the youngest member of the group. During a performance where Bitty B/Baby Branch (voiced by Iris Dohrn) made his stage debut with BroZone, the five group members form a pyramid with their bodies, with Bitty B at the top of this pyramid.

Unfortunately, Bitty B loses his balance, the pyramid collapses, and it causes a domino effect of various mishaps on stage that lead to the concert being cancelled. The brothers are so angry about this embarrassing incident, they argue backstage and decide to break up immediately. Bitty B/Baby Branch gets much of the blame for the fiasco that happened on stage.

The brothers go their separate ways and lose contact with each other. Branch feels so guilty about what happened, he doesn’t tell people in his current life about his brothers and about his past as a short-lived member of BroZone. However, Branch’s past catches up to him when John Dory makes a surprise appearance at the wedding of King Gristle (voiced by Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Bridget (voiced by Zooey Deschanel), who is Poppy’s best friend. Branch is also a guest at the wedding. This is how Poppy finds out about Branch’s brothers and their BroZone past.

John Dory tells Branch that their brother Floyd has been kidnapped by twin pop stars Velvet (voiced by Amy Schumer) and Veneer (voiced by Andrew Rannells), who are jealous that Floyd has talent, but the twins do not. Velvet and Veneer secretly lip synch their songs. Of the twins, Velvet is the one with the nastier personality. She frequently bullies Veneer and their personal assistant Crimp (voiced by Zosia Mamet).

John Dory found out where Floyd is being held captive and was able to talk to Floyd, who is being held in a diamond cage. Floyd tells John Dory that the cage can only be broken by the sound of perfect family harmony. And you know what that means: A mission to get the band (namely, BroZone) back together.

The rest of “Trolls Band Together” is the expected mix of musical scenes (with pop songs from the 1970s to 2000s), new characters being introduced, and more secrets being revealed. “Trolls Band Together” is also an obvious promotional vehicle for the reunion of *NYSNC, the boy band that made Timberlake famous. The *NSYNC reunion song “Better Place” (co-written by Timberlake, Shellback and Amy Allen) is heard in two different versions near the end of the movie. Other original songs in “Trolls Band Together” are “Family,” “Perfect” and “It Takes Two,” all co-written by Timberlake, Mike Elizondo, Michael Pollack and Emily Warren.

Making return appearances are Guy Diamond (voiced by Kunal Nayyar) and his son Tiny Diamond (voiced by Kenan Thompson), two glittery and talkative Trolls. Tiny ends up being the automobile driver for the mission to reunite BroZone. A princess character named Viva (voiced by Camila Cabello) has a surprise connection to one of the main characters. It’s a subplot that really didn’t need to be in the movie and just distracts from the main story.

“Trolls Band Together” is packed with celebrity voice actors, but at least half of them have screen time that’s less than five minutes each. To its detriment, “Trolls Band Together” went a little too overboard with this stunt casting. One of these cameo appearances is RuPaul Charles as Miss Maxine, the sassy officiator at the wedding of King Gristle and Bridget. The other members of *NSYNC have voice roles as their Troll alter egos who appear briefly toward the end of the film: JC Chasez is Hype, Joey Fatone is Ablaze, Lance Bass is Boom and Chris Kirkpatrick is Trickee.

“Trolls Band Together” isn’t great, but it isn’t horrible either. The visuals are attractive but not groundbreaking. The movie’s main saving grace is the talent of the voice cast members (Kendrick continues to be a standout), who make parts of the movie engaging by sheer personality when these parts of the movie could be just average if less talented voice actors had these roles. As long as viewers don’t have high expectations for “Trolls Band Together,” the movie can be enjoyed for being a crowd-pleasing animated film.

Universal Pictures/DreamWorks Animation will release “Trolls Band Together” in U.S. cinemas on November 17, 2023. A sneak preview of the movie was shown in select U.S. cinemas on November 4, 2023.

Review: ‘Inspector Sun,’ starring the voices of Ronny Chieng, Emily Kleimo, Jennifer Childs Greer, Rich Orlow, Scott Greer, Iain Batchelor and Jeanette Grace Gonglewski

November 2, 2023

by Carla Hay

Inspector Sun (voiced by Ronny Chieng) and Janey (voiced by Emily Kleimo) in “Inspector Sun” (Image courtesy of Viva Pictures)

“Inspector Sun”

Directed by Julio Soto Gurpide

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly on a seaplane traveling from Shanghai to San Francisco, the animated film “Inspector Sun” features a cast of characters portraying different types of insects.

Culture Clash: A spider detective must solve a murder mystery that took place on a luxury seaplane. 

Culture Audience: “Inspector Sun” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a comedic animated film that is inspired by Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot novels.

Bugsy Spindlethorpe (voiced by Scott Greer) and Arabella Killtop (voiced by Jennifer Childs Greer ) in “Inspector Sun” (Image courtesy of Viva Pictures)

“Inspector Sun” is a film that manages to be lightweight and somewhat jumbled at the same time. However, it’s satisfactory animation geared mostly to children who are under 10 years old. The story is mildly entertaining for people who like murder mysteries.

Directed by Julio Soto Gurpide and written by Rocco Pucillo, “Inspector Sun” (also titled “Inspector Sun and the Curse of the Black Widow”) was originally released as a Spanish-laguage movie in 2022. An English-language version was released in 2023. The movie isn’t specific to one nationality, so the language transition is seamless. The story is about insects that talk like humans. All the voice actors listed here are in the English-language version of “Inspector Sun.”

In the movie, Inspector Sun (voiced by Ronny Chieng) is a widower detective, who is very intelligent but not very sociable. After getting fired for a mission that went wrong, he decides to go on vacation, so he boards a luxury seaplane going from Shanghai to San Francisco. He meets a talkative orphan named Janey (voiced by Emily Kleimo), who offers to be his assistant. He declines her offer, but Janey tags along with Inspector Sun anyway.

Inspector Sun has been invited on this trip by a wealthy friend named Mr. Scarab (voiced by Rich Orlow), a rhinoceros beetle, who is also on the seaplane. It isn’t long before a murder happens. Dr. Bugsy Spindlethorp (voiced by Scott Geer) was a millionaire funnel-web spider who was found dead in a spiderweb that was not his. Inspector Sun had met and his wife briefly in the plane’s grand ballroom during dinner.

Taking inspiration from Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot novels, “Inspector Sun” then becomes a whodunit mystery with an eccentric detective leading the investigation. Bugsy’s wife Arabella Killtop (played by Jennifer Childs Greer) is a black widow spider who becomes an immediate suspect. Things get complicated for Inspector Sun because there’s a mutual attraction between him and Arabella.

Other characters that are part of the investigation are the plane’s Captain Skeleton, a neurotic housefly that wears a vest and tie; Mr. Gill Tea (voiced by Paul Louis Miller), a mantis assassin; and Lady Vatchu (voiced by Jeanette Grace Gonglewski), a passenger who has baby children. Other characters in the mix are police officer named Lieutenant Mac (voiced by Orlow); Inspector Sun’s longtime enemy Red Locust (also voice by Orlow); and a character called Ant Queen (voiced by Gonglewski).

The movie’s plot has several twists and turns. However, it’s enough to say that Bugsy’s widow Arabella reveals Bugsy had no real money and his fortune was in his work. There’s also a valuable orb that is sought-after by multiple characters in the story.

The characters in “Inspector Sun” are written well-enough for viewers to keep viewer interest. The dynamic between Inspector Sun and Janey evolves from him treating her like an unwelcome pest to him having growing respect for her and treating her like a mentor. Janey does some things that are crucial to helping the investigation.

The visuals for “Inspector Sun” will appeal to people who like the visual style of “The Addams Family” animated movies. (Black widow Arabella looks like she could fit right in with the Addams Family.) The murder mystery plot gets very convoluted at one point (just like a spider’s web), but viewers with patience should enjoy the most adventurous part of the movie that happens in the last third of the film. “Inspector Sun,” which does a nice job of balancing comedy and drama, is a good option for anyone looking for family-friendly animation.

Viva Pictures released “Inspector Sun” in select U.S. cinemas on October 27, 2023. The movie was released in Spain on December 28, 2022.

Review: ‘Ernest and Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia,’ a whimsical animated sequel from France about an elephant, a mouse and the power of music

September 30, 2023

by Carla Hay

Célestine and Ernest in “Ernest and Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia” (Image courtesy of GKIDS)

“Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia”

Directed by Julien Chheng and Jean-Christophe Roger

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

Culture Representation: Taking place in an alternate version of France, the animated film “Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia” (a sequel to 2012’s “Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia” features a cast of animal characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Best friends Ernest (an elephant) and Celestine (a mouse) go on a trip together and get entangled with authorities who want to ban music that the authorities think is problematic and are looking for the leader of a resistance movement that wants to defy this ban. 

Culture Audience: “Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of of the first Ernest & Celestine” movie and animated films that combine adventure with social commentary.

Ernest and Célestine in “Ernest and Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia” (Image courtesy of GKIDS)

“Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia” packs a lot of serious issues (such as government oppression and family conflicts) into an engaging story that has whimsical animation and memorable characters. There’s enough joy to balance out the heavy topics.

Directed by Julien Chheng and Jean-Christophe Roger, “Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia” was written by Guillaume Mautalent and Sebastien Oursel. The movie is a sequel to 2012’s “”Ernest & Celestine.” Both movies take place in an alternate version of France where there are talking animals.

In “Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia,” Ernest the bear and Celestine the mouse have a mishap when Celestine accidentally breaks Ernest’s rare violin. He tells her that they have to go to Gibberitia to find the person whom Ernest says can repair the violin.

The encounter a storm on the way but make it to Gibberitia, where they find there are strict rules in place about music. The police say that only the C note is allowed in Gibberitia. Anyone caught violating this “musical agitation” law can be arrested. Someone named Octavius is an outlaw for this reason.

Ernest and Celestine also find out that the police in Gibberitia are looking for someone known only as EFG, who is considered to be the leader of the “music agitators.” Most of the movie is about the mystery of EFG and EFG’s real identity. Viewers will also learn some interesting facts about Ernest, who visits estranged members of his family. The friendship between Ernest and Celestine evolves through a deeper understanding of what Ernest has been through in his past.

“Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia” adeptly balances the story’s comedy and drama. It’s the opposite of the slick, computer-generated animated films that get churned out by major corporate studios. The movie evokes a tone of simpler times and can be enjoyed by people of many different generations.

GKIDS released “Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia” in U.S. cinemas on September 1, 2023. The movie was released in France on December 14, 2022.

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