The Infallible Fish Reviews: Tangled the Series Queen for a Day

Blog Tangled Queen for a Day Review Title

“That is one determined horse.”

I’m four years old! Well, the blog is and to celebrate I’m getting indulgent again and looking at a franchise I love, and this year I’ve picked Tangled! A little while ago I reviewed the TV movie Tangled Before Ever After (you can read it HERE) and to sum up, I loved it! Tangled is the film that got me back into Disney and it will always have a special place in my heart, and whatever my initial worries about the TV series were, I’ve gone from pleasantly surprised with it to blown away. It takes a little while for it to properly find its footing, but when it does it’s really good. It’s smart, it’s funny and its wormed its way into my heart in much the way the original movie did. (Seriously, Disney, release the whole series on DVD, I will buy it in a heartbeat). That brings me to today’s movie, though movie isn’t entirely accurate. Really this is an extended episode of the series (episode sixteen if I remember correctly, though don’t fear, this works perfectly fine in isolation and is suitably epic enough to be released by itself), but enough waffling I’d better get on with the review!

Now while you don’t need to have seen any of the series to watch this film, you will need to have seen Tangled Before Ever After, but in case not, here’s the main stuff you’ll need to know. Rapunzel is out of the tower and struggling to acclimatise to life as a Royal and all the rules and pressure that brings with it. Needing a bit of breathing space Rapunzel and her best friend Cassandra went beyond Corona’s walls and came across some strange, indestructible black rocks. Upon touching one of these rocks Rapunzel’s hair started to glow and returned to how it was in the original movie, i.e. blonde and seventy foot long. The black rocks started to chase after Rapunzel, but she got away.

This story picks up in Old Corona, where the village there is being torn apart by the spreading black rocks. We’re introduced to Varian, a young alchemist who wants to study the rocks and his father, Quirin, the head of the village who wants everyone to stay as far away from the rocks as possible. Varian is, in a word, adorable. He’s the perfect mix of goofy and sweet, he’s like a puppy that you just want to hug, seriously the joy in his voice as he says he’s going to make sandwiches is infectious. Rapunzel meanwhile is shadowing the King and Queen and learning all the royal duties she’s one day going to have to take on, like listening to the worries and complaints of her subjects. In fact Rapunzel is going to get a trail period for her future role as the King and Queen plan to go on a two-day vacation for their anniversary, meaning that Rapunzel is going to be Queen for the day! (Title drop). Unfortunately Rapunzel is soon to learn that being in charge isn’t as easy as she thinks.

That’s what I love most about the Tangled the series (or Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure as the series has been renamed in season 2), it’s not afraid to progress the characters. Rapunzel is probably the most child-like Disney princess there is, which is understandable. She was locked up in a tower for eighteen years, never given a chance to grow up or get any experience with other people or the outside world. Back in the original film she makes the assertion that she never, ever, breaks a promise, and however much I love Rapunzel, that is something a child would say. Unfortunately for her this story is here to teach Rapunzel that sometimes promises get broken.

Now, back to the story, where a vicious snowstorm is blowing into Corona. At first Rapunzel is super excited seeing as how she’s never been outside in the snow before, but things start to get dangerous as the winds pick up and the temperature drops (Anyone else getting the urge to sing Colder By The Minute from the Frozen musical? No? Just me, okay). Though the rest of the cast aren’t having a much better day, the King and Queen get into an accident, their carriage going over a cliff. Meanwhile Varian is experimenting with the black rocks and ends up slowly encasing his father in amber. That’s one of the things this episode does well, it may have a fair amount of plot to jungle, but you can’t deny it does a good job of ramping up the danger again and again until things are as dire as they’ve ever been in Tangled.

Anyway, Eugene and the pub thugs convince Rapunzel to let them go out into the storm to find the King and Queen, Eugene showing that he may make a good king one day after all (character growth, love it!). Then comes the moment. This is the moment that this episode and the series as a whole went from pleasantly surprising (with the odd amazing episode, seriously go watch the Pascal one, it’s heartbreaking.) all the way up to mind blowing. You see Varian comes running in, begging for Rapunzel to come with him and help his father. She has some kind of connection to the black rocks and is the only hope Varian can think of, plus she did promise to help him. On the other hand though, the whole kingdom is in danger. This blizzard is threatening everybody on the island and if Rapunzel doesn’t stay and figure something out, that’s a lot of people that’ll be in trouble. Rapunzel has to make a choice and no matter what she picks, someone is going to get hurt. In the end Rapunzel picks her kingdom, meaning the girl that swore she would never, ever, break a promise, finally does, Varian having to be dragged away by the guards.

Character growth aside, that’s not going to stop a blizzard, but maybe an old legend can. Another thing I love about this series is that it’s unafraid to expand and add to the mythos of the original film. This time we get a legend about an evil warlock and the engineer who defeated him with a combination of magic and science, all of which leads Rapunzel to a machine hidden deep under the Corona Mountains. Of course we can’t just get the machine turned on and sort this out, no we have to risk the life of Pascal, who sacrifices himself in an overly dramatic, yet at the same time heartfelt way. The machine starts and its no surprise to anyone that Pascal survives. The series is maturely written, but that doesn’t mean a Disney cartoon is going to kill off a character (not unless their a parent anyway, actually it’s a wonder that Rapunzel’s parents have lasted as long as they have).

After all that the storm disappears and the King and Queen return home in one piece, all’s well that ends well, right? Well, Rapunzel is a little traumatised, over the course of the episode she’s sent her boyfriend out into a deadly blizzard, turned away a desperate friend, risked the whole kingdom on a legend and almost got her oldest friend killed, so, yeah, she’s not feeling super. In fact Rapunzel wonders if she can ever be a queen, though in a really sweet scene Eugene is there is comfort and encourage her (I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned, but Eugene and Rapunzel are probably one of my favourite couples, period, they have terrific chemistry and are always there to support one another, as a good relationship should be). Even that isn’t the end though because the episode decides it wants to step things up even further as we return to Varain. Feeling betrayed by Rapunzel and with his father completely encased by the black rocks, he swears that he’ll find the answers to free his father, no matter who gets in his way. Wait, did a side character, my cute puppy dog Varian, just turn into a villain? He did! In a Disney cartoon no less! Okay, I’ll admit, I know Varian’s story isn’t over yet, but Varian has the potential to be one of the greatest Disney villains ever. I can’t even think of a time that Disney has done the whole friend-turning-into-a-villain thing, they normally either stick to cackling, pure evil like Maleficent, or surprise villains like Hans in Frozen. There’s a lot of dramatic weight and story potential with Varian, and while I’ve seen some of what they’ve done with him, I can’t wait to see where else his story has to go. Again, it shows how this series isn’t afraid to evolve and grow things in a natural way, which is a heck of a lot more than I was ever expecting from this series.

Just to pull back on the praise of the series for a second, I do have a couple of gripes with the episode, most of them are pretty minor, but it just stops the story reaching perfection. For starters, while the episode makes the most of its run time, giving the main characters quiet, emotional scenes for them to grown in, this does come at the expense of some characters. Cassandra hardly gets anything to do in this story, outside of a couple of lines and a bit of a song. Considering she’s on the cover of the DVD I feel that’s a little unfair to her (I’ll admit I didn’t like her character that much at first, but she’s grown on me). Also because there’s so much going, a few scenes and plots feel a bit squeezed, I mean we’ve got to deal with the blizzard, Varian’s story arc, Rapunzel dealing with being a queen and Eugene going to rescue the King and Queen. It’s not a major problem, but I feel like a couple of scenes could have used a few more seconds to let them breath to get a bigger impact out of them.

My last quibble isn’t really the stories fault and more one of how this episode has been released (i.e. as a standalone with no sign of the full series being released any time soon). Now the story works perfectly fine by itself, you can jump straight into it after Before Ever After, but I do feel it’s so much better if you watch it as part of the series, as intended. As a part of the series you get introduced to Varian before this story and get to spend a few episodes getting to know him and even the Pascal fake out is better because the series genuinely made me care about the little guy prior to this point. Also the episode does leave a few things hanging, like the secrets that Varian’s father has been keeping and what Varian is going to do next, so you’ll have to watch the series to find out what all that means (though not everything has been revealed yet). Minor quibbles though as I said.

On the whole, I love this episode as I love the series. The characters, voiced again by some superb talent, and the story is allowed to grow and evolve in natural ways (something I appreciate so much). The animation is bright and energetic, it’s well written and it has a couple of really catchy songs. Rapunzel’s ‘I’ve Got This’ is toe-tappingly infectious and Varian’s ‘Let Me Make You Proud’ is stunningly sung by Jeremy Jordan. Worth it for any Tangled fan. Now, Disney, about that full series DVD release…

As I mentioned at the beginning this is my four-year anniversary of running this blog and I just want to thank everyone that has commented on, liked or even just read one of my posts. I still get an immense amount of pleasure out of just rambling on about shows and films that I love and shows that frustrate me and I thank you for putting up with me while I do it. It means a lot to me, so here’s to the next year, I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

Infallible Fish Reviews: Tangled Before Ever After

Blog Tangled BEA Review Title

“Piece of cake! Have you not seen the seventy feet of my-father’s-going-to-kill-me growing out of my head?”

It’s no secret that I’m a huge Disney fan and Tangled in particular is a favourite of mine (it’s on my top 10 Disney films list HERE). Tangled was the film that got me back into Disney after those dark teenage years were I thought Disney, and even cartoons in general, were just for kids (I can only admit that I was an idiot and throw myself on the mercy of our Mouse Overlord). Tangled was, and still is, smart, funny, gorgeously animated and Princess Rapunzel herself was brave, hopeful and strong in all the ways that’s needed.

Yet, when I heard that Tangled was getting a TV movie and even a series to follow, I will admit to some trepidation. On the one hand its great to have a chance to further explore Rapunzel’s world, however, Disney sequels tend to be notoriously…bad and we’ve yet to get to Frozen 2 or Wreck It Ralph 2 (please be good. Please be good.), so I didn’t know if the curse was broken. That and it’s a TV movie and no offence to the TV branch of Disney (you’re wonderful people, keep up the good work), they don’t have the budget or the full might of Disney animation backing them up, so, yeah, I was nervous.

The DVD has finally been released over here in the UK though and I am so glad to report that this is a good movie. I just slipped right back into the world and it was as if I’d never left, probably helped by the fact that Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi are here to reprise their roles as Rapunzel and Eugene respectively. Sure things look a little different that the original movie due to a new animation style (I’ll come back to this in a minute), but the characters and the world are all as they were and yet more at the same time. The characters get to evolve in logical and understandable ways, we even get a bunch of new characters to add to the cast, the script is smart and funny and we even get a quick look around Corona with a little bit of added history and plenty of mystery.

The story picks up six months after the film, and before the short Tangled Ever After, with Rapunzel finally returned to her loving family, getting used to being a princess in a fancy castle and with her boyfriend, Eugene, always by her side. Things couldn’t be more perfect, or could they? Something doesn’t feel right to Rapunzel and while she loves her family, she can’t help but feel restrained by all the rules and expectations now placed on her as the one-day-to-be-Queen. You can’t help but wonder if Rapunzel has just traded one tower for another. Things aren’t made any better when Eugene puts her on the spot and proposes! Rapunzel can’t take this and storms out. She just needs to breathe. She just needs to get out! Luckily Rapunzel’s new friend Cassandra has a way to sneak her outside.

Which just about brings us to the songs. There are two new songs in this film (well, technically three, but the last one is a reprise of the second) and in an example of how the creators behind this film really wanted the best for it, they got the Alan Menken back to do the songs. He’s really on form with ‘Wind in My Hair’ and ‘Life After Happily Ever’, both are catchy and great and brilliantly preformed, especially by Mandy Moore. I really love some of the lyrics, with them ranging between poignant and funny.

Back to the story though and I do have to commend how it treats the characters so maturely. This could so easily have been such a clichéd story, but it’s the writing and the performances that really raise it above the bar. My hat especially goes off to Levi and Moor who effortlessly fill their characters with such familiar warmth its as if they never left. Moments like the King stood at the window, hearing the night that Rapunzel was taken from him all over again, help you to get inside his head. Yeah he’s being harsh and frustratingly overprotective, but you get why. He’s afraid. He doesn’t want to lose his daughter all over again and he’ll do whatever he deems necessary to protect her. There’s a beautiful line where he admits that the night she was kidnapped the best part of him died.

Even Eugene is handled maturely, admitting that while he doesn’t understand why Rapunzel turned down his proposal, he’s going to keep trying until he figures it out. It’s nice to see an actual relationship in Disney that goes past the initial honeymoon period, with a few bumps in the road, but that doesn’t dent their love for one another. Well done Disney.

Anyway, plot, Rapunzel and Cassandra sneak out and find a bunch of mysterious black rocks that are unbreakable. What’s more, once Rapunzel touches them, the rocks start multiplying, growing out of the ground and chasing after the two. Then Rapunzel’s hair starts to glow and grow until she’s back with the long golden locks she’s known for. They manage to escape the rocks, but now Rapunzel has the small problem of hiding her, now unbreakable, hair from her family, something she can’t do when a bunch of thugs crash her coronation party and try to kidnap the king. This is my only real complaint about the film, the villain. While Lady Cain is a good villain, she’s a threat and has a good motivation (hinting further at the tyrannical rule of the King of Corona, but that’s for another day) the problem is she’s hardly in the film. She hardly interacts with Rapunzel and her motivation is something that we never get to see, it’s just told to us. I couldn’t help but feel she’d be a much better antagonist if the film had an extra twenty minutes to give some time to her.

Finally, the animation, I will admit it took some getting used to, but I like it. It’s simple and clean, very much looking like a flash cartoon, but in a painted style and is done in these gorgeous pastel colours. It moves well and there are a couple of shots and camera movements that are just breathtaking. It’s very much 3D animation masquerading as 2D and if this is the way Disney is going I’m on board with it. The greatest strength this movie has though in the visual department is its use of colour. There are some achingly beautiful uses of colour in this film, from the bright and vibrant colours of the castle and the town to the darker shades of the kingdom beyond the wall. Everything just really pops and I really like it.

All in all Tangled Before Ever After is a great continuation of the original film, allowing the characters to evolve and grow in a natural way. It’s filled with great performances, catchy songs and smart writing, even if the villain could have used a few more scenes. True there isn’t much resolution to the mystery of the unbreakable rocks and Rapunzel’s return to being blonde, but that’s for the series to deal with. This move is very much set up for that, but with enough warmth and effort put into the production that it’s clear that isn’t the only reason for its existence. Now, when’s the series coming out on DVD?

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates (usually) every Friday.

The Infallible Fish: Moana Review

Blog Moana Review Title

Remember who you are, Simba…wait, sorry, wrong movie.

I think I may just have a new favourite Disney princess film (Sorry Tangled, oh who am I kidding, I still love you, but you’re happy to share the top stop, right?). Sorry to spoil my opinion on this film so early, but I am properly in love here, it has its flaws sure, but what it gets right, it really gets right.

For starters, this film is gorgeous. From the natural radiance of tropical islands to the high contrast of the realm of monsters, every single scene is a treat for the eyes. Every frame is filled to bursting with vibrant colour and I’m actually drooling here, sorry. Add on to that some fast and energetic animation and you have a recipe for awesome. Seriously, this film knows how to do action and weight, the best example I can think of is when Moana first tries to sail past the reef and gets hit by a series of rolling waves. You feel every hit, you feel the panic and the dread as Moana fights to free her leg and that is only the start. Moana runs and jumps and sails her way through this film and you feel all of it. Also if you’ll allow me a small animation nerd moment, oh my gods that water! Sorry, but I studied animation at university and I know how hard it is to get water right, mostly because it’s a liquid and has a tendency to go where it wants and trying to animate something random is a pain. Yet this is most realistic water I have ever seen in an animated work, it makes you just want to dive straight into it and you completely get why Moana is so obsessed with the ocean.

Let’s talk about our lead. Moana has to be the second most badass princess (sorry chief’s daughter) that Disney has ever introduced us to. Of course Mulan still rules the roost in that regard, but Moana comes close and she has a charming personality to boot! Let me put it this way, outside of Mulan, what other Disney princess can you picture slow-mo walking through an ocean split like the Red Sea, while a lava monster comes barrelling towards her from the other end? Yes that scene is as awesome as you are imagining it. Moana is an action hero without being unbelievable. She fights her way through a ship full of coconut pirates, outsmarts giant crabs and plays a deadly game of tag with the previously mentioned lava monster. And you know what? She’s terrified throughout and I appreciate that. Moana is a young girl trying to find her way, riddled with doubt and trepidation about what her heart is telling her to do. She’s not perfect, she does mess up, either getting too in over her head or letting her self-doubt get the better of her, but she finds her way through it and is better for the experience.

On to our other main character, Maui. A couple of people I know raised their eyebrows when the Rock was cast for the part, but there’s no need to worry. Honestly Dwayne Johnson is as charming as he always is and sinks right into the part. Now I don’t know about the myths surrounding this particular demi-god so I can’t make any comment on how accurate he is, but he fits the film. Speaking of the myths this film is based on, like I said I don’t know much about them, but I certainly want to now I’ve seen the film, which is how I like my films based on cultures I’m not familiar with. Anyway back to Maui, he’s a very charming and fun character, even when he’s doing stuff that should really turn you off to him, like say stealing Moana’s boat and locking her in cave. He straddles that fine line between being loveable and a jerk. He’s way too in love with himself and does what he does for the adoration of the humans, though when you learn the guy’s back story that’s kind of understandable, he’s got some world class abandonment issues.

Honestly one of the best parts of Maui is his relationship with Moana, they really bounce off of one another, whether it’s them bickering, comforting one another or just having fun. They’re both people unsure of who they are in one respect or another and they make one another better, you feel the bond that grows between them. It’s a good thing that they are so good together, because the majority of the film is just the two of them together. Okay so there’s a chicken with an IQ in negative numbers and the ocean itself along as sidekicks, but neither of them talk so I’m taking this film as a two-hander for the most part.

There are other characters, Moana’s family and the villagers, but once Moana leaves the island we don’t get to see that much of them, outside of a dream sequence and a ghostly visit later on, but that’s okay, they fill their roles and move along. That’s all that’s needed. It does bring me to one of the problems with the film, the story (outside of the mythology stuff) is kind of generic. Moana dreams of leaving her village, but her father forbids it and the two are at loggerheads because of this. I mean at least they give the dad a reason for not wanting Moana to go beyond the reef so he’s not just the normal disapproving parent, but it doesn’t change the fact this story has been done before. It’s the battle between heart and head and Moana does try to please her parents, but it’s just not in her. Yeah we’ve seen this story before, but with these characters and these visuals, I honestly don’t mind, though I completely get it if it puts other people off.

Also, notice that there has been no mention of a love interest in any respect, that’s because there isn’t one! Yay, no forced romance because Moana doesn’t need one for this story, its not about her loving anyone other than her family and her village. This is about Moana finding herself and the film sticks to that, thankfully.

All in all Moana is a fantastic film with an endearing and badass young heroine. Visually it is stunning and the characters are fun, even the comedy sidekicks. Yes the story has been done before plenty of times and outside of the cool mythology stuff it doesn’t offer all that much new, but personally I can look past that for these characters and visuals. Also the songs are pretty fun too, nothing that I think will dislodge ‘Let It Go’ from the collective consciousness, but they’re all toe-tapping and fit seamlessly into the film. I am Moana! Sorry, that scene is also awesome and I couldn’t resist.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Zootropolis

Sorry this one’s a bit late guys, heck of a week, anyway on with the show!

blog-zootropolis-review-title

Huh? I could have sworn this film was called Zootopia.

So, Disney made this, I don’t know if this era of the studio’s history has an official title yet (I know over on the Unshaved Mouse’s blog he refers to this as the Redemption Era, which I like), but after this film I might just start referring to it as the ‘Grown Up’ Era. I mean I can’t see this film being made in any previous era and that’s not just because its message is so right for our current turbulent times. Disney has always had the image of being light and fluffy (even if every now again they try to scare the stuffing out of us, looking at you Coachman from Pinocchio) and they’ve helped to establish several tropes, like always follow your dreams and wishes can come true. Over the past few films they’ve tried to do some repair work on those ideas, to expand upon them and be a bit more adult about things. Life isn’t black and white and happy endings can sometimes be hard to come by, and kids should be aware of that, as long as we don’t dent their worldview too much. Informed, but still innocent that’s how kids should be, in my opinion anyway.

Back to the point, Zootropolis is Disney’s most adult film so far, and I love it for that. I love Disney for making this film and having the confidence to let the creators tell an important story. It shows a maturity and faith in the product that I think old Disney was sometimes lacking, especially during some of its more lacklustre periods. Maybe some of the theme and scenes of mass panic and stereotyping will go over the kids’ heads, but it’s something they’ll come back to and appreciate, and the lesson is a good one to learn, for adults as well as kids.

Enough of the hyping, let’s tear into this film. What’s the Story? It’s a world where predators and prey have evolved and now live together in peace, a lot of them cohabitating in a city called Zootropolis that has different habitats that cater to each species’ needs, and can I just say the place is amazing. I love the design of Zootropolis. It’s clear a lot of thought has gone into how all of these species would live alongside one another; they’re not just animals in clothes doing human things. This place takes size into account, there’s a lot of difference between a tiny mouse and a giant giraffe. All the little details of how these animals get around and interact with one another is great and I love to see them. Also it’s pretty fun to one minute see only the ears of our bunny cop sticking over the table and the next have her towering over a miniature village of rodents. My only real complaint is that we don’t see enough of the other zones, we get little snippets, but I want more!

Also this film is gorgeous. That light, that eye-catching colour, that soft fluffy texture on the fur, take me Zootropolis, I’m yours! Sorry, I think I got a bit over-excited there, where was I? Oh yes, the story.

We meet Judy Hopps, a little bunny with a big dream, ‘cause she wants to be Zootropolis’ first ever bunny police officer and here’s where the film plays us a little. It starts off looking like this is going to be that well-worn trope, always follow your dreams kids, no matter how many people tell you otherwise, which Disney has done in the past and has since rephrased it as follow your dreams, but it sometimes might take a little hard work. That isn’t Zootropolis’ message though and Judy’s little thing about trying is going to come into play in a different way, but I’ll get to that later.

Anyway, Judy won’t give up and through some serious hard work and study graduates the top of her class and is assigned to work at the head precinct of Zootropolis. Things are looking up, then they’re looking down. See none of the other cops take Judy that seriously and pretty soon she finds herself sticking parking tickets on cars all day. In true buddy cop film tradition though, Judy gets herself a big case and 48 hours solve it, otherwise she has to hand in her badge. Predators are going missing, but as Judy investigates she discovers something more sinister could be at work, could animals be going savage? Along the way Judy gets help from a conman fox (confox?) called Nick Wilde, he’s the street cred to Judy’s straight arrow, as per buddy cop formula.

I know I’ve talked this film up pretty high and the story is…good. It’s a good little detective story, with a nice little mystery and clear beats that we can follow along, it’s simple but that’s all the story needs, anymore and we’d just get bogged down and it would distract from what matters with the story. There’s a fair bit of action as well, which is really nicely done. The jokes are likewise good, for the most part, there wasn’t anything laugh out loud funny, but it got a smile and a chuckle out of me. There were two jokes that did disappoint me. The Mr. Big joke I saw coming from a mile away and then there’s the sloth jokes, they really went on far too long. It’s a two second gag that got dragged on for minutes (I’ve watched this film twice on my DVD and I actually skipped the DMV bit when I got to it, and I hardly ever skip anything on a DVD). Though for balance my mum absolutely loves the DMV scene, so maybe it’s just me.

Where the humour and warmth of this film shines though is in its stars, Judy and Nick. I love these two characters and their chemistry is brilliant. I could watch these two banter and try to outsmart one another all day long, you feel the friendship and love growing between them, which is why it’s so heart-breaking when we get to that press conference scene. That scene is also where this film gets serious. Suddenly we have a good character saying something bad, not because she’s bad, but because even if she doesn’t see herself as prejudiced there is an ingrained fear deep down inside of her. I don’t think she really believes that, but that’s what she was taught when she was young and prejudices are often passed down, compounded by generations, but it’s up to us to be better than those who came before us, to recognise the mistakes of the past and not repeat them. We have to try (told you I’d get back to the trying thing).

In the end, Zootropolis is a good film made brilliant by two great main characters who are both funny, heart-warming and heart-rending. Neither of them is perfect, but then what in this world is? All they can do is try to be better, which is what this film is all about, and that’s a wonderful message and one that should be spread. I recommend Zootropolis with all my heart, it’s worth a try.

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Aladdin and the King of Thieves

Blog Aladdin King of Thieves Review Title

Third time’s the charm.

There are certain patterns in cinema that are so well known that even the general public know of them, not just us geeks on the internet. Odd-numbered Star Trek films suck, current Adam Sandler films are best avoided and never, ever submit yourself to watching a Disney sequel (unless you enjoy torturing yourself). There are exceptions to these rules though, Star Trek Nemesis, Hotel Transylvania and today’s subject, Aladdin and the King of Thieves (and can I just point out that a rule isn’t really a rule if there’s exceptions to it).

The main problem that a lot of Disney sequels have is that they’re so unnecessary. The original Disney films often offer a complete story with no need for a continuation, unless Disney wants to finally take a look at what happens after the Happily Ever After. The sequels are there to sell a brand, to make money, they’re often cheap, inconsequential and poorly thought out. I’m not saying that the King of Thieves doesn’t have elements of that in it, but it feels like its trying. It’s trying to continue the story. It’s trying to find a new angle with these characters and progress them. It’s trying to have a point. That’s why I like this film, that and the return of Genie, plus a giant turtle with a city on its back.

So what’s the story? Aladdin and Jasmine are finally getting married (see, not all Disney princesses get married to a guy after 3 days. There’s a sequel and a whole TV series between this movie and the first one). Everyone’s excited and the Genie going into overload. Ok, let’s talk about Robin Williams. I love the guy, he was a huge part of my childhood and always brought so much fun to his performances, and his role as Genie in the original Aladdin was my introduction to him. It’s also fantastic that Disney managed to get him back for this film. Is the Genie a bit much in this film? Yeah, kinda. It’s as if he’s trying to break the world record for pop culture references in a single movie there’s that many crammed in. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hilarious seeing just how many he can get through and there isn’t a moment of his screen time that isn’t fun, but I can understand if it’s just too much for some people.

Anyway, back to the plot. As per narrative convention the wedding doesn’t go according to plan. The Forty Thieves decide to crash the party, with the King of Thieves out to steal a sceptre that holds a mystical Oracle. Can I just say how much I love this film for expanding the mythos of the Aladdin universe? Yeah I know there was a TV series, but I never got to see that over here in the UK. We’ve got oracles, giant turtles and a magic hand that turns whatever it touches to gold. There’s some great concepts here and it adds to the magic and the wonder of the world. It’s effort people. Actual effort!

Back to the plot, again (sorry I keep getting sidetracked, probably because the plot is actually pretty straight forward), after fending off the Forty Thieves, the oracle I mentioned happens to let slip that the King of Thieves is Aladdin’s dad. I can only assume it does this for its jollies as the way the oracle is supposed to work is that you get to ask one question and you get an answer. Now no one outright asks the Oracle about Aladdin’s dad, and it clearly doesn’t count as a question because the Oracle let’s Aladdin ask a question later on. The only reason the Oracle has to give up this information is to get the plotting moving. Now Aladdin can finally get some answers about his past and just maybe turn his dad to the good side.

However much the Genie takes over scenes in this film, it does really belong to Aladdin. We have actual character progression and in a logical and natural way. Gone is the cocky little orphan who couldn’t admit the truth to the woman he loves, now he’s replaced by a capable and responsible young man who will always do what he feels is right. While at the beginning of the film he questions whether he has what it takes to start a family, after all he has no experience with such a thing, but by the end he’s proved that he’s going to be just fine.

The effort isn’t just in the story though. There are two aspects that are very important to a Disney film, the animation and the songs. Of course this is a direct-to-video film so the budget is tiny, but King of Thieves actually manages some pretty impressive bits of animation. Aladdin’s duel with Sa’luk is pretty brutal with some nice direction and use of colour. When Aladdin gets his arm cut, you feel it, of course this is Disney so there’s no blood and he’s fine a minute later. My favourite bit of animation has to be towards the end as Aladdin and his father approach the Hand of Midas. There’s a huge sweeping shot of the room that just gives you this sense of awe, and while the Hand itself turns out to be little more than a cool way for our villain to die, that scene makes sure there’s some wonder around this object.

As for the songs, there’s none that can replace the songs from the original Aladdin, but I don’t think a single one of them is really bad. They’re all fun and have this toe-tapping energy to them. You won’t be singing them, but you might catch yourself humming them once in a while. Also I love a villain song, so it’s great to have two in this film.

In the end, Aladdin and the King of Thieves is by no means a necessary watch, but it does feel like a worthwhile continuation of the original film, trying to explore a couple of different aspects and expand the world. Is it perfect? No. There are a few cheap moments in the animation, the story doesn’t really have any surprises to give and Jasmine is practically non-existent throughout most of the film, but there are good ideas, the songs are fun and there are times when the animation actually tries. This will never be a classic, but that doesn’t stop it being an enjoyable adventure.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday. 

Top 10 Favourite Disney Films

Disney Top 10 Title Card

Ah, Disney. There are so many things to make fun of. From the princess stereotype that you helped to engrave on the public consciousness. The formula for the ‘perfect’ kid’s film that you created, and you and your copycats appear content to inflict upon us until the end of time itself. The fact that source material is clearly something you glance through once, then lose down the back of the sofa. And yet, you own most of our childhoods, and therefore own our very souls.

There is a lot I can rip into Disney for, but none of that will ever abate my love for them. Disney is one of the most well-known and long-running animation studios in history. They are pioneers of the animation medium. They have had a huge influence on not only cinema, but on popular culture too. When you think of snow white, or the little mermaid, its Disney’s version you think of first, isn’t it? More than that though, Disney was my introduction to animation. They are masters of the art form, and there are so many times watching their films when all of a sudden I’m that little kid again, sat on the carpet in front of the TV, utterly captivated by the dancing images in front of me.

In celebration of Disney’s continued presence in my life, the Infallible Fish (which is I) present my Top 10 Favourite Disney Films. Now, a few rules. First, I’m picking these ten films from the Disney canon, the approved list of Disney’s best animated features (wait, why is Black Cauldron in here? I thought Disney agreed no one was ever allowed to mention that pile of pig’s manure ever again? Hold on, Dinosaur is in here too? You know I’m beginning to think this is less an approved list and more a marketing gimmick. Nah, that doesn’t sound like Disney at all). Second, this is a list of my FAVOURITE Disney films. This is not a ‘Best of’ list, it’s a list of the films I enjoy watching the most. My heart rules here, not my head. Anyway, enough stalling, on with the list!

  1. Sleeping Beauty

I would argue that this is one of the most beautiful Disney films in existence. It breaks from the usual Disney house style and instead goes for a style similar to the concept art of Mary Blair. The backgrounds are some of the most gorgeous I have ever seen. This film is art. Yes, our two leads are as boring as cardboard, but this was back in the old days of Disney when the leads were the least important characters. The villain and the comedy sidekicks are clearly more worthy of attention, and my god those characters are glorious. The three good fairies are brilliant in every single scene, both good natured and hilarious. Then there’s our villain, Maleficent, the greatest of all the Disney villains (I don’t care what kind of propaganda film you’ve seen, she’s pure evil and that’s that). The scene where she gloats to the Prince while showing him what his future holds is a stunningly twisted scene that just oozes evil.

  1. Mulan

Ok, I have to be honest here. I do love Mulan (the film), but not so much Mulan (the character). Don’t get me wrong, she’s a good character, and a great progressive female lead for Disney, but she wasn’t that interesting for me. She’s kind of, well… bland. I think this is mostly because her personality is kind of generic, and she generally plays the straight man (you know what I mean) to everyone else. Luckily she makes up for any flaws by being a total badass. And I do love everybody else in the film. The guys in the army are hilarious and I could happily spend 90 minutes in their company. The action scenes are great, especially in the finale. I adore Mulan’s fight with Shan Yu. I also like the little touch of how the smoke curls like it does in Chinese paintings. Then there’s Shan Yu. I know he’s not the greatest villain. He’s not the gleefully evil villain we’re used to. He’s doesn’t have the charm of the best villains. But this guy is a threat, he is a wall for Mulan to climb, and as that he is perfect. Every time he’s on screen you feel like it’ll take a bazooka to just slow him down (and it kind of does).

  1. Pinocchio

Who says Disney can’t do dark films? This film is utterly terrifying. Not only does this film have more villains than therapy sessions you’ll need after watching it, but none of them ever get any comeuppance. Evil people doing evil things, and getting away with it? Now that’s scary. This film is also a marvel of animation, from Geppetto’s workshop to the sea floor, each frame is crammed full of detail and movement. And it’s a very mature story, about a boy learning to choose between right and wrong, and not in the usual fluffy Disney way we’ve come to expect. Pinocchio isn’t a goody two-shoes. He makes mistakes, gets seduced by the lure of an easy life, you know, like an actual kid would! Disney writing a child character like he’s a normal, fallible person? What black magic is this?

  1. The Jungle Book

The nostalgia is strong with this one. The memories are a bit hazy, but it’s either this or Bambi that was the first Disney film I ever saw (And I’ll tell you now that Bambi ain’t on this list so you can guess which one had the biggest impact on me). I love this film. I regard the characters as old friends who occasionally pop in on me. I can still hum all the songs when the mood takes me (it is an agreement with my neighbours that if I try to ‘sing’ again, they will shoot me). Yeah the story isn’t the most action-packed. Yeah the animation is a little scratchy, and not the prettiest. But this film is just so funny, and charming, that it carries me away every time. I should probably comment on the fact that some people think the monkeys are racist. Honestly, I don’t see it, and never have. Not once in all the times I’ve watched this film have I ever thought the monkeys were a representation of, well, anyone. They were just funny monkeys who knew how to really ‘swing’ (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

  1. Tangled

This was the film that brought me back to Disney. I left somewhere around about Treasure Planet, Disney had lost its steam and I was under the mistaken impression that Disney wasn’t cool (I can only claim that I was a misguided youth at the time and throw myself upon the mercy of our mouse-eared overlord). Tangled won be back though. I’d heard some good reviews, and when I saw it staring at me from a shelf in HMV, I thought to myself “Eh, we’ll give a go”. 90 minutes later and I was in love. Firstly, this is a gorgeous film, the textures, the colours. I’d say, in terms of CGI animation, this is just as good as any Pixar film (Yes, you heard me!). The side-characters are hilarious. The villain is creepy and manipulative. The leads are full of personality, managing to run the full range from funny to sympathetic. I even like the songs and will happily sing along to them (as long as I’ve checked my neighbours our out first). I know this isn’t the greatest film, or ground-breaking in any way, but I adore this film. It’s just a brilliant ride from beginning to end.

  1. Lilo and Stitch

Oh God. The tears. They just won’t stop. Honestly, there isn’t a Disney film that makes me cry like a baby more than Lilo and Stitch. There are so many scenes that are just heart-breaking. The characters in this film feel like actual living, breathing people. They’re not perfect, they’re a little bit broken, and they have a lot to learn. Our two leads are just fantastic. Lilo is just a bundle of crazy wrapped in insanity. You can see she is severely damaged inside, struggling to cope with the loss of her parents, and honestly I don’t think there’s a better representation of the effects of loss on a child outside of Land Before Time. Then there’s Stitch. He starts off as just a destructive monster, but as he starts to look for more meaning in his life, and realises just what he’s missing, you can’t help but feel sorry for the little guy. That scene where he takes the copy of the Ugly Duckling and goes out to sit in the woods, waiting for his family to show…dammit the tears are back! Honestly the other aliens are the weakest part of this film. They have nice designs and all, but none of them have the depth or heart of our human characters. All in all, if you’ll allow me to borrow from Stitch a little bit, this film is small and broken, but still good. Yeah. Still good.

  1. Wreck-It Ralph

In all honesty, I’m not much a gamer these days. What with writing, anime, books, and my job (in that order of priority), I’m fairly busy most days. So, yeah, I admit it, games have kind of fallen by the wayside a little bit. Thankfully Wreck-It Ralph isn’t just a great video game film, it’s a great film. Period. I love all of the characters. They are all great, funny and loveable in equal measure, with the perfect voice cast for all of them. Even what are supposed to be the comedy sidekicks feel like they have a little more depth and personality than normal. I really care about all of these guys and want to see them all make it to the finish line happy. Speaking of happy, that brings me to the scene. The scene that made me realise I love this film. It’s the scene where Ralph has to stop Vanelloppe from racing, and so has to smash up the cart they built together. I know, it sounds terribly cliché, but words cannot do it justice, you just have to watch the film to understand it. It feels so emotional, and Sarah Silverman’s performance is so pitch perfect it’s disturbing. It literally made me sit up and take notice. I love Wreck-It Ralph down to its very last pixel.

  1. Hunchback of Notre Dame

There is no doubt that this was a daring undertaking for Disney, and not all of it pays off. I give Disney credit for having the balls to take this film on, but in its misguided attempts to keep this film ‘kid-friendly’, they created a horrible monster. The Gargoyles (the one time I wish the comic relief had been left out of Disney). And really, they’re the only glaring flaw with this movie. Well there are a couple of little ones, but I don’t mind them. The rest of the film is wonderful. It has so many great characters. Quasimodo, a leading man who doesn’t get the girl, but wins our hearts. Esmeralda, one of (if not the) best female leads in a Disney film. It features some of my favourite songs in ‘The Bells of Notre Dame’ and ‘Hellfire’. Speaking of Hellfire, that brings us to the second best Disney villain of all time, Frollo. He is such a rarity among Disney villains, he’s a complex villain. Disney mostly operates on an evil is evil morality, never really looking into why our villains do what they do outside of basic motives, but with Frollo we actually get a look into his mind. He believes that he is a hero, that what he is doing is right, and will rationalise any evil act away. If it wasn’t for the supreme evil that is Maleficent, then Frollo would be my favourite villain.

  1. Aladdin

Arabian nights, Las Vegas style! All the pop culture references, the celebrity voices, this is DreamWorks before DreamWorks. Yet it still manages to hold on to its heart and make you care about all the characters. Our lead couple are one of the best couples in Disney. You feel the chemistry between them, and they play off of one another wonderfully. Aladdin and Abu are both funny and sweet all at the same time. Jasmine is smart and quick on the uptake, always managing to figure out what Aladdin’s up to and play along. Then there’s Genie. I don’t care how many people try to copy the Genie; they’ll never be as good as the original. Because the late, great Robin Williams wasn’t just there for comedy, he filled the Genie with so much warmth and emotion. You really do want to see him set free at the end, and it’s so satisfying when he is. The Genie is a master class in how to pull off the comedy sidekick. Also, on the character front, how they managed to get so much emotion out of a carpet I’ll never know. This film might have a lot of glitz and glamour to it, and some great animation and songs, but it’s the characters that make it worth watching again and again.

  1. Lion King

Do I even need to explain this one? You’ve all seen it. You know the characters, the songs. Everything about this is great. I’d go so far as to call it a perfect film. The animation is gorgeous, capturing the wild beauty of Africa. The songs are some of the best Disney has ever released. The characters are so memorable and loveable. I still believe the stampede scene is one of the greatest moments in animation history. The way it builds from Simba noticing the pebbles starting to shake all the way through to Mufasa’s tragic death. It’s exciting, dramatic, hopeful and then tragic all in one go, with some of the best animation and musical backing I have ever witnessed. For those five minutes the stars align and everything is perfect. Even to this day I still get goosebumps watching it. And Mufasa’s death has to be the hardest hitting in all of cinema, by that point in the film we’ve come to love the big guy, and when he passes it feels like a genuine loss. Then things get even worse as Scar digs the emotional knife into Simba and sets the Hyenas on him. Honestly there is not a single frame I would change with this movie. What else can I say? This is the king.

The Infallible Fish Reviews: The Little Mermaid

Blog Little Mermaid Review Title

The Little Mermaid. The film that ushered in the Disney Renaissance. Comparing this film to its immediate predecessors on animation alone is like comparing a diamond to a lump of coal. Oh Disney films have always been gorgeous, but the Little Mermaid is such a leap in quality from the films previous to it, that it’s like a different company made it. Add in the songs and the cultural impact of this film, and there is no other word for this film other than iconic.

And…I’ve never seen it until recently. Yeah. Despite my love for animation, the Little Mermaid has always scared me off. When I was little it looked too girly for me. Though looking back this was the same kid who loved Cardcaptor Sakura, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Sailor Moon, so I have to question the definition of ‘too girly’ (Perhaps if Ariel had some kind of magical power and battled a monster of the week I would have flocked to it). Then in later years it was the film’s lead and unfortunate subtext that scared me off. See, I consider myself a feminist and I have been afraid for so long that I would hate Ariel.

In actuality though, I like Ariel, a lot. She is such an improvement on the past princesses. She’s not a plot point, or a prize. She’s an actual character. She’s curious. She’s headstrong. She’s sometimes petulant. She’s an ordinary teenage girl (just with added fins and gills). I do have to give credit to Disney, they normally struggle with writing ‘normal’ kids, yet that’s exactly how Ariel comes across.

Some people do argue that Ariel is anti-feminist, which I don’t buy. Compare Ariel to her predecessors, Snow White, Cinderella and the like. Now which character is a better role model for young girls? Which character actively goes out to seek what she desires, rather than sit around and wait for rescue? Which character is a treasure hunter? Ariel is hardly a feminist icon, but that doesn’t make her an anti-feminist character. It is a huge shame that as the film goes on Ariel does become more passive. I’d love for the Ariel from the start of the film to tackle Ursula, rather than the damsel Ariel that we’re left with, but baby steps people (the likes of Frozen and Tangled where still a long way off for Disney when this was made).

Ok, so I like the lead, but what about the actual film, which I have to admit does have issues. I’m sure everyone knows the story. Ariel loves the human world, hoarding whatever treasures float down from the surface, longing to see the land with her own eyes. Then one day she saves a young prince and falls in love. This leads her to make a deal with the sea witch Ursula, to gain legs and find her prince for the price of her voice. From there Ariel tries to win her prince’s heart, but Ursula isn’t about to play fair. She seduces the princes with Ariel’s voice, until the deadline passes and Ariel belongs to Ursula. Ariel’s father gives himself over to Ursula in her place though. Ursula grows huge. Prince Eric (the badass that he is) stabs Ursula with a ship, she dies. Ariel gets to keep her legs permanently and marries her prince.

Sounds like your typical Disney plot right? So what’s the problem? Well for one, Ariel is in no way punished for her mistakes. She mopes about for a bit, then gets exactly what she wants despite the fact that she handed the entire underwater kingdom over to a maniac and got her dad turned into a…whatever the hell those horrid wriggling things are. There are no consequences to her actions, and that’s not the best message to send out to kids.

That is really this film’s greatest problem, subtext. The whole deal with Ursula does rankle a lot of people, and I can understand why. It carries the unfortunate subtext of “mouth shut, legs open”, as I’ve heard it put. Now I’m pretty certain that wasn’t the author’s intent, but that’s always the big question with any form of art. How much weight do you put in the original intent of the work, versus what you get out of it? Obviously the message you take from a piece of art is incredibly important, that’s your opinion, and what resonates with you the most. On the other hand, you can’t go accusing the creators of misogyny if that wasn’t the intent. Obviously the subtext is unfortunate, and kind of awkward, but as it wasn’t the intent I think I can forgive it. My rational being that the “mouth shut, legs open” thing is obviously Ursula’s opinion on the matter, and as she is the villain, that opinion is clearly wrong. I think the film could definitely do more to hammer home the point that Ursula is wrong. It also brings me back to that lack of consequences. Some could argue that since Ariel isn’t punished for her mistakes and gets what she wants in the end, that it justifies that way of thinking. Yeah, that’s bad, and someone really should have caught that during the script editing process. Like I said, I can look past this as I don’t believe it was the intent of the work, but I can understand if other people can’t.

I don’t really know what else to say. You all know the songs, and they’re great. I have to say “Part of Your World” has to be my favourite. The scene where it’s sung is just perfect. The animation hits another level. Just the way Ariel’s hair moves is fantastic, you actually believe you’re watching someone underwater. I have never seen a segment of animation so beautiful, it outshines animation I see nowadays. Jodi Benson’s performance is mesmerising. The lyrics are spot on. This is an emotional gut punch of a song, and it left me knocked flat.

The rest of the cast are all fun and memorable. They fulfil their roles nicely. Sebastian has to be my favourite side-character, and he actually has his own arc! Going from stuffy conductor, to Ariel’s loyal friend. Ursula is a fantastic villain, terrifying but also incredibly fun to watch.

All in all, yeah this isn’t a perfect film. I’m sure some people will hate this film, and if you feel that way you are perfectly entitled to that opinion. Me on the other hand, there’s enough goodness here for me to forgive this film. I just can’t believe I didn’t dive down for this little pearl sooner.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.