The Infallible Fish Reviews: Batman: The Long Halloween Part Two

I believe in Harvey Dent.

What’s the Story?

Gotham City is changing. Carmine ‘The Roman’ Falcone’s family and illegal business operations have been devastated by a bizarre string of holiday-themed murders. While both the police and the Batman search for the killer, Carmine has been forced to new extremes to keep his grip on the city. He’s entered into dealings with the so-called ‘freaks’ of Gotham. Poison Ivy, Scarecrow and Mad Hatter each bring their own brand of insanity to the streets, but they won’t be the only ones. DA Harvey Dent is feeling the pressure, under suspicion for the Holiday killings and fighting a losing battle in the courts, the cracks are finally starting to show. What little justice there is in Gotham may, in the end, come at the other side of a coin flip, even if it costs everything…

The Review:

It’s time for judgement, and ironically (or appropriately depending on which way you look at it) I may need to flip a coin to reach a verdict here. If you want my thoughts on the first part of this adaptation, and the comic it’s adapting, then you can check out my review HERE, but let’s not beat around the bush and just jump straight into things (much like the film does). How does The Long Halloween Part 2 stand as a film in it’s own right? Honestly, it’s not good and it hurts me to say that. The voice cast is superb, perfect for each and every character, I’m quickly falling in love with this animation style and some of the character moments just shine with pure brilliance. The problem is, as great as all those elements are by themselves, when you try and fit them all together the film just doesn’t work. It’s an unwieldy beast of disjointed scenes and terrible pacing. If you do plan on watching this film, which I will still probably recommend, then please watch Part 1 and 2 together. It won’t fix all of the problems, but it might help.

Okay, let’s break this down a little bit because there is actually a lot I want to praise in this film, even if none of it is quite enough to save the whole thing. We’ll start with the voice cast who, again, the only word I have for them is perfect. In my Part One review I singled out Jensen Ackles and Naya Rivera, and while they’re still just as fantastic as they were in Part 1, this time I want to take my hat off to Josh Duhamel. His performance as Harvey Dent/Two-Face is outstanding, you really feel like he’s a man on the edge and then when he starts using his Two-Face voice, chills went down my spine. I also really love that little speech he gives at the end to Carmine about why he’s using his famous coin to decide what ‘justice’ is. It’s the character moments that make this film for me, there are some really great action sequences (like the Poison Ivy/Catwoman fight that starts the film off), but it’s the little conversations between people where this cast are firing on all cylinders.

Unfortunately, as great as the majority of the scenes are by themselves, it’s once you start stringing them one after the other that things come apart. In my previous review I mentioned that I was worried they were going to rush through elements of this story and that’s exactly what happened. The beginning of this film either blitzs through or just plain skips over several issues of the comic and, as sacrilegious as it feels to say, I think they should have just left it all out entirely. As much as I adore any time Poison Ivy gets on screen, or the brief Scarecrow nightmare sequence which is the best animated sequence in this film, they add little overall. There’s some minor plot beats that you need from their appearances, but I really think the time would have been better spent on showing Batman investigate the Holiday killings. Once we reach the halfway point it feels like this film forgets there’s even a serial killer on the loose, abandoning the little title cards it established for each killing in the last film and at the start of this one. There’s just too much stuff that it’s trying to do and it detracts from the moments that really needed the focus.

That brings me to the ending, and I need to talk about the comic one more time. I said in my previous review that The Long Halloween comic isn’t perfect, and it’s the ending where I feel it really falters. Honestly when I first read the comic it was the resolution to the big mystery that was my only disappointment with the story. Not with who the Holiday killer turned out to be, that made sense (and was a lot less convoluted than Hush’s mess of an ending), but I had to mull it over for a long time. The ending leaves a lot open to your interpretation and you have to really go back over things and work out the logistics on your own, the comic gives you no help in that regard, which I can argue both for and against. No, what bugs me is the lack of a cathartic ending, which I guess this is meant to be a grand tragedy and so it should be bitter sweet, but Batman never confronts the true Holiday killer. In this film though, that’s changed. Batman does indeed have a final conversation with the killer and, honestly, I’m not sure which is better. On the one hand, it makes things clearer and allows the killer to dig into their motives a little more, but it creates a giant plothole in that Batman just walks away from the killer with no real explanation as to why. Just a line would have done, there wasn’t enough evidence to convict them, he wanted to respect Harvey’s wishes, heck even a ‘I’ll be watching’ would have sufficed, but no.

The Verdict:

In the end, Batman: The Long Halloween Part 2 is a film that leaves me in two minds (again either ironically or appropriately depending on your point of view). It has some fantastic moments, a terrific voice cast that excels with every line delivered and a great look to it, but the parts are definitely stronger than the whole. All together this film feels disjointed, trying to give its attention to too many plot elements without putting its focus where it should be. It’s a shame as with the proper care and time I think this adaptation could have been one of the best in Batman’s history, but cutting it up as two movies probably wasn’t the way to go about it.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Batman: The Long Halloween Part One

I believe in Gotham City.

What’s the Story?

Gotham is a city as broken and corrupt as they come. Carmine ‘The Roman’ Falcone is the indisputable and untouchable boss of crime, with a stranglehold on everything from the Mayor’s office to the justice system, but that’s all about to change. Three men are working to bring him down. Captain James Gordon, one of the few honest cops in Gotham. New District Attorney Harvey Dent, a man stood at a precipice even if he doesn’t see it yet. Batman, the dark knight who has sworn an oath to save his beloved city. Of course nothing in Gotham is ever simple and the war on crime is complicated by a string of bizarre murders. Members of the Falcone family are being murdered each and every holiday, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas one after the other. Gotham is changing, an empire is falling and everyone is a suspect. It’s time to learn to be a detective, Batman.

The Review:

The Long Halloween is probably one of my favourite Batman comics and, by extension, one of my favourite comics in existence. It’s not perfect, but Jeph Loeb’s noir-soaked world and Tim Sale’s amazing art are what I think of when I think of Batman (alongside everything from Batman The Animated Series of course). For me, it’s not just a story about the early days of Batman and the fall of Harvey Dent (sorry, spoilers for any non-Batman fans), but it’s about the transition of Gotham. We watch as the city moves away from the more traditional organised crime to being a place plagued by costumed and theatrical crime. I’d recommend it whether you’re a Batman fan or not.

With all that being said, I’ve been waiting for an adaptation of this story for a long time. We’ve had pieces here and there, Nolan’s Batman trilogy took a heavy influence from this comic (I’m pretty sure everyone who’s seen The Dark Knight will recognise the scene with the huge pile of money and, yes, that comes from Long Halloween). But this is it. Finally. The full adaptation of The Long Halloween to the screen, or the first part at least with the second due for release shortly. So, how was it? Honestly I have mixed feelings.

There are parts of this movie that I love. I’m still very much enjoying the new animation style that the DC Universe animated movies have adopted (see my review of Justice Society: World War II HERE, to read more about that). The action scenes are fast and fluid, though I did notice a couple of the more quieter scenes looking a bit stiff and awkward. I’m assuming this is down to the rushed release schedule for these films, which is a shame. If any story deserves the time and money to get it right, it’s a work as seminal as The Long Halloween. That brings me to the voice cast, who are all fantastic. Jensen Ackles is perfect for Batman and my only hope is that he gets more to do in Part 2, which brings me to Naya Rivera who unfortunately passed away last year. I’m using the same word again, but she is perfect as Catwoman and it’s a tragedy that we’ve lost her.  

Moving on the plot and, again, I feel like I’m stuck in a positive/negative sandwich. Adaptation-wise it’s very faithful, there are some cosmetic changes but on the whole a lot of effort is put into maintaining the core of the story. Scenes are extended from the comic, we get a bit more action, characters talk more about what they’re feeling and where they’re at. There is a really adorable scene with a young Barbara Gordon that both melted and then broke my heart. The problem is that a lot of this feels like filler. To a degree I can argue that it’s leaning into it’s noir roots and building atmosphere and tension, which it is, but I also can’t escape the fact that a few seconds shaved off of each scene would have really helped this movie (I think this is the first time I’ve wanted one of these animated movies to actually be shorter).

I think the core issue is that the majority of this film is set up, necessary set up, but we’re very much moving things into place and laying out breadcrumbs (sometimes with the subtly of a sledgehammer). I am a little worried for Part 2, this film covers the first 4 issues of the story, there’s 9 left to go. If the next film is rushed I am going to be sorely ticked off. What it all comes down to is that, honestly, I think this film is probably better off watched alongside Part 2 when that comes out at the end of July, I can’t give my full judgement until I’ve seen that. So, I’ll see you then.

The Verdict:

In the end, Batman: The Long Halloween Part 1 is the set up to something that could be truly great, or a disaster in the making. It’s hard to tell at the minute. It’s an incredibly faithful adaptation, taking it’s time to add depth and action in-between the scenes that were already there, unfortunately this does slow down the pacing of the film and it isn’t helped by some lacklustre animation in parts. The voice cast are superb though, breathing new life into this age-old characters and the story is still as great as it’s ever been. Honestly I’m reserving my final judgement until Part 2 is out, so come back when I review that film and we’ll see if this was worth it.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Justice Society: World War II

We live in a society…a justice society.

What’s the Story?

Barry Allen, aka the Flash, is just trying to have a nice, normal picnic with his girlfriend in Metropolis, of course he’s a superhero and that doesn’t last long. One minute he’s teaming up with Superman and fighting Brainiac, the next he’s in World War 2, punching Nazis alongside heroes he’s never heard of. Those heroes would be Wonder Woman, the Flash (Jay Garrick), Hawkman, Black Canary and Hourman, the Justice Society of America, a secret team of super-powered beings sent by the US to combat the Nazis menace in Europe. Their current mission is to find someone who can decode a secret message that will tell them Hitler’s next big plan, while Barry tries to work out how he’s going to get home. Not everything is as it seems though and the Justice Society are in for a lot more than they bargained for. This is war after all and not everyone is going to make it out alive.

The Review:

And we’re back to the DC Universe animated movies! It feels like it’s been an age since I reviewed one of these films, even though I looked at Wonder Woman Bloodlines just last year (you can check out the review HERE). Part of that is down to my general lack of enthusiasm for these films lately. While I’ve enjoyed the majority of the ones I’ve seen, I have to admit that barring a few stand outs (like Death of Superman and Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), none of them really hold a candle to DC’s early output of animated films. That might just be changing though. The DC Universe animated movies have undergone a bit of a revamp, there’s a new animation style, a reboot of the universe and, going by this one, a level of care and attention that’s been missing from these films for a while now. Justice Society: World War II isn’t a film that’s going to change the world, and clearly someone was watching the first live action Wonder Woman movie before penning the script, but it’s a great, fun romp that shows a lot of promise for the future.

Before we get to that though, first let’s talk about that new animation style. I have to admit that when I first saw the trailers for this film it took me a while to get used to the new look. I’ve never watched Archer, but that’s exactly what this style reminds me of, the strong outlines combined with the characters designs really give this film a unique look (not counting the previous Superman movie which also uses this style, but I haven’t watched that film, yet). The film looks good throughout, though when it comes to the action sequences that ramps up to spectacular. The action, of which there is a lot, is fast, fluid and full of impact, leading to one heart-pumping sequence after another, especially towards the end of the movie when all the stops get pulled out. Black Canary gets some particularly gorgeous sequences showing off her powers.

Speaking of the characters, let’s talk about them. Part of what surprised me most about this film being released is that there’s some obscure heroes in this roster. The Justice Society isn’t a superhero team that’s made it’s way into popular consciousness yet, despite getting a couple of appearances on TV (They had a two-parter in Smallville and are a big part of the current Stargirl show). I mean, yeah, there’s Wonder Woman, Flash and Superman to draw people in, but, be honest, how many of you have actually heard of Hourman before?

The film does a good job of introducing all of its characters and giving them a few moments in the spotlight, even if it never goes that in depth with any of them. You might not understand the whole of Hawkman’s deal, but through the writing and the terrific voice acting you’ll get a sense of his personality and what he’s like. Which is all you need for this one film. It’s the little quiet moments I love the most, whether it’s Jay and Hourman acknowledging the fact that it’s usually them that has something go wrong with their powers, or Black Canary worrying about how our Flash (Barry) has no idea who they are when he’s meant to be from the future. It humanises all the characters and that makes me care when they dive into the next action sequence.

As for the story, it’s a fun action romp as I said. Most of it is an excuse to get to the next action sequence and, as I mentioned before, there’s a lot of parallels to the first live action Wonder Woman movie. Maybe it’s just me, but seeing Wonder Woman in a World War, jumping around a village while fighting German soldiers, some plot specific things later on and the fact that Stana Katic is clearly doing a Gal Gadot impression, it just rings a lot of bells for me. Putting that to one side though, there’s a lot of fun elements to this film and a fair few surprise appearances by characters I was not expecting to see (Fair warning, if you buy the physical DVD or Blu ray, don’t look at the back cover as that will give one of the surprises away).

There’s also a twist I didn’t see coming and, while I don’t think it was strictly necessary, it’s a fun wrinkle in the adventure. The last thing I’ll say is that, while this is a standalone film and you can easily watch it independent of anything else, there’s also a real sense of laying the groundwork for something here. I mean outside of planting the idea in Barry’s head about some sort of Justice Club for Superheroes, there’s a few plot points that could, and I think will, come back in a later films. It’s got me excited about these films again and if they want to take the approach of standalone films that gradually build towards something than I am all for it!

The Verdict:

In the end, Justice Society: World War II, is a great deal of fun. It’s not going to the change the world or break any moulds, but it’s an exhilarating thrill ride, with a fair number of surprising twists and spotlighting a few characters that could really use it. Plus you get to see Wonder Woman and the Flash punching Nazis and who doesn’t love stuff like that? There is a lot of action in this film, all of it great, but the film also takes the time to give us quieter moments between the characters to humanise them and let us get to know them. This could really be the start of something wonderful and I am all for it. If you haven’t checked this out then make sure you do!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Infallible Fish Reviews: Doctor Who: Fury from the Deep

“It’s a sonic screwdriver. Never fails.”

What’s the Story?

The TARDIS lands the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria off the coast of England, where the ESGO complex is drawing natural gas from under the North Sea via a huge network of pipes and off-shore rigs. However something is interfering with the gas flow and there’s a strange sound, pulsating like a heartbeat, inside the pipes. Something ancient has awoken in the sea and this time the Doctor may not be able to stop it, but perhaps Victoria can? Regardless, soon the TARDIS team will be facing the fury from the deep!

The Review:

Season 5 of the classic era is one of my personal favourites in the show’s long history. Not only does it feature a TARDIS team quite close to my heart, with Patrick Troughton’s mischievous Doctor paired up with the ever-loyal Jamie and the sweet Victoria, but it also happens to be the ‘Base Under Siege’ season. Now a ‘Base Under Siege’ is a story archetype found throughout Doctor Who and it’s fairly self explanatory, the Doctor and co find themselves in some sort of facility or structure, a base if you will, and it’s under siege from some invading force. The majority of Season 5 is made up of stories like this and while they can be a little formulaic , they can also be the best of Doctor Who. They’re perfect for that teatime terror the show is so good at, throwing the characters into a pressure cooker and turning up the tension and unease.

Fury from the Deep is one such story, and it’s married with another of Doctor Who’s favourite tricks, taking something innocuous and making it creepy. In this case simple seaweed and foam suddenly turns into a writhing monster that could doom the whole human race! (Have I mentioned how much I love this show enough yet?). This story also gets points for being the first time that the Doctor uses his signature tool, the Sonic Screwdriver, and he uses it to actually unscrew something!

Before we get into the story though, let’s talk about the animation. We get a change in art style with this release and I’m not the biggest fan. It might just be a case of taking some time to get used to it, there’s nothing really that bad about designs themselves but the arms really bug me. They’re too long and thin, in some shots they look alright, but in others they look really exaggerated and off putting. Add on to that a couple of awkward movements and some shots were characters are a little too still as they stand around and it feels like the quality’s regressed. I’ve no doubt that this being made during the pandemic has impacted it, so I’m willing to cut it some slack, but it’s still a little disappointing.  

That brings me to the story itself and while it sticks pretty closely to the formula of a base under siege, it’s well written with a good escalation of the tension and some nice bits of character and dialogue throughout. There are also some nice little inversions to keep things fresh. For example we’ve got Robson, the man in charge who trusts in his own practical experience, to point where he blatantly ignores anything else. I’m so used to seeing some by-the-book snob in charge who refuses to listen to anything practical that it’s nice to see it the other way around for once. It’s also nice that the story clearly shows that Robson does know what he’s doing under normal circumstances and he has the respect of his employees. The problem is that this is an entirely new situation and his blinkered, narrow-minded way of looking at things can’t bend enough to be able to cope. It’s little wonder that he starts ranting like a lunatic.

Let’s get to the TARDIS team though and out of all of Patrick Troughton’s run, his adventures with Jamie and Victoria have always been my favourite. Maybe it’s nostalgia talking, the very first black and white Doctor Who story I ever saw was Tomb of the Cybermen featuring these three, but I love their dynamic. The gentle way that the Doctor and Victoria interact, and the unspoken romantic tension between Victoria and Jamie, there’s a lot that can be gotten out of this team and Fury from the Deep does its best to show that. The best scenes in this release are the quieter moments with Victoria. She’s tired of the endless danger and adventure that the Doctor and Jamie get so much of a kick out of. You can tell it’s not an easy thing for Victoria to admit, she loves the Doctor and Jamie, but she wants something else and it’s a great performance by Deborah Watling.

All in all it’s a really well done companion exit, unlike the Faceless Ones where we only got a goodbye scene with Ben and Polly, here there are moments throughout the story where we see Victoria coming to the conclusion to leave. I genuinely wish more companion exits had been handled like this where they get more focus throughout the story rather than just at the end. Also bonus points for not just introducing some guy for her to settle down with as often happened to female companions in Classic Who, instead Victoria gets a place where she can have some peace with a welcoming couple. Extra special bonus points are also earned for taking the stereotype of the screaming female companion and using it against the monster. Victoria isn’t the most egregious example of the trope, but she can sometimes fall into it. By the time the last set of credits roll I’m sad to see Victoria go, but I’m glad she got such a good story to exit on.

The Verdict:

In the end, Fury from the Deep, is a classic episode for many reasons. Not only does it introduce the sonic screwdriver, but we see a companion depart and a showcase of one of the series’ core story archetypes, a base under siege. Dark corridors and creepy tendrils of seaweed evoke an eerie atmosphere and when matched with the quieter, more characterful moments it makes an effective story. This story has been missing from the archives for more than half a century and, while the animation may not stand up to other releases, I’m still overjoyed that these episodes are back for people to see at last. After all, that’s the whole point of these recreations.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Christmas so far, thank you for taking the time to read this silly little review. Here’s to the New Year, may it be everything we need after the disaster that was 2020. Merry Christmas.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Infallible Fish Reviews: Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones

“It’s a flying beastie!”

What’s the Story?

The Doctor and his friends, Ben, Polly and Jamie land at Gatwick airport, right in the middle of a runway! Immediately on the run from airport security, the gang soon find themselves stumbling into a sinister plot when Polly witnesses a man being murdered by a strange weapon. Something is happening at Chameleon Tours and it may just be connected to the recent rash of missing teenagers. As the Doctor tries to convince the Commandant of the seriousness of the threat he’s facing, he finds some of his friends suddenly don’t recognise him and there’s very few people he can trust. The Faceless Ones are here and it won’t be long before they get exactly what they want.

The Review:

I debated for a long time whether I was going to review this story or the animated recreation of Shada for this theme month. On the one hand I have this unwritten rule that this blog is purely for reviews of animated projects, tag posts and shameless plugging not withstanding. I don’t review live action stuff here and Shada does use live action footage as part of its reconstruction. On the other hand Shada is so much the better story, I mean it’s Douglas Adams writing Doctor Who , what more could you want from this world? Look, it’s not that The Faceless Ones is a bad story, all told it’s decidedly decent, it’s just overly long with a rushed, confusing ending. There is a small part of me that wonders if my real problem with this story is just that I seem to be the only one who doesn’t like it. Every review I’ve ever seen of this story is fairly positive, no one is shouting from the rooftops about it or anything, but people do seem to like it. That’s really why I’ve decided to review this story, I just need to get this stuff off my chest so bear with me.

Let’s start with some positives. The first few episodes of the story are surprisingly effective, the mystery of what exactly is happening with Chameleon Tours builds a great deal of tension. Also you’ve got to remember that stories set in the present day were a rare thing back in the early days of Doctor Who. Prior to this there was only the very first episode and The War Machines (where the Doctor took on Skynet 20 years before The Terminater came into being). Seeing alien body snatchers on the loose in a well-known public place would have been quiet the frightening story in the 60s. Unfortunately this plot has been done rather a lot since then and that does blunt it’s impact somewhat for a modern viewer.

Getting back to positives, let’s talk about the Doctor. The wandering Time Lord does get plenty of great moments throughout, whether it’s arguing with the close-minded Commandant, outwitting the Chameleons or just keeping ahead of the authorities, the Doctor is on top form. As for his companions, Jamie gets some highlight moments. Not only showing off the great performance chemistry that Frazer Hines and Patrick Troughton share, but also demonstrating that he can easily take charge when his character is left to his own devices. There’s a reason Jamie is one of the best companions in classic Who and these episodes are a good example of why. Jamie is forever loyal and brave, with his own kind of intelligence on clear display.

Unfortunately the same level of attention isn’t given to the Doctor’s other companions, Ben and Polly. What makes this doubly sad is the fact that this also happens to be their last story and they disappear halfway through only to turn back up for the final few minutes of the last episode. I know why it happened, the contract for Ben’s actor was coming to an end and the higher ups didn’t want to renew it (after all they’d been struggling with three companions in the TARDIS, a lesson I wish the current production would have paid attention to). Polly’s actress wanted to show solidarity and she left too. At least we got a goodbye scene filmed, which is more than some companions got when their contracts ran out midway through a story. Dodo famously left off screen in the aforementioned War Machines.

Let’s get to the real problems of this story though, it really shouldn’t be six episodes long, that’s just too much. The mystery of Chameleon Tours has some good build up in the first few episodes, but the tension it manages to build starts to wear thin as it drags and drags on. It doesn’t help that the number of locations in the story is limited, the amount of times someone decides to go back to the Chameleon Tours warehouse is extraordinary, every five seconds it feels like someone is suggesting they go back to it. Just look around and get what you need, stop going there and coming back over and over again! When we get to the later half and see the reveal of the Chameleon’s space station I should be excited, instead I’m too zoned out because I’m just so done with this story.

The final nail in the coffin comes with the conclusion of the story, so spoilers ahead. First we’ve got the explanation of why the Chameleons are doing this and, okay I’ve watched this story three times now and I still don’t understand it. There was some sort of explosion and this robbed them of their faces and all memories of who they were. So they steal the appearances and identities of young people. Err…okay so they now no longer look like mouldy cabbages, but how exactly does that solve their problem? They still have no idea who they were or what happened, stealing other people’s memories and faces doesn’t change that in anyway. In fact it creates a new problem in that their lives are in immediate danger the second someone interferes with their body-snatching equipment. Also they chose to hide their victims in the airport car park, did they really think no one was going to notice dozens of parked cars with bodies inside? Eventually someone is going to notice that and I remind you that if someone interferes with the equipment on the bodies they all die!

The Verdict:

In the end The Faceless Ones is a pretty frustrating story for me. It starts off well and the Doctor and Jamie get some good moments, but the story is overly long and the conclusion is not only rushed, it’s confusing. The animation is of the same quality as the previous The Macra Terror, if not slightly more refined and there’s the usual eerie soundscape that comes with classic Doctor Who. I won’t personally recommend this story, but there are plenty of people who do like and I can kind of see why so feel free to check it out. Maybe then someone can explain that ending to me.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Infallible Fish Reviews: Doctor Who: The Macra Terror

“There’s no such thing as Macra! Macra do not exist! There are no Macra!”

What’s the Story?

The Doctor and his companions, Ben, Polly and Jamie, land in the far future, at an Earth colony where everyone is as happy as can be, possibly a little too happy. Oh they have parades and the music is ever so cheery, making the colonists just that bit more willing to work under the watchful eyes of the Controller, but what exactly are they working towards? There are mines were they extract a deadly gas, but no one can seem to say what for, just that the colony depends on it. There are also rumours of strange, crab-like creatures roaming the colony at night, and as the Doctor and co are soon to find out, where the Macra roam, terror is sure to follow.

The Review:

The second fully animated Doctor Who reconstruction to be released and one that I utterly adore. The Power of the Daleks is by all merits a better story and I knew I was going to love it the moment I first read what it was about. The Macra Terror on the other hand is one I’ve always had very little interest in, I mean on paper it sounds incredibly goofy and I suppose it is, but there’s such a sinister tone to the execution that it makes the whole thing work. Without this release I never would have given this story the time of day and I can’t help feeling a little guilty about that.

Before we get into the story itself though, first I want to take the time to talk about something I skipped over in my last review, and that’s Patrick Troughton as the Doctor. Everyone has their own favourite incarnation of the Doctor, and mine is Patrick Troughton’s second Doctor. As I mentioned before I grew up with the likes of Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy, but to me Patrick Troughton is the quintessential Doctor. He’s a guileful trickster, playing the clown and the fool, but all the while you can see the cogs turning behind his eyes. He’ll prod and he’ll probe until he’s found his enemy’s weakness and then he’ll go right for it and this story is a perfect example of that. Asking questions, pointing out the flaws in logic and all the while manoeuvring to expose what’s really going on. It’s brilliant to watch and it’s just a shame that we don’t have the original footage because no one does a facial expression like Patrick Troughton.

Speaking of facial expressions, let’s talk about the animation. My one real complaint about Power of the Daleks was the humanoid character animation and thankfully this release is a huge improvement. The animation is so much more fluid and expressive, add on the fact that we can now see it in colour and the improved effects and lighting and this whole release is a treat for the eyes. I also get a kick out of the backgrounds which look like they’re straight out of a 60s comic strip. That brings me to the Macra themselves and, much like Power of the Daleks, the animation on the monster is the best of all. These huge, lumbering crabs are quite terrifying as they stomp their way towards our protagonists, though it does bring up an interesting question.

You see I’ve seen the original Macra props and they’re, well, pretty rubbish. A wheelie bin looks more realistic and menacing, but that’s not a restriction the animators had to stick to and they didn’t. The animated Macra are far better looking, which raises the question of should these reconstructions stick to the original as much as possible, or should they make improvements where they can? Honestly, when it comes to the Macra I’m all for it, even if Who purists want to sting me up for such a sentiment.

Let’s get on to the story itself though and that is where I think The Macra Terror shines brightest. On paper it’s incredibly goofy, a colony full of happy-go-lucky people, filled with jaunty music and forced smiles secretly being run by giant crab-monsters? That’s so 60s an idea I want to hug it. Yet its the sinister edge to everything that makes this so good. The cheery singing voices telling people to obey, the almost order-like way they’re told ‘it will be fun!’, the hypnosis machines, the correction facilities. Everyone looks so happy, but it makes your skin crawl with how wrong it is. We get to see all this play out on a personal level when one of the companions, Ben, becomes indoctrinated into the colony. Suddenly he’s turning in the Doctor and telling everyone to obey the rules, even when a Macra is stopping it’s way towards him he refuses to accept its existence because he’s been told they don’t exist. In fact it’s only Polly’s life being in danger that snaps him out of it, but as soon as the threat is over the conditioning kicks back in and he’s a loyal drone once more. Ben isn’t my favourite companion, but he’s not a bad one either and it’s genuinely heartbreaking to see him struggle against the mind control.

As for the Macra there isn’t much to them outside of their threatening appearance and the horrifying society they’ve put in place and yet I can’t really dislike them. What’s so wrong with great shadowy evil controlling society being something like a giant crab-monster? It’s goofy, but I love it. That and the mad hysteria that creeps into the Controllers voice when he goes on about there being no Macra.

The Verdict:

The Macra Terror is a joy from beginning to end, taking such a goofy concept and twisting it into a sinister nightmare. The Doctor is at his best, poking holes and beguiling the opposition as he gets closer and closer to the truth. Add on Ben’s own personal struggle as he falls victim to and then tries to fight against the colony’s mind control and you have a great story from Troughton’s era. The animation is much improved from the previous release and having the option to view it in colour is a real treat. I thoroughly recommend it.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Infallible Fish Reviews: Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks

“Life depends on change and renewal.”

What’s the Story?

Having bested the Cybermen and saved the Earth yet again, the Doctor finds his body wearing a bit thin and it’s time for a change. Regenerating into a new, younger form, the Doctor is quite literally a new man, but while his companions Ben and Polly struggle to come to terms with that fact, on the planet Vulcan a strange capsule has been found in the mercury swamps. While tensions rise amongst the colonists and plots for power are put into motion, the Daleks bide their time. They may be weak now, having to play at servants, but before long the colonists will be facing the true power of the Daleks!

The Review:

First broadcast on November 1966, this is probably one of the most important episodes in the show’s long, long history. This is the very first regeneration story for Doctor Who, the changing of the guard from William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton, setting the precedent that would allow the show to replace its lead actor for decades to come. If this had failed then the show would have most likely ended in the 60s. Thankfully that’s not the case and outside of its historic significance, this also happens to be one of the best Dalek stories put to screen. It breaks my heart that the chances of ever finding the original episodes is remote at best, but that’s what these animated episodes are for, to give us a way to experience this story in as close to all its glory as we can get. I’ll warn you all now this is going to be a heavily biased, heavily gushing review so be prepared.  

First though, let’s talk about the structure of classic Doctor Who, this is one story, but it’s comprised of six episodes, each roughly 30 minutes long. I suppose nowadays with more serialised shows its less of a shock to the system than it used to be, but it can take a moment to become accustomed to the style of Classic Who for all those who are interested. Just bare that in mind if you’re planning on using this as your first step into classic Doctor Who. It’s not as pacey as modern stuff, which does give more time to explore a location and characters, which I greatly enjoy.

On that note, let’s start with my one and only real gripe with this production, the animation, specifically the humanoid character animation. Look, I know this project was rushed out by the BBC for one reason or another. In a way it’s very in keeping with the production of classic Doctor Who, done on a meagre budget with extreme time constraints. On the other hand though, these episodes have been missing for more than 50 years, what exactly is the rush to have them produced now? Why not give the animators the time to make this look as good as it possibly can? It’s not as if the animation is terrible, there are some nice movements, but more often than not the humanoid characters move really awkwardly and there’s no nuance whatsoever. Take the scene where the Doctor is supposed to be studying Bragen’s expressions, he’s meant to be subtly watching him, but the animation has the characters stood right on top of one another with the Doctor being as obvious as possible. He might as well be wearing a flashing neon sign that says ‘I’m watching you’. Thankfully this improves with later releases, but I’ll get to that next week.

The animation is much more successful when it comes to the Daleks, they move and look exactly like classic Daleks, rolling around with all the menace the metal pepper pots can bring to bear. There are also a number of shots that the original production would have struggled with, like when the camera pulls back to reveal a room filled with newly built Daleks, or their gruesome production line. The original production had only a handful of Dalek props to hand so, yeah, this time a point goes to the animation for making those scenes as good as they are.

But let’s talk about the real strength of these episodes, the story. David Whitaker knows how to write Classic Who, he’s one of my favourite writers of the era because he knows how to write interesting characters. This may be a Dalek story, but it’s also a story of the people on Vulcan (no, not that one). Whether it’s Lesterson tinkering away with the capsule in his lab and not caring about much else, Bragen plotting to take power by any means necessary or the governor who has no idea about the death and destruction that’s about to befall his colony. All these people have their own motives and plans and they all think they can use the Daleks for their own ends, not realising the danger.

Personal opinion time, for me, the Daleks are at their best when they’re on the back foot. Seeing an army of murder-crazy killing machines is terrifying in its own right, but its the creeping dread of this story that makes them genuinely scary here. If you’re a Who fan you know what the Daleks are capable of, so to see all these people squabbling over petty things while the Daleks are getting stronger and stronger. It puts you in the same position as the Doctor, screaming at everyone to just listen and understand how much danger they’re in. The colonists are so convinced that they’re differences are worth fighting for, that they can use the Daleks to achieve their ends, but how does that all end? With slow panning shots of dead bodies filling the corridors. To the Daleks the differences don’t matter, we’re not Daleks and that’s all the reason they need to kill us. When a Dalek asks Bragen why humans kill other humans it’s chilling because, in truth, a Dalek would never kill another Dalek.

I suppose I should put some words towards talking about the Doctor in this review of Doctor Who. I love Patrick Troughton and he gives a fantastic performance here, but while this is a regeneration story, it’s not a story about regeneration. The first episode is really where the Doctor gets the most focus through his interactions with Ben and Polly and their trying to come to terms with his change. Regeneration is given a simple and effective explanation, with enough vagueness to it so it can be expanded on later. The rest of the time is just the Doctor acting strange while his new personality settles in, though there’s also the suggestion that the Doctor is doing a lot of this to only appear the fool (Sylvester McCoy isn’t the only chess master persona). Of course he’s there to stop the Daleks and prophecies the deaths to come, but really this is a story of Vulcan and the Daleks.

The Verdict:

The Power of the Daleks is a seminal story in Doctor Who’s history, the beginning of the second Doctor’s adventures, the very first regeneration and a terrific Dalek story to boot. For any Classic Who fan this is a must see and I’d recommend it to anyone else as well, though it might be an idea to watch a few other stories first, just to become acclimatised to the style. The animation of the humanoid characters is the one weak point in the production, but the soundscape, the writing and the Daleks themselves more than make up for that.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Cartoon Corner: The Owl House Review

“This is clearly not the PG fantasy world I always dreamed about.”

What’s the Story?

Luz is a self-assured teen just bursting with imagination and creativity, unfortunately that often gets her into trouble. Her latest stunt, a book report involving live snakes, is about to get her sent to summer camp to learn to curb her wild behaviour, that is until a tiny owl steals one of her fantasy books! Giving chase, Luz finds herself transported to a strange, and often grotesque, world, the Boiling Isles! There she is taken in by rogue witch Eda and her adorable demonic partner, King. This may not be the kind of fantasy adventure that Luz has always dreamed about, but it could be just the one she needs. Who needs summer camp when you can instead become an apprentice witch!

The Review

One last stop on the Disney train for this year (they’ll be more next year. Sorry, not sorry. The last couple of weeks have really put me in the mood and there’s a couple of shows that I should have talked about before. So look forward to them!) Anyway, let’s talk about The Owl House. I have been dying to watch this series ever since I saw the promotional images for it last year, it’s first season has finally dropped on Disney+ (part of the reason I even signed up to that service) and it is pretty much everything I wanted. Now I’m not going to claim it’s the ‘Greatest Thing Eva!’, it’s only a first season after all and it’s still got plenty of potential it can grow into, but at the same time I had a lot of fun with this show. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for the current tend of fantasy cartoons with an often hinted at mystery in the background and The Owl House handles all of those elements really well. I like the Boiling Isles as a setting, the series has a great colour palette and I love the grotesque-without-being-gross designs of the locations and inhabitants. What’s really hooked me in though is the humour and the characters.

I knew this series and I were going to get along with the very first joke, in which we see a typical fantasy witch confronting a snake monster and declaring that she’s a ‘warrior of peace’. Then she screams ‘Now eat this sucka!’, turns her staff into a bazooka and just blasts the monster. ‘My only weakness! Dying!’ I could quote the jokes of this series all day long and never get tired of it. That’s not to say the series is wall-to-wall jokes, some of my favourite moments are actually some of the more quieter, characterful ones, like when Luz admits to Amity that she’s not a witch, but she’s training hard to be one (that scene breaks my heart every time).

Let’s talk about the series’ two best girls for a second (Yes I’m a Lumity shipper, what of it?). Luz is energetic and impetuous, which often gets her into trouble even though she has the best of intentions. The series is very obvious with it’s themes of Individuality VS. Conformity and Luz is right in the middle of that. She has her own way of seeing and doing things and the series is very much on her side when it comes to her expressing herself as she wants to, as the show says “Us weirdos have to stick together”. Yet, at the same time, it’s not completely dismissive about joining in with the group either. There are benefits to being in a group, not least surrounding yourself with like-minded people. Eda may gripe about the series’ coven system that locks you into one way of magic, but it’s pointed out a couple of times that Luz has to make up her own mind. Conforming without compromising your individuality, that’s a more nuanced lesson that I’m glad this show is putting forward. Plus Luz is an adorable dork that I just can’t help but root for, watching her learn magic in her own way is a joy across the season.

Now let’s talk about Amity, who may just be the most well-developed character in this series. When we first meet her it looks like she’s going to be the typical school bully character, picking on a fellow classmate for being weaker at magic than her. Yet with each episode she appears in we learn a little bit more about her, and why she’s the way she is. From her overbearing parents to her tormenting siblings, Amity strives for perfection and doesn’t believe she can show any weakness. Yet each time she comes in contact with Luz, her character grows, adapting to this strange new person in her life and pretty soon Amity has evolved from the bully into a potential love interest. (On a side note, check out the song ‘Little Miss Perfect’ on the Write Out Loud youtube channel, it perfectly sums up Amity and has been embraced by us Lumity shippers as our national anthem.) I’m really looking forward to where the show is going to go next with her character and what more we’ll learn about her history.

As for the rest of the characters, Eda, King and Hooty probably take my third, fourth and fifth favourite spots, in that order. They’re all really fun and the banter that they share always brings a smile to my face. Before I wrap this up though, there’s one last aspect of this show that I really want to talk about, the animation. Disney always has quality animation, even when it’s stuck with a TV budget, but there are some spectacular moments throughout this series. The duels between Eda and Lilith and Luz and Amity’s dance magic combo in the Grom night episode being my particular highlights. The animation just flows so beautifully I couldn’t help but be carried away by it.

The Verdict

The Owl House is a good show and a great starting point with a lot of potential going forward. The characters are all funny and likeable, each in their own adorkable way, and they continue to grow and change across the season. There’s a strong theme of Individually vs. Conformity, with a more nuanced answer than I was initially expecting. If you’re after a fun fantasy adventure and don’t mind some grotesque character designs and setting, then I’d definitely recommend this. I can’t wait to see what season 2 has in store for us!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

Cartoon Corner: Tangled the Series/Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure Review

Plus Est En Vous!

What’s the Story?

Freed from the tower and the clutches of her kidnapper/abusive parental figure, Mother Gothel, it looks like Rapunzel finally has her happily ever after. She’s reunited with her real parents, has the man that she loves, Eugene, in her life and the whole kingdom of Corona to welcome her home, what more could she possibly want? Whatever it is that’s missing it’s enough to convince her to take a late-night trip out beyond the walls with her new handmaiden, Cassandra, to where the Sundrop Flower once grew. Now there are indestructible black rocks growing out of the ground where the Sundrop fell, and when Rapunzel touches one they suddenly begin to grow. That’s not the only effect though as the magic inside Rapunzel is reawakened, giving her back her incredibly long golden hair and brand new magical abilities. Adventure is calling for Rapunzel, it will take her to the Dark Kingdom and back, test her closest friendships and even see her facing a near-immortal evil from Corona’s past. Nobody said being a princess was easy…

The Review

I love Disney, always have always will. Doesn’t mean I won’t make fun of them or call out the machinations of our corporate overlords, but when the business suits get put away and the creators and talent working behind the scenes can just do their thing, Disney produces some of the best in the business. That brings me to Tangled the Series (also known as Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure from the second season onwards). I’ve talked about this show a couple of times before on this blog, which you can check out HERE and HERE, and I am very much in love. Is it the greatest cartoon that Disney has ever produced? No, that’s a three-way death match between Gargoyles, Gravity Falls and the latest DuckTales cartoon (potentially the Owl House, but we’ll talk more about that next week). That being said, Tangled the Series genuinely inspires me as anyone who’s ever visited the Disney folder on my Deviantart account will probably be able to tell. (In fact, to save you the trip I’ve put some of my favourite pieces throughout this post!)

This show is proof that it doesn’t matter what your idea is, what matters is how you do it. I have no idea how this series got the initial green light. You want to make a series following on from Tangled? A film that pretty succinctly wrapped up its plot, has no dangling plot threads left over and even has a short to give us all the wedding scene we wanted. Also you want to set the series in-between the film and said short so we know for certain nothing is going to happen to any of the characters that appear in the short, because they have to be there. What are you supposed to do with that? If it was me I’d have thrown my hands up in defeat at the first script writing session, but luckily I wasn’t on staff for this series because they did have a plan. Not only that, they pulled out literally all the stops, bringing back Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi to voice their characters again and putting Alan frickin’ Menken on music. Tangled the Series is what happens when you take an idea and pour as much talent and passion into it as possible.

Let’s talk about the animation, which is another highlight of this series for me. I’ll admit it took me a few minutes to get used to it, but now I’m fully onboard. Disney’s been trying out this style in some of their shorts for several years now, it’s this weird mix of 2D and 3D where I’m not sure if it’s 3D models textured in such a way that they look 2D, or if it’s 2D characters somehow ported into a 3D space, or a mix of the two. Whatever it is it really works, even on a meagre TV budget. There are certainly some shots where you can tell that something is off, but then there are other times when the animation is free to dive into these big sweeping shots that just take your breath away. Add on the utterly gorgeous backgrounds and the storybook look to everything and it’s like you’ve stepped into a Mary Blair sketchbook. (FYI, Mary Blair was an artist/animator who worked for Disney back in the early days, think Sleeping Beauty and you’ll get the look I’m talking about. Also, check out her concept art because it’s all gorgeous). When I’m in love with a series’ art style I often say I want to take each frame of animation and hang them up on my wall, well, for this series I want to cover every wall of my house with frames from this show. I love it and, honestly, I’m praying that Disney will try this style with a big budget film some day.

What about the story though? It’s all well and good bringing in all these talented people and making everything look really, really pretty, but it’ll all fall flat without some substance behind it. Thankfully I love the story of this series as much as I do the artwork. What took me by surprise the most was the attention to character detail. Admittedly I was just expecting this series to be silly princess hijinks in the capital, which is how the series starts, but there’re little bits that show just how much the creators get these characters. Rapunzel’s reaction to returning to the tower for the first time, her dad waking up in the middle of the night, terrified that he’ll lose his daughter again and the things that fear makes him do… all of it is spot on.  Rapunzel is by far the most interesting Disney princess to me, she’s spent her whole life trapped in a tower, she knows nothing of the outside world and is probably the most child-like princess in the Disney canon. She’s never had to make difficult choices, she’s never had responsibility, but now she does and we follow her as she struggles along that journey. Honestly it’s been a joy to watch her grow up as she’s tackled everything from friends betraying her to ancient evils and shocking revelations about those around her.

That’s something else I have to give this series credit for. It effortlessly adds and expands on the mythos of the film, turning it from a fairy tale story about a flower with healing properties into a grand adventurous epic. I mean I never expected ancient wizards, goat-headed demons and alchemists’ robots to turn up in a Disney princess story, but somehow it all works. The only real complaint I have about the story is the amount of filler episodes it has. Tangled the Series works very much on the tent pole format, where there are several episodes in each season that progress the series’ arc and need to be seen, but all the ones in-between just tend to maintain the status quo and keep things chugging along. The tent pole episodes themselves are all fantastic, and I love them, but the filler are a bit more hit and miss. Don’t get me wrong, some of the filler episodes are my favourites in the series, but others are very much just padding. Fun padding, but also obviously padding. It’ll probably be less of a problem on a binge watch, but watching it week to week it can wear you out waiting for the story to get properly going again. It’s not a major problem though and I do enjoy if not outright adore 99.9% of this series.

On a final note, I can’t leave this review without mentioning the music of the series. As I mentioned earlier they got Alan Menken back and I am so glad that they did. The songs of this series, in my opinion, are actually better than the movie’s. Nothing against Tangled’s songs, I do have a great deal of fun with them, but nine times out of ten, the ones in this series pack so much more of a punch. From the sheer joy of songs like ‘Wind in My Hair’ and ‘The View from Up Here’, to the heartbreak of ‘Waiting in the Wings’, the Broadway power of ‘Nothing Left to Lose’ and the epicness of ‘Ready As I’ll Ever Be’. These songs are scattered throughout the series, mostly in tent pole episodes and the majority of them knock it out of the park, especially the villain songs (though personally I think of them as ‘antagonist songs’, but I can’t talk about that without spoilers so I won’t). Just go listen to them, you won’t be disappointed, though some songs may come with spoilers so be warned.

The Verdict

All in all, Tangled the Series/Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure is a fantastic series and a true testament of what you can do when you put talent and passion into your idea. Combing a clear understanding of the characters with a dramatic storyline, expanding mythology, breath-taking art style and some toe-tapping songs, it’s been a joy to watch. I’m still sad that this series has ended now after three brilliant seasons, but I’m also incredibly grateful that I’ve gotten to go on this journey with these characters in the first place. It’s not perfect, but this is the series that cemented Rapunzel as my favourite Disney princess, potentially my favourite Disney character period. Check it out, maybe you’ll have had as much fun as I did.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

There’s one last stop for the Disney train this year as we take a look at one of Disney’s latest productions, Next Week…

Take a trip to the Boiling Isles!

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Frozen 2

Cursed into the form of a talking cartoon fish by a half-mad deity known only as the Writer, the Infallible Fish has no idea who he is, or where he comes from. All he does know is that he has a burning urge to watch some animated stuff.

And he did! For 6 glorious years he gushed over the exquisite and bemoaned the dull and infuriating. He tried genres he’d previously shied away from, found new favourites, made friends, and celebrated classics and unsung greats alike. Yet there was a foe waiting for him on his 6th anniversary. The first foe. The Frozen Foe. It is time to close the circle. It is time to review…

Water has memory, apparently.

What’s the Story?

Everything is just perfect in Arendelle. Since the end of their last adventure, Queen Elsa and Anna have an unbreakable bond, Kristoff is so in love he has marriage on his mind and everyone is just so content and happy, what could possibly change that? How about the strange voices that have been calling to Elsa? Or the four nature spirits that have spent years locked away behind mists, only for Elsa to unleashed them on an unsuspecting Arendelle. To save their home, Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Olaf and Sven will have to travel beyond the mists and into an enchanted forest. There they will learn the truth of the sister’s heritage and face a potentially destructive choice for their kingdom. Nothing lasts forever and autumn is the season of change…

The Review

I’m 6 years old! Okay, I’m not, I’m five times that age now (physically at least, mentally I’m still in my late teens), but I’ve been writing this little blog o’mine for six whole years and that surprises me more than anyone else. I never really had a plan for this blog, a few stray ideas like the backstory for my character that you saw at the top of this post, but that was it really. I just needed some place to talk about what I wanted to talk about, plus it’s done wonders for my writing and my confidence in my own voice. Honestly I’ve had a blast writing this blog these past six years and I hope to have a blast writing it for the next six years and beyond. If you’ve read even one of my posts, then you have my heartfelt thanks, I hope you’ve enjoyed what I do here and will continue to enjoy it going into the future. Enough preamble though, let’s get down to business. October 31st 2014, I wrote my very first review for the, at the time, latest Disney animated film, Frozen (which you can check out HERE if you’re curious). I had mixed feelings about the film at best and really those feelings were the catalyst for this whole blog. It took me a long time to come to terms with my disappoint in the first film, most of which was really the fault of my own overhyping and expectations clashing with what the film actually was, plus a few minor complaints.

I was nervous coming into this sequel, I mean Disney does not have the best track record with sequels to begin with. Then the first trailer hit and my hype rose to the ceiling. It was so dark and moody, showed a perfectly executed scene and promised exactly what I wanted from the first film. Elsa using her powers in an action sequence for more than five seconds! Hints at where Elsa’s powers come from! Anna wielding a sword like the knight she truly is! Then the film released and the reviews were…middling, which brought my hype right back down and, honestly, that was probably for the best. So what did I think of the film? It’s…okay. It’s not terrible by any stretch, it’s also not going to break into my top 10 Disney films any time soon. It’s just…okay and that’s fine. I did enjoy watching the film, but I can also see its problems pretty clearly and why it didn’t resonate with people as much as the original did.

I think there’s a fair argument to be made that Frozen 2 does improve on its predecessor in some areas, just not all. As the trailer promised, Frozen 2 gave me several things that I’d been crying out for in the original. Elsa is the shining star of this film, she’s throwing her ice powers around like a total badass, taking on all comers, and honestly her fights with the different spirits are probably my favourite parts of the film. The animation is top notch, as I expect from Disney, I mean the whole reason I sold my soul to this company was on the understanding that they consistently produce work from animators and creators at the top of their craft. The textures and the colours are just superb in this film, I mean just watch that cascade of water at the end of the film it is just outstanding from a technical standpoint. Part of my disappointment in the original was from the animation, honestly I think Tangled looked better (yes I’m a Tangled fanboy). The autumnal landscapes of Frozen 2 add that little extra bit of colour that the original was lacking, plus six years of technological development.

Where the original Frozen beats Frozen 2 though, and this is by far the more important area, is in its story. Frozen had a very clear story. Elsa has ice powers, which she is afraid of. She loses control of her powers and runs away, Anna must then travel up the North Mountain to find her sister and help her gain control over herself and her powers. The story is a single straight line, with every element and character playing into that story. Frozen 2 is much more muddled. Everyone has their own separate storyline and they barely intersect at all. Kristoff keeps trying to propose to Anna, and keeps messing it up (also Anna is paying him no attention at all and I think that’s something they need to work on before the idea of marriage comes up). Honestly it’s a one-note joke that has been done better elsewhere, even by Disney cough Rescuers Down Under cough. Olaf has nothing to do whatsoever expect for make bad jokes and it quickly takes him from loveable doofus to the annoying comic relief we all feared he’d be in the first film. Anna’s story is good in concept. After fighting so hard to reconnect with her sister she’d desperate to keep a hold of her, so much so that it’s consuming her and that is a fascinating development for the character. Unfortunately the storyline just doesn’t get the time it needs to develop and the resolution is kinda lacking.

Elsa’s story is the primary focus of this film, delving into where her powers came from, her family history and, really, Elsa discovering who she truly is. That storyline is very well done, the whole ‘Show Yourself’ sequence is probably my highlight of the film, it’s one of the few times where the film actually got an emotional response out of me. That smile as Elsa sings with her mother, truly, finally, understanding who she is was just magnificent. Back to the problem though, because none of the other characters are actually really needed for this plot. Elsa is the only necessary character, potentially Anna as she tries to hold Elsa back, but all the other characters are just kind of there. Honestly it does make me wish that this film was just Anna and Elsa. If it was me I’d just have them encountering wild spirits and dealing with the dangers of the forest, all the while paralleling the first film. This time, instead of chasing after her sister, Anna has to learn to let Elsa go and discover things for herself, and that that doesn’t mean they’ll never see one another again, far from it. It would also mean that we wouldn’t have to include random tribe and random soldiers that are also just kind of there.

I mean, if you do want to introduce this tribe into the lore of the series, as well as these spirits and mythology, as well as giving everyone something to do you’re going to need more than a film’s run time to do it. We really need to get to know these people and this locale if you expect the audience to care and there’s just not enough time or focus to do that here. Maybe if you had like a series worth of episodes you could do it. Nah, that’s silly. I mean what Disney film would get a series expanding its mythology and developing it’s characters. Cough Tangled the Series cough Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure cough. Sorry, I swore I wouldn’t compare this film to Tangled, no, I’ve got a review specifically for that franchise later in the month!

The Verdict

In the end, Frozen 2 is a decent film. If you’re an Elsa fan you’ll probably love this as she is the shining star, leaping into the action and finding herself while also finally explaining exactly where her powers come from. If you’re a fan of anyone else however, I’d suggest going back to the first film. The animation is spectacular and more than up to Disney’s usual standard and the songs are all enjoyable. It’s a fun film, treat it as such and you should have a good time, but this is not the start of yet another Disney renaissance (that honour still belongs to Tangled and I will fight anyone who says otherwise).

Thank you again to my wonderful readers, I hope you enjoyed this and will continue to enjoy my work here. Next week we’re back to anime as I have my first impressions of the current season, but after that we’re getting back on the Disney train for the rest of the month as there’s a couple of series I just have to talk about!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.