Tag Archives: Disney

Zootopia/Zootropolis (2016) Movie Review

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-16-43-24

Last year, around the time this film was on in cinema, life was pretty busy.  So I had to choose between this and Captain America 3: Civil War.  Today I have no regrets on that decision (it was IMAX) – but it doesn’t mean I didn’t want to see this film.  Fast forward nearly a year, this film, which made over a billion dollars at the box office without my contribution, became available to yours truly…What can I say?

First of all…what is the story?  Well our film’s star is a little European Rabbit by the name of Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, aka Snow White in ABC’s Once Upon A Time).  Judy comes from a family of Rabbits who run a farm in a land called Bunnyburrow, and ever since she was a kid, she wanted to be a Cop.  14 years (in Bunny years, which is about 2 years to us) after realising her dream, she packs up and leaves home for Zootropolis/Zootopia, where she trains to become the first ever Bunny Cop in a career field dominated by large predators and large herbivores.  Her early days on the job were anything but the dream, which included her being outsmarted by a Hustling Fox named Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman) and doing parking duty.  However her life completely changes, when she’s finally given the opportunity to look for a missing animal…an Otter, who was last seen by a Hustling Fox.

Now to discuss what they were feeding the zoo animals on screen:

The CGI and Graphics everything you expect from a big budget Disney film.  The animation was amazing, but oddly enough, it felt like a small step down…I have this feeling that I’ve seen it done better before, which is why I’m not suggesting perfection in this part.

The Art Style is very creative and beautiful to look at – taking the overall design style from recent 3D Disney movies (Tangled and Frozen) and applying them to animal character designs.  On top of this, there is much variety in the visuals, in particular the presentation of different City districts within Zootopia, ranging from the Rainforest district to the Arctic to the Desert and so on (as a way to show that animals are more comfortable in certain parts of the city.  Though they can go into other areas as well).  It’s all beautiful to look at, and in its own way, makes you want to travel more.

The Voice Acting has some great choices, with each one suiting their character designs brilliantly, while at the same time, being the occasional surprise.  Ginnifer Goodwin as Judy and Jason Bateman as Nick were perfect.  Idris Elba played Bogo the African Buffalo, aka the Police chief, Tommy Chong played Yax the domestic Yak (who, like Chong, is probably into herbal refreshments), J.K. Simmons as Mayor Lionheart the Lion, Alan Tudyk as Duke Weaselton the Weasel, pop star Shakira as Gazelle the singing Thomson’s Gazelle, and my favourite 1, Maurice LeMarche as Mr Big, the most fearsome crime boss in Tundratown (LeMarche also voiced a similar cartoon character in build, but not in voice…as The Brain from Pinky and The Brain…there was possibly an inside joker there).

When it comes to the roles that each animal is given, Zootopia is excellent, particularly in its presentation of both stereotypes and anti-stereotypes.  One thing that strikes me about Judy Hopps is how much of an inspiration they’ve made her – especially when it comes to how she approaches her dreams, as well as the work that’s given to her.  As the first rabbit to qualify as a Cop, she wants everyone to make sure they know she belongs there, and tries her best not to budge.  When her first job as a Cop is parking duty, she decides to use it as an opportunity to prove herself (“If I’m expected to do 100 parking tickets today – I’ll aim to do 200 by noon” is her attitude), and it’s oddly enough, setting a great real-life example.  Is she flawed?  Of course!  She had a childhood experience involving a Fox, which taints her view on Nick at the beginning.  At the same time, she’s a country girl in the big city and is bound to be more than a little naive about folk.  And as the film progresses, you begin to realise that looks and character don’t mean the same thing.

The Story is a ombination of different genres all working together in harmony.  The 2 main plots include a main character who is chasing after a dream by moving to the big city (basically Coyote Ugly if you’re old enough to remember that film…or Mulholland Drive if you’re a sick and twisted little puppy who drinks black coffee), and a Mystery story where animals are going missing and it’s up to Judy (and Nick) to find them, and find out who was behind their disappearances.  What Zootopia tries to do is tell its audience to not judge by appearances. As a Fox, Nick is often stereotyped as sneaky and selfish, when in reality, he became the stereotype when others told him he was born for the role and traumatised him for it.  Without going straight to the source, or saying their names, Zootopia also covers a lot of themes within social commentary.  It addresses the fact that Zootopia is made up of 90% Herbivores and 10% Predators.  Within the story it addresses that there was a time when Predators killed herbivores, but also that it’s something that isn’t practised anymore due to Predators evolving to only eat fish, bugs, cereal and fruit (seriously, this is all over the place).  Some could argue that this reflects the modern world, as technology becomes more widely available, healthcare gets better, the Internet makes even a TV show on a small Island have a worldwide audience, cultures and religions become both exposed to each other and either given their place or embraced or tolerated or all the above.  Others could argue that Zootopia is a metaphor for a major city with a large and highly diverse group of people, whether it be New York, Toronto, London or Paris to name a few.  That it’s about co-existence and working together, no matter the background.

The Music is excellent, and very suitable for the film.  It includes a song by Shakira called Try Everything, which is a genuinely lovely little pop song that suits the movie down to the ground in both tone and lyrical content.  Judy fails many times while on the job – but it’s still what she wants to do, and the song reflects that.  The rest of the soundtrack is an eclectic collection of scores (ranging from sad piano to exciting tampuras to upbeat african drums), reflecting each scenario while providing tunes that may be in 4/4, but give the illusion of different tune signatures.

Would I recommend Zootopia?  Yes.  It’s a very good, encouraging and uplifting film.  Perfect for any mood, whether you’re up or down.

CGI/Graphics: ****3/4

Art Style: *****

Voice Acting: *****

Characters: *****

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****1/2

Overall: ****3/4

Frozen (2013) Movie Review

Screen Shot 2015-05-30 at 20.59.33

As weird as it might sound coming from me, I had planned to watch and review this film last Christmas, but choosing to watch RED 2 instead ended up putting this on hold…until now.  So what can be said about the film that seems to be up there with Despicable Me, Marvel Superheroes and Dr Who as ways to keep the kids quiet while the adults enjoy all of the other jokes they missed?

Frozen is a 3-D Disney animated film about 2 sisters, Anna and her older sister Elsa, who happen to be princesses of Arendelle.  Unlike her younger sister, Elsa possesses an unusual gift, a power to create snow and ice.  But when some fun and games involving her power make her afraid of it, and then their parents die (It’s Disney), she decides that the best thing to do is ostracise herself from everyone, including Anna, leading to a lonely and wasted childhood.  When the day came for Elsa to be Queen, her fears come true, and in the process she chose to run into the mountains to get away from everybody…unaware that she has accidentally turned summer into a winter that was getting colder by the day.  In an attempt to bring summer back, Anna, with the help of Kristoff, his reindeer Sven, and a magical snowman named Olaf, travels to the North Mountain to find Elsa.

I’ll get the good out of the way first; the animation in Frozen is truly amazing, and the ice effects really do have a wow factor to them.  I also consider how well animated some of the characters are (more so than others). The music is very good, and in a way there’s a thankfulness within it, as individual tunes have officially entered popular culture in a way that hasn’t been seen in many years (in other words, we remember the songs as well as the story, but for years we remembered the story but not the songs).  Let It Go has been punned ever since, and Do You Want To Build A Snowman on a snowy winters day might sound odd from a 20-something, but trust me, it works.  The voice acting is also quite perfect in casting choices and how they match with their designs.

What really made Frozen stand out as a film was the themes it chose to cover, and even broke some cliches that Disney themselves had both invented and stuck to since Walt himself was walking the earth.  Much like the memorable line from Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility”, Frozen’s themes of fear and love are approached in a similar manner, and even go as far as being of biblical proportions without reference (There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love – 1 John 4:18).  Elsa’s power is beautiful and perfect when she’s fearless.  But when she is afraid of it, and afraid of hurting others, and shuts out everybody in fear of hurting them, that is when her power becomes incredibly destructive.  It is also a metaphor of a person’s worth.  That nobody is worthless, and can affect a lot of people around them.  Along with the presentation of these themes came something new to Disney…It takes a concept that was in the likes of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, and quite literally relieves itself all over them…”Love at first sight”, “Prince Charming”, “A kiss being the sign of loving somebody”, “Mr Right appearing in 1s life out of nowhere and instantly falling in love with them”, things like that.  Movie-lovers, Movie-Critics and Movie-makers have been joking about this for a long time now.  But it’s good to finally see it addressed by those who practically invented the cliche.  I’m not going to spoil it, but it really makes a excellent point.

Is there anything bad about Frozen?  I wouldn’t say bad, but I would say that’s it’s just okay.  Is Frozen a fantastic film?  No.  Within the context of its popularity, it’s overrated.  And the reason for this is its 2 major flaws…While it covers a variety of important and human themes, and addresses them in such a way that it’s inspirational to anybody.  The truth is…The story is primitive and average, and even though it has memorable characters (or lets say, memorable Character Designs), there wasn’t a lot of character development outside of Anna (Who is easily the best character, despite young girls really wanting an Elsa doll for Christmas).  I’m aware that it was simple enough for a 3 year old to understand the story and both  amusing and surprisingly intelligent enough for their parents to not fall asleep.  But it really lacked the depth and even the thrill and challenge that other Disney movies have created (Toy Story and Aladdin?).  Also, regardless of his cute, friendly and non-threatening appearance and role as comic relief, Olaf The Snowman did little for me (Sorry folks).

Would I recommend Frozen?  Yes.  It’s good and it’s harmless fun, with an excellent message about what love can be, and what love definitely isn’t.  As well as the importance of fearlessness in 1’s life (within common sense of course).  I can understand the appeal that it has, especially with little girls.  But there are Disney movies out there have been executed better in terms of its development of story and characters.  Would I be open to a sequel?  Oddly enough, yes…Yes because you really need to develop those character beyond that…and hopefully provide a stronger story…Just don’t pull a Return Of Jafar *shudders*.

Animation: *****

Art Design: *****

Themes: *****

Voice Acting: *****

Story: **1/2

Characters: *** (****1/4 for Anna)

Music: ****1/2

Overall: ****1/4 (out of 5)

Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix Video Game Review

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 20.44.01

2.5, like 1.5, is an HD upgrade/remake of a trilogy within the storied world of Kingdom Hearts, and released for Christmas in 2014.  This time our menu consists of a director’s cut version of the PS2 game Kingdom Hearts 2 (known as The Final Mix, released only in Japan until now), An HD enhancement of the PSP game Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, and lastly, like 358/2 days in 1.5, an HD Movie containing the highlights of a Nintendo DS game called Kingdom Hearts re:Coded.  Which originated as a game on mobile phones, but then was released more commercially on the Nintendo DS.  So, like last time, it’s more or less 3 reviews with comparisons, so lets get right at it.

KINGDOM HEARTS 2: THE FINAL MIX

Kingdom Hearts 2 takes place where 358/2 days ends, and to the surprise of those who played Kingdom Hearts 1 and then went into Chain Of Memories or 2, we’re playing as Roxas.  Back in 2005/6, I don’t think anybody had a clue as to what was going on.  358/2 days didn’t come out until 2009, and as far as I know, there wasn’t even a manga in Japan to fill in the gaps.  To go from the ending in KH 1 or even Chain Of Memories, to this, was incredibly confusing at the time.  We all scratched our heads; “Who’s this kid?  Who’s Axel?  Why are we following this group of kids we know nothing about?  Where the hell is Sora?”  Pre-358/2 days, it was 1 of the most confusing sequel transitions ever made, and only the opening video to the game seemed to give some indication as to what was going on – primarily “Square have a lot of explaining to do”.  When we finally do start playing as Sora, Donald and Goofy again, this was where it became my favourite game in the franchise (and with the help of Chain Of Memories and 358/2 Days, the game’s prologue is actually much better than we realised).

Is the story as strong as Kingdom Hearts 1?  No, and it isn’t as focused either.  But despite this, Kingdom Hearts 2 took everything else that made ‘1 great and made it better.  The graphics remain the best in the series, and even pushing 10 years later they still look really nice! The game’s worlds are also among the best that I’ve come across.  Some worlds have returned (such as Agrabah, The Olympus Colosseum, Atlantica, Halloween Town (which featured Christmas Town this time!) and Hollow Bastion) and some new worlds appeared (or at least some were new until 358/2 days came out) such as Beast’s castle (Beauty & The Beast), The Pride Lands (The Lion King), The Land Of Dragons (Mulan) and this time Neverland (Peter Pan) has been replaced with Port Royal (Pirates Of The Caribbean) as the pirate-themed level.  There are others, but I think I’ll keep them a surprise.

Gameplay-wise, this is by far my favourite Kingdom Hearts game.  I just love playing it.  ‘Love it!  Everything works well and it all flows and responds beautifully!  I would give it 6-stars if I could, it’s simply a masterpiece in this area.

The music is great, and some tracks are downright adorable.  The themes to Twilight Town (returning from Chain Of Memories and 358/2 Days) remain some of the most nostalgic that I have ever heard.

I have friends and know of people who will call Kingdom Hearts 1 the superior game, and certainly within the context of story, introduction, and being such an amazing creation for its time, I can agree.  Kingdom Hearts 2 does require the other games in order to make sense, and because of this, some would say it’s not perfect.  But within the context of, lets say Assassin’s Creed 2 (a game that technically requires the others) It’s at least very close to perfection.  It doesn’t work as well as a standalone game, but as a game to simply play, it’s a truly wonderful experience.  It falls into the same category as Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  It requires its prequels to be understood, but in terms of what went into it, it’s a superior product.  You need the others for the character development and see where they came from, and unlike the others, Kingdom Hearts 2 features much more fleshed out characters and the humour is much, much better as well.  Sora, Donald & Goofy are a lot more like friends in this than before.

Anything else?  Yes, if you’re a Final Fantasy fan, this game has even more of their characters than before.  You might also notice that Squall (Leon) and Cloud have changed since last time, with Cloud’s character design being changed from his exclusive Kingdom Hearts appearance to that of the film Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children (Which came out several months before this game, and a movie that made fans ask Square Enix “So when will Final Fantasy 7 be remade to look like this?”), they justify this by saying Cloud is full of darkness…kind of like Riku…and there was also a long passage of time took place between 1 and 2.  So, there you go. Is there anything I don’t like about this game?  Probably the voice of Simba from The Lion King (It’s really bad!  & It’s not done by Matthew Broderick either).

BIRTH BY SLEEP

Birth By Sleep is effectively the Metal Gear Solid 3 of the Kingdom Hearts series.  It is well and truly the very first chapter of the series, and unlike the rest of the games, you get to play as 3 characters in 3 different stories that happen at the same time as each other, providing a variety of perspectives and justifications (Think of it as being like a game version of Blind Chance or Trilogy Of Terror…or if you’re a Simpsons fan, Trilogy Of Error, the 18th episode of season 12). Set about 5 years before Kingdom Hearts 1, our game stars 3 main protagonists; Terra (The Big and powerful 1), Ventus (The nimble 1) and Aqua (The Mage), who are all training to become Keyblade welders under their master, Eraqus (Voiced by Luke Skywalker and The animated Joker himself, Mark Hamill).  From the beginning, you can tell that our 3 characters have an aspect of deja vu to them. Terra struggles with the darkness inside him (much like Riku), Ventus is very friendly, rather naive, and looks a lot like Roxas, and Aqua sports a similar haircut to Kairi in KH1.  In the background, our main antagonist, Xehanort (voiced, bittersweetly, by the recently late Leonard Nimoy) has plans for all 3 (particularly Terra and Ventus), and sometimes is followed around by a man wearing the same outfit as Riku when he’s consumed by darkness (not the black cloak, the other 1).  And all 3 stories lead towards and beyond the secret ending of Kingdom Hearts 2, which I’m not going to spoil.

So how does Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep rate when compared to other games in the series?  Simple, Birth By Sleep is by far the 3rd best game in the series (after 1 and 2).  While the other spin-off games are important to the overall story, this 1 is superior to most of them in quality. So, graphics-wise.  It’s more or less the same as most others, and considering this was originally a PSP game, it looks incredibly well when upscaled and put onto the TV.  I guess the only complaint I might have, and this simply comes from it being originally on the PSP, is the lack of NPCs.  Kingdom Hearts 2 had plenty of NPCs to make rooms and areas look more alive and lived in.  But BBS doesn’t have this…which is fine, they did what they could.

The gameplay provides you with the ability to choose the skills your want to use in battle, and also the ability to mix them together to create new and more powerful attacks and spells (trust me when I say, it’s important to keep doing these science experiments, because the final bosses aren’t particularly easy…especially Terra’s final bosses.  You’ll need lots of good attacks and healing abilities).  The controls work very well, and the camera does feel a little odd, as your character looks quite big on screen and right in the middle.  It should also be noted that when your characters make friends, you can actually use a new skill set in battle based on each friend, and the more you use those skill sets in battle, the more they level up and more skills can be unlocked within them.

The worlds in Birth By Sleep are potentially hit and miss.  Each game has a “Classic Disney” world, usually either Traverse Town or Disney Castle, here it’s a new 1 called Disney Town filling the role (and it’s fine, you’re mostly there to play mini games).  Hollow Bastion (pre-fall), The Olympus Coliseum (Hercules), Neverland (Peter Pan) and Mysterious Tower (Fantasia?) all return from previous games, and the new worlds are primarily (but not entirely) belonging to Disney Princesses (who play a rather important role in Kingdom Hearts 1), so you get to explore The Castle Of Dreams (Cinderella), The Dwarf Woodlands (Snow White) and the Enchanted Dominion (Sleeping Beauty.  Since Malificent is a primary villain in the series, it had to be explored).  We’re also provided with Deep Space as a wild card (The World of Lilo and Stitch, since Stitch can fight alongside Sora…You might even say this game encouraged me to watch the movie).  Some levels are great fun, others are a bit on the bland side.  It depends on what you’re looking for.  It’s also a game that provides us with some new music to go with the new worlds, and Yoko Shimomura’s once again done a great job.

RE:CODED

For this, much like 358/2 days, I’ll be reviewing the Nintendo DS game, while also watching the HD movie to see if it’s worth playing both or choosing 1.

So…Story.  RE:Coded is set after the events of Kingdom Hearts 2 and just before the secret ending.  It involves Mickey Mouse trying to decode the information (or lack thereof) of Jiminy Cricket’s 2nd Journal (Jiminy Cricket, if you haven’t played the other games, follows Sora around and records everything that happens in his journal).  In trying to digitally mend the journal, he finds out that it’s full of bugs (glitches/computer virus/oh no, we’re going to lose all of our photographs and my half-finished Magnum Opus Novel) which prevent the diary from being read.  So, in order to cure the virus in the diary, Mickey creates a digital version of Sora (as he was in Kingdom Hearts 1, minus Hailey Joel Osmund’s unbroken voice at the time) who already has the ability to use the keyblade, to travel to different worlds in order to kill/defeat bugs and restore the diary, so that Jiminy will understand what the diary means when it says “Thank Namine”.

What’s bad about Re:Coded isn’t the graphics and animation (The primarily still-shot with written dialogue style of storytelling (similar to Persona 4 and other RPGS) looks great for the Nintendo DS and both the remastered cutscenes and new cutscenes with new voiceovers are very good on the PS3), but rather it’s very average story.  Because you’re revisiting some of the worlds from Kingdom Hearts 1 (and Chain Of Memories) again, there is a strong sense of Deja Vu, and there isn’t very much that’s new in terms of the worlds you visit or the characters you meet. However, that’s where similarities end.  What does change is the gameplay, with each level providing something different to the last.  Examples of this include Traverse Town having a 2D Beat Em Up Boss fight, Olympus Coliseum being a classic Role-Playing Game, Alice In Wonderland being a treasure-hunting Adventure Game (with a temple-run style boss fight), Agrabah being a hunting game/3D platformer of sorts, and Hollow Bastion being a live-action tactical RPG.  Although despite all of these variations, each 1 is quite primitive in itself, as the main focus in gameplay is still the Kingdom Hearts action RPG style…and in every world there are glitch boxes to be broken, and digital-dungeon worlds were you have to defeat glitched enemies to fix glitches in that world, like doorways being blocked. The level-up system in RE:Coded is like a circuit board, and in order to get anywhere in the game, you have to fill it up with Strength +1 chips, level-up chips, and so on.  When circuits connect, powers become twice as strong, and new abilities can become unlocked.  It’s actually 1 of the nicest ways to customise Sora in the series.

Nearly everything else is more or less as good as most other Kingdom Hearts games, including Yoko Shimomura’s music (which remains great), the characters (even if the story doesn’t really do much for them), and even though some of the voice actors are different in the HD version (Genie is definitely a different voice actor), they’re still well done.  It can also be noted that Re:Coded is probably the shortest Kingdom Hearts game by many hours (a rushed play through can take about 11-12 hours).

So, would I recommend the HD movie or the Nintendo DS game or both?  In truth, they’re different, but about the same in their respective qualities.  They both suffer from the same problem, which is the story.  What you already know about the characters doesn’t really get added upon, and came across more like an episode of a Disney TV Show that’s based on a popular Disney movie (much like how Aladdin and Little Mermaid had their own shows back in the ’90s).  What do I mean?  Well, it’s like saying “Here are some well developed characters, lets put them in this basic, gentle story so that people will get more of the characters”.  It can also be noted that dialogue-wise this 1 is among the corniest instalments in the series, but it also conveys quite a nice message about the pain of forgetting memories and friends.  The gameplay is unique in its constant changing and variations, but at times, you will hate the camera, and hate the enemies known as “Danger Bloxs”.  When comparing how well the story translates from a long game into a 2-3 hour movie, the ReCoded HD Movie actually did a better job than the 358/2 Days movie did for its respective game, even though ReCoded isn’t as good, or as original, as 358/2 Days.  I’d say that you might play the Nintendo DS version once, but the experience and story isn’t good enough for it to be the top choice between the 2.  Once the DS game is finished, you will probably prefer to watch the HD movie from then on in any marathon playthroughs later in life…for a very obvious reason being the secret endings.  The HD Movie version not only provides the secret ending in the DS version without the work that goes into it, but it also provides a second ending that isn’t available anywhere else…a very good reason to choose it if you ask me.

Would I recommend Kingdom Hearts 2.5?  Yes!  Especially if you’ve played 1.5 and have a PS3.  Due to the quality of both Kingdom Hearts 2 and Birth By Sleep, as well as the fact that reCoded was well captured in the HD Movie, it is an excellent buy, and also a better overall trilogy than 1.5.

KINGDOM HEARTS 2: THE FINAL MIX

Overall rating: ****3/4 (As a standalone, but ***** within context)

KINGDOM HEARTS: BIRTH BY SLEEP

Overall Rating: ****1/4

KINGDOM HEARTS: RE:CODED (NINTENDO DS) ***

KINGDOM HEARTS: RECODED (HD MOVIE) ***1/4

OVERALL RATING: ****

Big Hero 6 (2014) Movie Review

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 20.14.15

As some of you out there know, Marvel is owned by Disney, and Disney is owned by Japan, so what better way to express this information to the world by creating an animated film that lets us know about it (rather subtly)?

Big Hero 6 is a superhero film featuring characters from a Comic book of the same name (Marvel-aspect), done in the same (or similar) 3-D Style animation as the likes of Tangled and Frozen (Disney-aspect) and has a Hero named Hiro, whose last name is Hamada and his hometown ends with Okyo (Japanese aspect).  Set in the fantastically original and incredibly well-made futuristic city of San Fransokyo (combining San Francisco with Tokyo), Hiro Hamada is a 14 year old boy with an incredible talent in the area of robotic engineering.  But rather than using his talent to better the lives of others, he is more interested in being a hustler at illegal underground robot fight clubs, where he presents himself as some kid trying to hang with the big boys, before destroying them with his unassuming creations and taking home a lot of money.  His older brother Tadashi, a university engineering student, rescues him from the beating he was about to receive, but they still get arrested by the cops.  After being bailed out by their Aunt (letting us know what happened to Mum and Dad), Hiro decides to go out to another Fight Club, but not before Tadashi decides to take him to his university, where Hiro is introduced to Tadashi’s friends; Fred, Gogo, Wasabi and Honey Lemon (all fellow students, and later, Marvel Superheroes).  There, Tadashi also introduces Hiro to his science project, Baymax, a large, Marshmallow-man-looking robot with a titanium skeleton that can inflate and deflate itself.  Baymax is a medical assistant who simply wants to help people, and because he’s a robot, he isn’t programmed to fully understand humanity (in terms of figure of speech and humour).  Hiro is then invited to take part in a Dragon’s Den style competition by Tadashi’s lecturer, the great inventor Robert Callahan, to show him something new and possibly receive a scholarship.  Hiro then does this by creating something brilliant, and receiving his scholarship, while also being offered a big financial purchase from Allistar Krei (voiced by Wash from Firefly, Alan Tudyk).  After declining the offer and choosing the scholarship (and then leaving to celebrate a little), the university catches fire, which then leads to the film’s events that follow, and the development of some interesting relationships).

If you’re a die-hard Big Hero 6 Comic fan who wanted a film that was accurate and did it justice, there’s the slight possibility that you might get down on your knees, punch the ground and cry out “You maniacs!  You blew it up!  Damn you! Damn you all to hell!” by the end of it, as Baymax in the film is very different to how he’s presented in the comics.  But, if you’re like me, and you knew nothing about the comics, and thought this was a great film despite not knowing anything about it beforehand, then you’re significantly better off…and it’s true, this really is a great film!

John Lasseter’s (Director of Toy Story) presence is felt in this film as its executive producer, and when you hear about the amount of research and inspiration that went into it, it’s absolutely phenomenal (Consider this, Baymax’s walking style is based on how penguins walk, and his appearance is based on both kawaii design and technology being developed at Japanese universities, while his face is inspired by the shape of japanese bells).  For being a 100 minute film, they managed to not only tell a very good story, but also develop some fantastic characters and be very funny at the same time.

The animation and art design is brilliant!  A combination of evident cartoon animation mixed with a seemingly real world, and a very impressive combination…and did I mention the San Francisco/Tokyo combo?  It’s a chemistry experiment that worked really, really well!

It had a great soundtrack, and that’s even with some songs by Fallout Boy (I hated the Emo movement when it was everywhere and diseased everything that was new in rock and metal in ‘my generation’, so no offence to fans of the band, but I’m not going to like them, even today).  Other than this, Henry Jackson did a really good job with the instrumental and electronic scores, providing both a futuristic and epic feel, while also conveying the hopefulness, optimism and excitement that life can bring (Corny?  Yes, but there isn’t really another way to describe it, unless you like metaphors).

Would I recommend Big Hero 6?  Absolutely!  This film was excellent fun, and it managed to present some very meaningful and heart-felt relationships between its characters in such a short period of time.  Baymax has become 1 of my favourite animated characters ever (He’s so innocent, and yet so funny, and also brilliant when his battery’s low), and I hope to see more of that character (and the others, of course).

Art Design: *****

Music: ****

Story: ****1/4

Characters: ****1/2

Voice acting: *****

Overall Rating: ****3/4

Lilo And Stitch (2002) Movie Review

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 01.36.03

Directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBois, who both went on to write and direct How To Train Your Dragon, Lilo And Stitch for me, is 1 of those films that I chose to miss when it first came out, and for a number of years afterwards.  Why?  Because I was in high school and wanted to look grown up and interesting by avoiding cartoons outside of The Simpsons and pretending that I understood Fight Club, Goodfellas and Resevoir Dogs when I first saw them.  Fast forward 13 years later, I would now see those years as decent comedy material, and would probably choose to watch something like Lilo And Stitch over Goodfellas and Reservoir Dogs (but not Fight Club, that 1 is in its own league!) when I want to simply relax and smile.  Now that I’ve finally seen this, what can I say?

Lilo And Stitch is 2 stories happening at the same time that end up mixing together about 20-30 minutes in.  The first story follows Stitch, who is infamously known in the galaxy as Experiment 626 (voiced, believe it or not, by the film’s co-director and writer, Chris Sanders).  He’s an alien, who loosely resembles a blue Koala Bear with 6 arms, and has been created illegally by Dr Jumba (voiced by David Ogden Stiers) for destruction and mayhem.  After escaping from what is effectively a prison sentence, Stitch steals a space police vehicle, and uses it to travel to earth.  Seemingly landing in the ocean, but actually landing in Hawaii, where upon arriving, gets run over by 3 lorries that knock him unconscious, leading to his new destination…the dog pound.  Meanwhile we have our 2nd story, following a young girl named Lilo Pelekai (voiced by Daveigh Chase, in the same year she played the scary little girl down the well in The Ring).  Lilo is quite an awesome little girl.  She likes swimming in the ocean, beating up her friends (if they can be called that) when they annoy her, and listening to Elvis Presley records (something pretty rare, as Disney almost never include anything outside their own universe, especially at the time).  She’s an orphan who is being looked after by her older sister Nani (voiced by Wayne Campbell’s girlfriend in Wayne’s World, Tia Carrere), who struggles to find a job and look after her, all while being harassed by a mean looking social worker named Cobra Bubbles (Voiced by Marelius Wallace himself, Ving Rhames).  After being told that Nani might lose custody of Lilo, they decide to try and bring the family together by getting a pet dog.  The dog they adopt?  `Experiment 626, who is now hiding 2 of his arms, wings and antennae to look more earth-like…but the other dogs aren’t fooled by this.  After this comes a very cute, surprisingly violent, character-bonding story, which on the surface makes Stitch look like a dog with issues, but it’s actually Stitch losing his purpose in life…Imagine if he landed in New York in 2012?…The Hulk or Thor vs Stitch…Nomura-san, if possible…Kingdom Hearts 3?

This is 1 of those Disney animated movies that possibly appeals to adults more than kids (in its own way) because it’s not about Princesses or an enormous adventure to a far away land or beauty on the inside or taking your place as king, rather it chooses to be a film about family and belonging, and present both the highs and lows of some family relationships, whether they’ve known each other for years (like Nani and Lilo) or are new (Lilo and Stitch).  The story doesn’t stray far from their Hawaiian Island outside of some photographs in montage scenes, and the fact that Nani struggles as a mother-figure to Lilo (and also struggling between being a Mother and a sister) provides a genuine, mutual understanding that parents and guardians could experience.  The film provides plenty of scenes that would make everyone laugh, as both Lilo and Stitich are incredibly energetic and animated on screen (and includes 1 of the best Godzilla parodies I’ve seen in a while, and that includes Hot Fuzz and the Beavis & Butthead movie…with Stitch reminding me of a 2nd Cousin), but at other times, the characters mostly act less like role models and more like human beings, which is why I would say it’s a little more adult in this sense…also, the relationship between Lilo and her sister Nani is fantastic!  I couldn’t help but smile and laugh when they annoyed each other.

Now onto the technical/creative whatnot of the film:  In terms of its presentation, some could argue that Lilo and Stitch is a step back from other animated epics that Disney have done before.  How do I mean?  Well, watch Tarzan or The Hunchback Of Notre Dame sometime, the animation in those films have a surprising amount of depth for a 2D feature.  But Lilo and Stitch looks very flat in comparison, and resorts more to beautiful watercolour backgrounds with the animated characters on top without much blending between the 2.  I don’t have a problem with this, in fact it’s a nice change and slightly closer to being like anime in this case.  It remains beautiful to look at, plus it has some great art design and an amusing use of photographs (like Lilo having an actual photograph of Elvis Presley).  It’s also a very recognisable film, due to how different the character designs are compared to other Disney movies (primarily the shape of the eyes and nose of human characters, it makes them stand out from other Disney designs), and Stitch is a well made design.

The music features 6 songs by Elvis, and they’re not only used well, but they also led to some amusing one-liners and possible new fans of The King.  So yeah…Elvis songs in a Disney movie.  Some would give that 5 stars alone, but there is other music, which may bring that down a bit.  The other music’s great, but it’s not Elvis.

The story’s very good, but it’s not the best.  The characters are awesome, and in the process, it’s the characters who make the film.  But the actual story itself feels a bit more of an afterthought with the characters driving the story rather than the other way around (which, to be honest, can work wonderfully…It’s 1 reason I prefer this to James Cameron’s Avatar), the story is there, and it’s better than plenty of other Disney films, but as said, not the best (Which is probably a reason why they decided to make sequels and a TV series spin-off)

The voice acting is also really good, an excellently chosen cast with everybody matching the character they’ve been assigned to, including Stitch (That’s 1 talented director).

Would I recommend Lilo & Stitch?  Yes!  It’s an overlooked, underrated gem that oozes with charming yet human characters, lots of well presented relationships and character interactions, some really amusing scenes, and also pretty adorable and at times reminding me of the likes of A Christmas Story or The Little Rascals when it comes to how the kids behave.  It’s great.

Story: ***1/2

Characters: ****1/2

Music: ****1/2

Art/Design: ****1/4

Voice Acting: ****3/4

Overall: ****1/4

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix Video Game Review

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 02.23.08

With Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix now out, I think this is the time to review its older brother, and even mention why this series is 1 of the longest journeys I have ever experienced (as far as games are concerned).

For those who are unaware of what Kingdom Hearts actually is – Imagine it like the Dr Malibu experiment (Dr Malibu being Malibu coconut rum mixed with Dr Pepper) – Kingdom Hearts was an experimental game created by Squaresoft (now known as Square Enix), who decided to make something that takes characters from the Final Fantasy series (a Squaresoft staple) and mix them up with characters from Disney.  It was a strange experiment…with very interesting and pleasant results.

We’ll start by discussing the 1st game, Kingdom Hearts 1.  Our story begins and follows a teenage boy named Sora, who lives on Destiny Island (or at least near it).  Here he plays with his friend (and rival) Riku, their friend Kairi (Who Sora takes a fancy to), and some other final fantasy characters in younger forms.  They enjoy being regular kids, who would clearly have good memories of simple times when they’re trying to pay the bills later on (not a spoiler).  One day, Riku pitches the idea of getting off the island to go exploring, and with both Sora and Kairi’s help they build a raft and collect some supplies (which, to be fair, would only last them about 2 days at most).  While searching for these supplies, Sora stumbles across a door inside a cave, and is then greeted by a cloaked figure who tells him it’s the doorway to darkness…and that he’s a fool (nice chap).  That night, the doorway to darkness was opened.  Small, black (cuddly-looking) beings called Heartless start appearing, and Sora becomes separated from his friends while their island is swallowed up by the darkness.  He eventually wakes up in a place called Traverse Town (which looks like something Disney would actually build) where he discovers that the giant key he now carries around (known as the key blade) can defeat the heartless and lock the doors of darkness in other worlds.  While exploring this nice little town, he eventually meets Disney legends, Donald (a mage) and Goofy (a guard).  They’re searching for “The King” (Take a guess who it is), who left their castle to go on a journey.  To seek answers as to why darkness is taking over this game’s universe.  In order to find Riku, Kairi and The King, and close the doors to darkness – Sora, Donald and Goofy decide to team up, which leads to events that are much bigger than they ever anticipated, and the building of a friendship that is unlikely to be broken.

Kingdom Hearts re:Chain Of Memories takes place after the events of Kingdom Hearts 1 and about a year before 2, and is set in a place called Castle Oblivion. Throughout the game, you will re-visit many of the old worlds you experienced in KH 1, only this time they  look like a collection of rooms with different paint jobs. Unlike any other game within the series, Chain Of Memories is a card game. 1 where successful attacks are based on how well you use a collection of cards in real time, with some combinations leading to special attacks, more powerful versions of a spell, and simply attacking with the highest combined number to defeat foes. It look a while to get used to the controls, and after a rather steep learning curve, the game did start to play a little like the others (with the right strategy). It is this game where we are introduced to the main antagonists of the series.  A group who wear long, black, hooded cloaks (with the zipper from the top rather than the bottom) known as Organisation XIII (Organisation 13). They’re using the castle as a tool to experiment on Sora, and the more he ascends the castle, the more he seems to lose his memories (note: Only 6 members of the Organisation appear in this, including the group’s rebel, Axel, who becomes an interesting character later on).  What becomes of Sora? You’ll have to find out.  Due to the rather evident deja vu feel of this game, and its rather complicated controls, I would say Chain Of Memories is probably the weakest instalment of this trilogy.  On top of this, the voice acting is not as fruitful this time, as the only voices are from the game’s main and original characters, while every other Disney and Final Fantasy character is reduced to speech bubbles.  When you finish the game as Sora, you can then play the game as Riku (Who, unlike Sora, chose a much darker path.  But despite this, Sora is still his friend). Riku’s story is roughly half the length of Sora’s, and the atmosphere even feels different, despite revisiting the same areas.  Unlike Sora’s journey, which has friends and laughter, Riku’s journey is a lonely 1, and in this game, it really shows.  You might even say he develops a lot more as a character due to this game, which in itself is well done.  Despite the important story elements and character development, the gameplay of Riku’s story is very disappointing.  Because unlike Sora’s gameplay, where you can create your own deck of cards, earn money and spend it – Riku’s is very striped down, with pre-set decks that change as he levels up (he levels up much more quickly) and it is a bit of a chore…but is necessary for story purposes.

Lastly, we have Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, which takes place just before Chain Of Memories begins, and it finishes just as Kingdom Hearts 2 begins, with the events of Chain Of Memories taking place in the background.  The story this time focuses on a new character named Roxas (If you play Chain Of Memories, you’ll know why), who could be best described as “like Sora, perhaps inspired, but not a complete copy”, and he’s the newest member of Organisation XIII.  Like the other Organisation members, he dawns the long black hoodie.  But unlike the other members, he can use Sora’s key blade, which they decide to use to their advantage.  Shortly after Roxas’ ‘birth’, a 14th member of the Organisation arrives, a young girl named Xion, who looks a lot like Kairi.  Despite “not having hearts”, Roxas befriends Xion, and he also befriends Axel (1 of his mentors), to the tolerance of the more serious and cold members.  After most missions, all 3 go to a place called Twilight Town, where they eat ice cream at the top of the bell tower (which becomes a rather iconic image from the game).  While KH 1 is a pure action-RPG and Chain Of Memories is a card-based action RPG, 358/2 Days is a mission-based action RPG, where the game progresses through the completion of missions.  Some of which provide extra items and experience alone, while others help drive the narrative on top of it (DS version only).  In terms of its story, this is the darkest chapter in the trilogy, which includes various themes such as identity, purpose, value, sacrifice, truth, friendship, and motive.  Not all Organisation members are bad, but sometimes their “evil” is just business.  Now to compare the movie to the game.

The HD cinematic cutscene movie is very striped down compared to the Nintendo DS version, and focuses entirely on the main story/main characters/bare bones rather than anything else going on around it.  So if you’re interested in seeing more of the Organisation members and knowing a bit more about their characters, you’re not going to see very much in the movie compared to the game.  Also if you’re interested in seeing some Disney characters, you can forget about it, they’re referred to, but not experienced (although this is the 1st game (story-wise, not release-wise) where you can visit Beast’s Castle in Beauty and The Beast).  The necessary scenes that would involve the Disney worlds are reduced to nicely presented still-images with text on top of them, explaining what happened.  Is it good?  Yes, it does a very good job squeezing about 25-30 hours of gameplay into about 2 and a half/3 hours and providing you with everything you need to know before playing Kingdom Hearts 2.  Then you have Roxas’ diary and the secret documents to fatten up the details and context (in written form).  The Movie also features new voice overs to go with the remade cutscenes, which adds a nice touch.  If you’re in a hurry to get to Kingdom Hearts 2, you might prefer the movie version best.  But for the full journey, there’s the DS version.

After playing Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 (which I’ll review later) on the PS2 back in 2006, the whole story (for me) basically stopped for a long time.  And the reason for this, was because of a strange business decision that Square Enix made.  It has taken about 10 years to get Kingdom Hearts 3 off the ground.  Chain Of Memories, was originally a Gameboy Advanced exclusive, and then in 2007 it received a PS2 remake…which was only available in Japan (now available here on 1.5).  Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days and Coded were for the Nintendo DS (Coded was also a mobile phone game long before that), Birth By Sleep was a PSP exclusive, and Dream Drop Distance (3D) is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive…do you see a pattern?  That’s right – only those who could afford to buy a variety of consoles could receive the fullest possible story earlier, and even then, the games after Kingdom Hearts 2 were a bit out of order, which would have made the experience nearly as bad as the FOX TV Premiere of Firefly.  However, today this has all changed.  With a PS3 and a 3DS, the whole story so far can now be fully experienced…until you need a PS4 to play Kingdom Hearts 3.

What can I say about 1.5?  When I heard about 1.5, I was excited.  And even though the HD enhancement wasn’t as clean as the likes of the Sly Cooper or Ratchet and Clank series, it still looks good.  I was also delighted to finally get to play Chain Of Memories, and as the owner of a 3DS, I happily played 358/2 Days side by side, comparing the DS version to the HD cutscenes movie that came with 1.5.

Kingdom Hearts 1 might be seen as a dated action RPG with its big areas divided into small areas, high-quality PS2/low-quality PS3 graphics(give it a break, there’s a difference between PS2 graphics in 2002 and 2006), a fair bit of button-bashing, a good but stiff camera, and at times what can seem a little repetitive if your focus is on physical attacks without consideration for magic, temporary companions, or special abilities (which really can change it up and become available when you level up more).  But the reality is, to this day, Kingdom Hearts 1 remains an excellent game.  It’s well paced, even if it appears slow at the beginning (that’s necessary for the story as it shows what our main characters have lost).  But 1 thing that really stands out, is the amount of Disney movies they crammed into this game.  From Alice In Wonderland to Aladdin to Nightmare Before Christmas (1 of my favourites) to Hercules, to Tarzan, Peter Pan, and others.  They even got a lot of the original voice actors from the Disney Renaissance (unfortunately, Robin Williams wasn’t among them, but they got Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson) who voices Aladdin’s Genie in everything but the 2 movies Robin did), which I consider impressive.  The boss battles vary greatly and can be a real challenge if you don’t have a strategy, and if you’re like me, you might like to revisit old worlds, as some of them have special boss fights…including 1 that features Final Fantasy VII’s main villain, Sephiroth.

1 thing that always stands out about the Kingdom Hearts series, is the music.  Yoko Shimomura is 1 of my favourite video game composers, and she does an excellent job creating the right atmosphere for each level, while also maintaining that whimsical disney-bounce in the touching moments.  I also like how she manages to keep theme songs fresh.  Because nearly every level maintains its theme when it reappears in another game, but it will usually be remixed somehow with different instruments (for example, Twilight town’s main melody is done with brass in 358/2 days and an accordion in Chain Of Memories).  On top of this, the main themes of the series are done by J-Pop legend Hikaru Utada, who did an awesome job creating the right emotion, even if J-Pop isn’t at all your thing.

Would I recommend this trilogy?  Yes!  I would even recommend it for Kingdom Hearts 1 alone.  It wasn’t just an amazing game when I first played it, but also a life-changing game.  It provided an experience similar to that bitter, cynical grown-up who sees the real Santa Claus wave at him on Christmas Eve in some movies (It was much needed if you knew the type of games I was playing at the time).  I will admit, KH1 may not be the 5-star game I remember from my younger years, but to be fair…it still holds up well today.  Chain Of Memories is very good, and necessary for the big picture, but not in the same league as 1 and 2 in terms of gameplay or production.  And lastly, 358/2 Days is a much needed prequel to Kingdom Hearts 2, the movie is good, but the game is better…even if the theme to The World That Never Was (home base) becomes a bit annoying after a while…and now onto 2.5 for a later review.

Overall Rating:

Kingdom Hearts 1: ****1/2 out of 5

Kingdom Hearts: re Chain Of Memories: ***1/4 out of 5

Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days (HD Movie): ***1/2 our of 5

Kingdom HeartsL 358/2 Day (Nintendo DS): ***3/4 out of 5

Overall (Including DS version): ***3/4 out of 5