Sunday, June 24, 2012

...and Tron lives on! :D

TRON : Uprising
Disney XD

Well, I finally got a chance to watching the opening episode of the new animated series Tron : Uprising. I've got to admit, I was actually starting to wonder if the project would be cancelled before it had even started; two years had gone by since I'd discovered a preview of it in my Ultimate Tron set I had once purchased as a limited edition release from I'm fuzzy on the details of why it apparently took so long, but it's finally here. The good news is that, so far, it appears to be pretty good.

In fact, just from looking at the pilot alone it can very easily be argued that Disney has delivered something a heck of a lot closer to the real nitty gritty this time around. While Tron Legacy was a good movie that just didn't feel much like Tron itself, TU goes all out and really does come across to appearing to be what Legacy hoped of being in the first place. This is easily the most ambitious animated series Disney has delivered since House of Mouse, full of spectacular art direction and a wonderful combination of both hand drawn craftsmanship and superb CGI, and I sure hope it keeps up this level of quality.

Without giving anything away, I'll just say that the only thing that made me give a tiny groan had to do with the whole "but I'm not special" scene, which was pretty predictable. Plus, after that, the whole secret-crusader style thing elicited a shrug from me, as in, "What, again?" since it's been done so much before (you'll see what I mean about both points I'm talking about here). But that's being pretty nitpicky: the concept actually feels well-handled here, which only goes to show that it's not necessary whether the story's been done before, but rather how well it is told and executed.

I'll try to add more thoughts as I see more episodes. Meantime, do check it out and see if you don't agree.

Oh, and a quick note for all my fellow smartphone users (no pun intended): the first two episodes can be downloaded for free (a limited time promotion?) from iTunes, and further episodes of Tron : Uprising can also be watched on Disney's free downloadable Disney XD app.

Monday, June 4, 2012

*VERY* appropriately named! ;D

Walt Disney Pictures
Amy Adams, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden
PG (Nothing terribly offensive, however. Which is a relief these days!)
When I first saw the ads for this movie -- which, like most ads these days, do everything they can to make an upcoming film look as breakneck obnoxious, rude, and trendily narcissistic as possible -- I winced. I had heard for ages about how there was going to be some thing coming out from Disney (eventually) which at the time was nicknamed Rapunzel Unbraided, which was described as something that would "out-Shrek Shrek." And I thought in horror, "Oh, dear LORD... maybe this thing is what became of that idea? We don't need another Shrek... or anything else mocking the beauty of animation's glory days, for that matter." You see, at that time I was slightly (and temporarily) out of my little animation circle and wasn't sure precisely what was going on with Disney's latest at the time; I had too much of my own stuff with my career to fuss over to pay attention. But I decided to go ahead and give it a chance, and am I ever glad that I did.

Enchanted turned out to be the pleasantest surprise to come out in the theaters that year. Yes, it pokes fun at traditional Disney, but there's the key: it doesn't "mock", it "pokes fun". That's a big difference. No Shrek comparisons here; this really bears greater resemblance to Disney's own Sword in The Store in terms of execution in many ways. It also dares to put in a subplot involving a father and his child that's more precious than you would expect this type of modern film to be. It isn't a great film, but nevertheless it is still a very good and special film, the first one to come out that actually feels like a Disney production in years.

It starts as nearly all the traditional Disney fairy tales do, with a storybook opening to set up it's "once upon a time". There is an evil queen, of course, and she has been severely paranoid of her son named, not surprisingly, Prince Edward (James Marsden) eventually finding a beautiful maiden to marry who will steal her throne, so much so that she has assigned her secretly obnoxious henchman Nathaniel (Timothy Spall, who you probably recall from the Harry Potter films as the detestable Peter Pettigrew) to distract Edward with all manner of troll hunting, questing and the like. But one day he hears the, of course, angelic singing of young Giselle (Amy Adams), who has been dreaming of just Edward's type. And, again of course, they end up meeting fairly quickly, instantly fall in love, and ride off into the sunset to be married in the morning.

But the queen, again again of course, tricks Gizelle into fall down into a deep well, cruelly assuring Nathaniel that she has sent the girl "to a place where there ARE no happily ever afters."

Boy, did she pick well: poor Gizelle suddenly finds herself a live-action lovely crawling out of a manhole cover in New York City. She may be flesh and blood now, but she is every bit as animated as ever, not to mention at first terribly frightened and confused. There is something very touching about seeing her get trapped on an escalator leading down to a subway while she calls out, "Edward???"

She eventualy meets a well-meaning single father named Robert (played very convincingly by Patrick Dempsey) and his young daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey, that rare type of child actor who feels real and is naturally appealing, and doesn't feel the least bit programmed to be cute). They end up taking Gizelle in while they try to figure out what's going on, only to discover that her animation rules leak completely over into the real world; as Robert puts it, "It's like you escaped from a greeting card."

When we first see Robert and Morgan before Gizelle comes along, we see the wistful dad giving his little girl a boring factual book, which feels like a stupidly clunky idea at first and the sort of dumb script mistake too common these days... but without giving anything away, I'll just say that later in the film there turns out to be a genuine reason why he's doing so that's both touching and believable, especially considering the movie's circumstances.

I won't spoil any more for newcomers to this one, but let me just say that the cast is absolutely stellar. I didn't even know who Amy Adams was until I saw it, and there was something so wonderful and yet hauntingly familiar about her performance here but I couldn't put my finger on it... until I read Rolling Stone's glowing report on the film that Disney hasn't given us such a wonderfully magical, musical heroine "since Julie Andrews rode an umbrella to glory" in Mary Poppins. Yes! THAT was what this was reminding me of. It's its own creation, to be sure, but yet follows in that exact same tradition. And you have got to see Marsden going at it here, as he brings the same fun, terrific energy here that he did in the fantastic remake of Hairspray (it also appears to be an inside joke that, in one shot, there is an actual poster advertising the "Hairspray" musical in the background behind him). And there's this one scene of his with his shoes off and his arms folded while sitting on top of a hotel bed that I found hysterical; this guy could probably take on early Jim-Carrey-style comedy roles if he so wanted. True, during his screen time, there were a few unneccesary things tossed in which feel focus-grouped into the script (i.e. a dog peeing on his boot) in an attempt to make it feel more snarky for modern audiences, but fortunately they weren't anywhere near as grotesque or numerous as they have been in other films over the past two decades, and anyway the rest of the movie is so much fun anyway that they seem minor quibbles.

I have to give a note about the animation here: the hand drawn work is superb, as always, but there's one special touch that really added to the film for me. When a fully cartoon talking squirrel ends up here in our world with Edward, he finds himself to be a (CGI) real squirrel who cannot talk. The approach and execution of this idea is genuinely funny and ingenious. Unlike Pixar movies, whose visuals are nothing but ugly CGI with no illusion of life and singlehandedly demonstrate how computer technology can sabotage a motion picture, this film is a great example of CGI used wisely with great imagination and care, in the tradition of other past movies such as Beauty and The Beast and Aladdin which also demonstrated the same thing.

I highly recommend Enchanted; it has lots of in-jokes regarding Disney tradition, but at the same time takes its story to heart so you can enjoy it as a heartwarming fairy tale, too. I know for a fact that the in-jokes would have gone right over my head as a child, but that I would have bought the rest of it hook, line and sinker. I suspect other kids will too; people of all ages both young and old deserve more movies like this, especially now when such projects are, sadly, few and far between. Share it with someone you love.