“Mulan” stars Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, BD Wong, Miguel Ferrer, June Foray, James Hong, Pat Morita, and George Takei. Released on June 19, 1998, the film is about a woman who takes her father’s place to serve the Imperial Army.
The film was directed by Barry Cook, the co-director of “Arthur Christmas” and “Walking with Dinosaurs”, and Tony Bancroft. It is based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, and it was the 36th animated film in the Walt Disney Animation Studios library. This weekend would’ve seen the release of Disney’s latest live-action adaptation of one of their animated classics. However, since it got delayed indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic, I had no choice but to go to the original source as a backup plan. The source I’m referring to is a small animated film about a Chinese woman who disguises herself as a man. This is one of the films that were released during the Disney Renaissance, the period during the 90s which saw the studio making a huge comeback after releasing hit after hit after hit. While it didn’t earn as much money as the likes of “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King”, it did manage to revive the studio’s winning streak by outgrossing the box office totals of the previous two films that came before it, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Hercules”. The film’s success resulted in the main character becoming a part of the Disney Princess lineup and inspired Disney to develop the 2004 direct-to-video follow-up, “Mulan II” and the just-mentioned live-action remake of the same name. Like my past experiences with the other Disney classics, I had some fond memories watching “Mulan”, including the characters and the songs, although I didn’t watch it as much as “The Lion King” during my childhood. I guess that’s what happens when I have a bunch of Disney films in my inventory. Now that I reached adulthood, it’s time to see if Disney’s take on the Chinese legend can hold up well in my critical eyes. For those who haven’t watched this film yet, I will try to keep this review as spoiler-free as I can.
The story takes place in China during the Han Dynasty, where the villainous Huns, lead by the ruthless Shan Yu (Ferrer), are invading the country. This lead the emperor (Morita) to order a mobilization to defend China from the invaders. The army requires one man from each family, including Fa Zhou (Soon-Tek Oh), an army veteran and father of Fa Mulan (Wen). Concerned about her father’s weakening health, Mulan decides to take her father’s place in the army by…wait for it…disguising herself as a man. With the help of a disgraced former guardian Mushu (Murphy), she must assist the army, under the command of Captain Li Shang (Wong), in defeating the Huns and bring honor to her family. The film followed the same plot as the poem it’s based on, Guo Maoqian’s The Ballad of Mulan, but offered a few changes to make it more appropriate for its target audience, which is undoubtedly families. So if you’re looking for a film adaptation that’s 100% accurate to the source material as well as its historical culture, Disney’s “Mulan” may not be the one that will bring honor to your needs. Disney is usually known for taking historic moments and classic stories and adapt them into animated features with some minor changes and a few doses of kid-friendly material to boot. When you get past some of their “inaccuracies”, these films have plenty of charm to impress almost everyone, including me. Some of them work well enough to be successful. Others, not so much. “Mulan” is a suitable example of the former. Following the traditional Disney formula, the film showcases fast-paced action, fun characters, and a plot that touches the hearts of kids and adults. In addition to exploring its themes of war and honor, “Mulan” also offered an inspiring and well-portrayed story that involves the main character’s journey to bring honor to her family and become her own person. What makes the story inspiring is that it represents two different traditions, one for the women and one for the men, and Mulan, who happens to follow the women’s tradition, was able to break that tradition in order to save her father’s life despite the consequences she’ll receive. It’s a film that says “be who you want to be, not what others think you should be”. Not only was Mulan a strong and fitting character for this scenario, but she was wonderfully voiced by Ming-Na Wen, who is also known for her role as Melinda May in the Marvel series, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” She brought a lot of depth and personality into this role much like the other voice actors for the Disney Princesses. My only minor issue with the story was the film’s antagonist, Shan Yu. I can admit that he’s an intimidating foe and Miguel Ferrer’s voice work was top notch, but he’s not something that I would call “Best Villain Material” compared to the other memorable Disney baddies like Scar from “The Lion King” and Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast”. Aside from that, the story has enough heart, humor, and action to successfully deliver its intended message to those who seek to be one’s self and provide some good, kid-friendly fun for the little ones. The animation also served as one of the strong qualities of the film, ranging from its vibrant background designs to the fluidity of its character designs and action scenes. Like “The Lion King”, “Mulan” has a couple of scenes that combine 2D animation with computer-generated imagery, including the snowy mountain showdown between the army and the Huns which, by the way, still looks amazing. If there’s one thing you should know about these types of animated films, it’s that Disney knows how to make quality animation, even in the 90s. Of course, it’s not a Disney animated film without some comical side characters. While the likes of Yao, Ling, Chien-Po, Chi-Fu, and Cri-Kee have plenty of humor to go around, the only main attraction of the show was none other than the mini dragon himself, Mushu. I really liked Mushu when I was younger, and I still like him today. With the combination of Eddie Murphy’s charismatic voice work and his endearing personality, Mushu is another Disney sidekick that kids will love and adults will find tolerable. The musical score by the late Jerry Goldsmith had the proper essence to capture the serenity of its Chinese scenery and the intensity of its action scenes, and the songs were quite lively, with “Reflection” and “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” being my personal highlights of the soundtrack.
Overall, “Mulan” is honorable enough to join the ranks of the Disney Renaissance. Filled with a well-told story, likable characters, great animation, and a respectable soundtrack, the film has brought honor to its audience more than 20 years ago, and it will continue to do so for the next 20 years or so. It doesn’t rank as high as “The Lion King” and “Aladdin” in my opinion, but it’s still a worthy addition to the studio’s collection of animated treasures. It’s also something that will keep us occupied until the live-action remake finds its official release date. Hopefully it’ll find one sooner or later. The film is available on Disney+ right now, so if you have the streaming service and you’re one of the people who either haven’t seen it yet or haven’t seen it in a while, it’s worth checking out.
“The Lion King” stars Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Rowan Atkinson, Moira Kelly, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, and Robert Guillaume. Released on June 15, 1994, the film is about a lion’s journey to become king of the Pride Lands.
The film was directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff. Minkoff is known for directing films like “Stuart Little”, “The Haunted Mansion”, and “Mr. Peabody & Sherman”. It served as the 32nd film in the Walt Disney Animation Studios library. 25 years ago, Disney created a small animated film that took the world by storm and became one of the most successful 2D animated films of all time. That film was “The Lion King”, a splendid mixture of comedy, drama, and music. It started off as a risk for Disney, but upon its release, that risk lead to a huge reward. The film received numerous praise from critics and audiences and became a box office smash. That success spawned a massive franchise that includes two direct-to-DVD follow-ups, two television shows, video games, merchandise, and a Broadway adaptation. It even garnered a 3D re-release in 2011, which I gladly went to during that time. Just goes to show how much this film means to me and everybody else on this planet. Before I attempt to visit the upcoming remake from Jon Favreau, I decided to revisit this animated classic that’s been a part of my life for a couple of decades and see if it holds up well in my adult eyes. Spoiler alert: It held up well.
Influenced by the lives of Joseph and Moses, from the Christian Bible, and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the film follows the story of Simba, a young lion who is inspired by his father Mufasa (Jones) to become the next ruler of the Pride Lands. However, this doesn’t sit well for Simba’s conniving uncle Scar (Irons), who was first in line to become king until Mufasa’s son was born. So what does he do about it, you ask? He kills his own brother, manipulates Simba into thinking that he’s responsible, and forces him into exile. Oh yeah, that’s one way to handle a problem like that. Simba is then raised in the jungle by two bug-eating outcasts: a meerkat named Timon (Lane) and a warthog named Pumbaa (Sabella) who has a troublesome gas problem. Upon reaching adulthood, Simba learns a valuable life lesson from his childhood friend Nala (Kelly) and his shaman baboon Rafiki (Guillaume) before returning to his home to challenge Scar for the throne. Like the other classic Disney animated films of the 1990s, “The Lion King” is a suitable selection for all ages. Many kids will appreciate the film for its pacing, the colorful animation, and its lovable characters, while the adults, on the other hand, will adore it for its memorable story and its blend of comedy and drama. These things alone were the main reasons why it’s one of my favorite films of all time. After looking at it again from a new perspective, I’m happy to say that my thoughts didn’t change. What I loved about the story was that it’s a coming-of-age tale that starred talking animals rather than humans. It represented the growth of Simba from being a carefree lion cub to being a grown lion with a healthy amount of honesty and wisdom. It also showcased two different kings: One that is filled with kindness and honor (which is Mufasa and Simba) and one whose heart is filled with jealousy and slyness (which is Scar). I thought this type of representation was handled really well in terms of storytelling and characters. The story still shines in being inspirational and unforgettable because of how it represents adolescence in a way that both kids and adults can understand while maintaining the purpose of being a well-paced and entertaining cartoon. The characters and the animation were also the things that I loved about the film. Not only were the characters well-developed, but they’re also funny and memorable, ranging from the adorable Simba to the villainous Scar. What made these characters work was not just the designs, but the voice cast, with my main highlights being…well, everyone, including Broderick as Simba in his adult form and Jeremy Irons, who delivered his most unforgettable performance in his career as Scar. Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella also did a fantastic job providing the voices for Timon and Pumbaa, one of my favorite comedy duos in film history. As for James Earl Jones as Mufasa…what can I say about him? He’s flipping James Earl Jones, the guy who did the voice for Darth Vader and the CNN intro. That’s how good this talented actor is. The animation is the next thing I want to talk about because my God, it still looks beautiful even to this day. The folks at Disney always know how to make the animation style as stunning as their stories, and “The Lion King” is still, without a doubt, one of the prime examples of that fact. The animation works extremely well for its vast settings, the musical numbers, the characters, and the intense sequences (including the wildebeest stampede scene, which mixed 2D animation with CGI). I also have to give credit to Hans Zimmer, Elton John, Tim Rice, and Lebohang “Lebo M” Morake for bringing the music and the songs to life. All of the songs that were in the film, including “Circle of Life” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”, are so spectacular and appealing that they’ll get stuck in your head for months. That happened to me a long time ago, and they still haven’t gone away. The musical score by Hans Zimmer and Lebo M was also incredible in capturing the feel and emotion of being in Africa. I really loved what these two did for the soundtrack, and I hope that they work together again on a different project in the near future.
Overall, “The Lion King” has the right amount of pride in its soul to provide an experience that’s visually striking, thought-provoking, and heartwarming. From its stellar storytelling to its gorgeous animation, the film still holds a special place in my heart as not only one of my favorite animated films of all time, but also one of my favorite films in general. It has been adored by families and film lovers for 25 years and will continue to be adored for 25 more. Long live the lion king.
“The Avengers” stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, and Samuel L. Jackson. Released on May 4, 2012, the film has Nick Fury forming a team of superheroes to prevent Loki from taking over Earth.
The film was written and directed by Joss Whedon, who also directed “Serenity” and “Much Ado About Nothing” and created shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”. It is based on the Marvel Comics superhero team of the same name created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and it was the sixth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ever since I started my blog back in 2015, I reviewed a total of two Avengers films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (well, three if you count “Civil War” as Avengers 2.5). Why two? Because apparently, I found out that there’s one Avengers film that I haven’t talked about yet, and it’s the one that not only started the Marvel team-up saga, but also raised the ever-lasting, super-powered, money-making franchise to the highest peak of popularity. Before we say goodbye to our beloved superhero characters in “Endgame”, I would like to take the opportunity to revisit a former crossover event that blew away people’s expectations seven years ago. You know, before “Infinity War” blew away people’s expectations. 2012 was a great year to be a Marvel fan because during that time, everyone had been waiting to see Iron Man teaming up with the likes of Captain America, Thor, and the Incredible Green Hunk on the big screen since Nick Fury mentioned the “Avengers Initiative” at the end of 2008’s “Iron Man”. When the film was finally released to the public, people were treated to something that relies heavily on action and characters to create a fun and epic experience for all ages. I was one of the people who saw “Avengers” in the theater, and I remembered loving it so much that I decided to see it the second time. It was practically one of my favorite films of 2012. With the endgame heading our way this weekend, I thought it would be more fitting if I look back at the film that started it all. With that said, let’s assemble and see whether or not it still holds up today.
This film was teased plenty of times throughout the first five films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ranging from “Iron Man” to “Captain America: The First Avenger”, so there were a lot of expectations that Whedon had to either meet or exceed. Those expectations include the story, the chemistry between the characters, the action, and so much more. Thankfully, based on the reactions from critics and audiences, he was able to accomplish that mission. As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed the heck out of it when it first came out, and after viewing it for the umpteenth time, I still do. While it was able to deliver a satisfying and action-packed blockbuster that Marvel fans will love, it offered a few other elements that modern audiences will get a kick out of as well, mostly due to the story. Despite a few genre tropes that we’re familiar with, the film relied on heart and depth to provide a “Breakfast Club”-like story about people with differences coming together to defeat a common enemy. It also explored Nick Fury’s (Jackson) attempt to find the right motivation for the team he’s putting together. Another thing that made the story work was the characters. Whether you watched it without visiting the solo films that came before it or not, Joss Whedon will already make you grow attached to these heroes the first time you see them onscreen in terms of his script and direction. “The Avengers” never wasted the opportunity to explore their personalities as well as their origins without over-exaggerating the exposition in the process. The main actors were undeniably great in their roles, with each of them having their own shining moment, and the chemistry between them still gets my seal of approval. The best parts of the film were, without a doubt, Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Iron Man and the Hulk (Ruffalo), who, in my opinion, had one of the most hilarious scenes in superhero history. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The action sequences were, of course, just as entertaining as the scenes where the characters are not fighting each other. Not to mention visually enthralling. There were a couple of them that had some editing issues, but other than that, they packed quite a punch (no pun intended). I would also like to mention the musical score by Alan Silvestri. Long story short, it’s great. The score perfectly matched the scale and tone of the film and emphasized the feeling of hope and determination.
Overall, “The Avengers” assembled plenty of action, heart, and wit to deliver a worthy superhero team-up blockbuster for the ages. I loved it then, and I still love it today. The cast was great, the characters were well-developed, the action was fun, and the music was simply divine. This marked the true beginning of the expansion of Marvel’s cinematic universe, and I’m glad that it started off with a bang. If Hollywood wants to continue making these types of crossovers, they should probably take some notes from this film. If you’re one of the readers who haven’t watched it yet, I would highly recommend you do so before you watch “Endgame”.
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” stars Jim Carrey, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon, and Taylor Momsen. Released on November 17, 2000, the film is about a grouchy and egotistical creature who plans to ruin Christmas for the people in Whoville.
The film was directed by Ron Howard, who also directed films such as “Splash”, “Parenthood”, “Apollo 13”, and “A Beautiful Mind”. It is based on the 1957 story of the same name by Dr. Seuss. Ah yes, the imaginative world of Dr. Seuss. Something that I will never ever forget. Known for his creative mind, Dr. Seuss (aka Theodor Seuss Geisel) created numerous children’s books that inspired both kids and adults for generations. Some of his books have spawned a multiple amount of adaptations, including television specials and feature films. The best example is “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. Using its rhymed verses and its clever take on the true meaning of Christmas, “The Grinch” became one of the most popular books that Dr. Seuss has ever created since its publication in 1957. In 1966, Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones adapted the book into a half-hour Christmas special with Boris Karloff voicing the Grinch and the narrator, which became a holiday cartoon classic. Years later, Hollywood decided to make their own version of “The Grinch” as an attempt to bring the world of Dr. Seuss to the big screen via live-action. A strategy that tragically ended with the release of the live-action adaptation of “The Cat in the Hat” in 2003, three years after the release of “The Grinch”. Despite its mixed reception, the film became a box office success and earned an Oscar for Best Makeup. I guess the troublesome process of turning Carrey into a Seuss character really paid off. When it comes to “The Grinch”, the only two versions that I remembered fondly during my childhood were the 1966 animated special and the live-action version. If I were to pick which one’s the better version…well, that’s something that I still need to think about because I remember liking both of them for different reasons. This weekend, Universal Pictures is taking another crack at the “Green Meanie” with the help of Illumination Entertainment, the animation company behind the “Despicable Me” franchise, and to celebrate its upcoming release, I decided to revisit the Grinch’s big-screen debut and see if it’s as good as I remembered. So yeah, consider this my early Christmas-themed review.
Narrated by Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins, the story follows the same narrative as the source material and cartoon with some extra material added in to fit the feature-length criteria, including the title character’s backstory and the expanded role of Cindy Lou Who (played by Momsen). Assuming that you never heard of the source material, let me describe the film’s plot to you in a few simple words: grumpy green creature steals Christmas items. It’s Seuss logic. I enjoyed watching this movie during my childhood, which always got me into the true spirit of the holiday. Looking back at it now as an adult, I still have a soft spot for it. Yeah, as crazy as it sounds, despite a couple of flaws, I still find it to be a suitable and well-paced adaptation of the book. Similar to the other live-action adaptations of beloved source materials, the way they portray this short and simple Christmas story in feature-length form has its own share of hits and misses. Focusing on the hits, I thought the Grinch’s backstory was nicely executed because it added a bit more empathy into his character like he has a logical reason why he became a jolly-hating, grouchy outsider in the first place. The extra material also helped in emphasizing the source material’s central theme, which is, of course, the true meaning of Christmas. It may sound a bit corny, but it’s also true. Do not deny the true meaning of Christmas! However, this strategy alone can lead to some pretty weird stuff in the process. I can only describe this film as a live-action cartoon in terms of the physical comedy and the set designs. Whether it’s a good thing or not pretty much depends on your level of tolerance. It had plenty of comedic moments that’ll get the kids and their parents ho-ho-ho-ing, but it also had moments that may go over kids’ heads or, at some points, tarnish the charm of the source material. Luckily, Ron Howard was able to balance this type of humor with the film’s holly-jolly charm that made both the book and the cartoon so likable without going a bit too overboard with its jokes, unlike the other live-action Seuss adaptation. Jim Carrey did a remarkable job at portraying the Grinch. If you watched Carrey’s other comedies in the 1990s, then you’ll know exactly what you’re going to expect out of him in this film, which is Jim Carrey being…Jim Carrey. Energetic, fun, and extremely convincing. Those are the three descriptions that I used to define his performance. The other cast members also offered some decent performances, including the young Taylor Momsen, who I thought was absolutely adorable as Cindy Lou Who. Even Jeffrey Tambor was enjoyable as the Mayor of Whoville even though the character is somewhat of a jerk. I would also give the film credit for the makeup design created by Rick Baker and the costume designs, especially the design of the Grinch himself. The film nailed the likeliness of the Dr. Seuss character and made Jim Carrey completely unrecognizable. It’s almost like they took the design of the animated Grinch and splashed him with a can of live-action paint.
Overall, Ron Howard’s take on “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” can be a bit cartoony and weird for those who are unfamiliar with the source material, but it’s a charming and humorous Christmas-themed film that’ll always have a place in my heart. Jim Carrey was amazing as the title character, the makeup and set designs were top-notch, and its story, while a bit mean-spirited and predictable for Seuss followers, offered enough heart and soul to add a bit more depth in its characters. Some people may or may not agree with my feelings towards the film, but all that matters to me is how much I enjoyed watching Jim Carrey steal Christmas. As the first live-action Dr. Seuss adaptation, the film did its job at honoring the source material pretty well. Too bad it couldn’t continue the streak with the other live-action Dr. Seuss adaptation, but that’s the review for another time.
“Halloween” stars Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, P. J. Soles, Nancy Loomis, and Nick Castle. Released on October 25, 1978, the film is about a serial killer who stalks and kills teenage babysitters on Halloween night.
The film was directed by John Carpenter, who also directed films such as “Assault on Precinct 13”, “Escape from New York”, “The Thing”, and “Big Trouble in Little China”. There’s plenty of fun stuff to do on Halloween: “Trick or Treating”, eating lots of free candy, running away from masked murderers. OK, so the last part isn’t as fun as the first two, but hey, anything can happen on this frightful holiday. 1978 was the year John Carpenter delivered one of the most influential and frightening horror films in history, which spawned a franchise that has more than one continuity as well as the popularization of 80s slasher films. While it left a dismissive taste in most of the critics’ mouths when it was first released, it went on to become a cult classic for horror fans many years later. This year not only marks the 40th anniversary of the film, but it also marks the upcoming release of its direct sequel, which is also titled “Halloween”, and to celebrate, I decided to take a first look at the film and see if it holds up well in my eyes. Yes, as crazy as it sounds, this is actually my first time watching the original “Halloween” film from start to finish. I’ve heard of it, along with its disappointing sequels, but I haven’t got the time to actually view them myself…until now.
Following the traditional slasher film formula, the film follows a silent, yet deadly, figure named Michael Myers (Castle) who was sent to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium after stabbing his older sister to death more than a decade ago. After making his escape, he sets his eyes on high school student Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends and hopes to make a killing on Halloween night, all while being pursued by his former psychiatrist, Dr. Samuel Loomis (Pleasence). That would definitely explain the film’s title. The story offered a simplistic and intense experience of being stalked by a psychotic person who is strived to kill someone for no real reason. The lack of explanation as to why Michael Myers is obsessed with murder may come off as underdeveloped or generic for some people, but it can also be one of the reasons why it made such a frightful impact on its audience. Sometimes, not knowing why can be an unnerving thing, as it leaves us thinking about the possible reasons why someone is committing these actions, and John Carpenter’s “Halloween” made good use of that subject. While there’s nothing too special about the plot, aside from the fact that it inspired multiple slasher films that came after it, the film is just as effective as it originally was four decades ago. Rather than relying on violence and endless amounts of blood and gore to scare its audience, John Carpenter used the film’s dark atmosphere and the art of suspense to get people’s hearts racing. Not only that, but he also provided some well-intentioned jump scares that were actually quite scary. Nowadays, we have plenty of modern horror movies that used the jump scares improperly by inserting loud blaring sounds all the time, resulting in annoying many horror fans instead of scaring them. For “Halloween”, the jump scares were balanced out so that they’re more frightening than annoying. As for the cast, the only three actors that stood out for me were Pleasence, Curtis, and Nick Castle as Loomis, Laurie, and Michael, respectively. Curtis made a solid first impression on screen, which helped her earn the title name, “The Scream Queen”, and Castle…well, let’s just say that he’ll be haunting me in my nightmares for a while. In addition to writing and directing the film, Carpenter also provided the musical score, which is still iconic as of today. Like the film itself, the music is simple, yet intentionally haunting, as it tells the viewers that something sinister is lurking around us. I would also give the film credit for its cinematography. Not just because of its wide angle shots, but also because of the film’s opening scene in which it was viewed from the point-of-view of the young Michael Myers. It effectively lets the viewers see what Myers is seeing in his eyes, giving them the perspective on what he’s capable of. As for its flaws, the film does have a couple of slow parts despite its 90-minute runtime, so if you’re into horror movies that are fast-paced and filled with non-stop violence, this one may not be able to win you over during your first viewing.
Overall, John Carpenter’s “Halloween” is far from a masterpiece, but it has enough scares and intrigue to spread some frightful cheers. From its convincing cast to Carpenter’s stunning direction, the film is worthy enough to continue its fearful quest to inspire horror fans, both longtime and up-and-coming, for years to come. I still find it hard to believe that it took me that long to finally start getting into this franchise. Good thing I found the right time to do so. Does that mean that I should look at the other sequels as well? Maybe, maybe not, but right now, I’m only going to focus on the film’s true follow-up. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go make sure that Michael Myers isn’t spying on me.