BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:
“If you must blink, do it now.”
That’s how our hero begins each of his stories. It may as well describe this movie. With one blink, you could miss the stunning animation in Kubo and the Two Strings, another home run from the masters of stop-motion animation Laika.
Set in feudal Japan, this folk tale centres around a little one eyed boy named Kubo (Art Parkinson) with the ability to control origamis by strumming his two string Shamisen guitar. By day, he uses his gifts to tell stories to the villagers. By night, he cares for his comatose mother. That all changes when he’s stalked by two creepy, masked twin sisters (Rooney Mara). To protect her son, Kubo’s mom sacrifices herself to save him. From her sacrifice births Monkey (Charlize Theron), a former wooden charm who becomes the boy’s guardian. Joined by a samurai beetle (Matthew McConaughey), Monkey and Kubo are sent on a mystical journey to find the armour of Kubo’s father, find out who sent the sisters and stop him.
This is the directorial debut of Travis Knight, Laika president and CEO. As with other Laika films, Kubo and the Two Strings dazzles with is stunning stop motion animation. We are treated to amazing battle scenes between our heros and the sisters as well as mystical creatures like the giant skeleton with katanas on its head. Plus, the animation emerces itself into Japanese culture, with the simple village and the beautiful image of floating lanterns. Matching the animation is the storytelling. It’s a pretty simple fantasy story, but it’s still engaging with mythological fantasy creatures.
After resurrecting Disney’s magic with The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, directors Ron Clements and John Musker make their CGI film debut with Moana, a Polynesian musical adventure of an adventurous teenage girl and a demigod.
In Ancient Polynesia, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) and her tribe has lived peacefully on an island, never venturing past the current. As Chief Tui’s (Temuera Morrison) daughter, she will one day face the responsibility of leading her tribe. And yet, she feels the ocean calling to her. Turns out, the Ocean is alive and has a special mission for Moana. Turns out, Demigod Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) had stolen the heart of island goddess Te Fiti and has created a chain reaction destroying life everywhere it goes. Now, the effects have reached her island and so has the heart of Te Fiti. With the heart in hand and the ocean as her companion, Moana must travel across the sea, find Maui and get him to return the heart to Te Fiti. It proves a challenge when other mystical creatures want the heart for themselves, especially lava monster Te Ka.
With some help from Don Hall and Chris Williams (directors of the Oscar Winning Big Hero 6), Clements and Musker’s style blend perfectly with CGI market. They bring on the same charm that made the Disney Renissance possible, while providing fresh updates. Like Disney’s other musicals, this film fills itself with memorable characters. Moana is a fun, adventurous female lead who provides a couple spins on the Disney Princess. It’s nice to see a muscular female lead to counter all the skinny Disney princess. The film never tries to pair her in any romantic relationship. While I’m not against romantic plots in Disney films, It’s nice to see a female lead having goals outside of having a man in her life.
She’s also surrounded by wonderful supporting characters, from her unfiltered Gramma Tala (Rachel House) to Hei Hei (Alan Tudyk), the world’s dumbest chicken. But it’s Johnson who steals the show as the arrogant, shapeshifting demigod Maui. Not only does he have a blast mocking Disney tropes “If you start singing, I’m gonna throw up” but he also has a lot of fun boasting about himself in the awesome song “You’re Welcome.”
Speaking of songs, Clements and Musker always have great songs in their roster, working with the likes of Alan Menkin (The Little Mermaid), Tim Rice (Aladdin) and Randy Newman (The Princess and the Frog). This time, they bring in Lin-Manuel Miranda, fresh off his Tony Award winning Broadway Sensation. He brings some catchy tunes that fit well into the best Disney soundtracks. To give the music a more Polynesian feel, Opetaia Foa’I was brought in to incorporate Polynesian chants and music into some songs.
Clements and Musker prove they still got the Disney touch with another great animated adventure.
This stop motion indie film from Switzerland is probably the strangest film on this list.
The title character is a little boy sent to a foster home after his alcoholic mother’s sudden death. At first, Zucchini has trouble fitting in, but he soon comes to bond with the quirky kids. Then a new girl comes to the home, and Zucchini discovers love.
This film is more low key than the other films on this list, this coming of age tale looks at children bonding through their tragic circumstances. I haven’t seen this, but from what I’ve heard, it has a lot of heart.
Distributed by Studio Ghibli, this import from the Netherlands is a twist on the Robinson Crusoe storyline.
A nameless shipwrecked man finds himself on a deserted tropical island. At first, he tries to take his chances on the sea, making his own boat. But a giant red turtle seems determined to keep him on the island, destroying every boat the castaway sails on. Then a mysterious woman gets shipwrecked too.
With no dialogue, writer/director Michael Dudok de Wit relies on visuals to tell the stories. The result is some dazzling visual scenes. There are little moments, like the castaway feeding some little crabs. There are grand moments, especially scenes of the Cast away swimming in the ocean.
Since I didn’t see this film, I can’t really go through an analysis, but I will jump at the first chance.
When the first trailer came out, no one expected much out of it? A film all about anthropomorphic animals living in the city? Disney already tried that with Chicken Little and we all know how that turned out. To our surprise, the film turned out to be a clever allegory of bigotry disguised as a lighthearted comedy.
As the film begins, the enthusiastic Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) leaves her countryside home to become the first rabbit to become a police officer. After a few bumps, she starts off as a meter maid in the urban city of Zootopia. She accomplishes her tasks with excited ease, but this job comes with the side effect of being internationally despised. She longs to move up on her career, but Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) doesn’t have much faith in her. She gets her chance when Mrs. Otterton (Octiavia Spencer, Hidden Figures) reports her husband missing. To crack the case, she enlists the help of snarky con artist Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a fox who was the last to see Mr. Otterton. As they meet with quirky character after quirky character, Nick and Judy find this disappearance is just a piece of a larger conspiracy that threatens to tear Zootopia apart. And I’m not gonna lie, this film ends on a good plot twist.
The design of Zootopia is astounding. The designers find creative ways to adjust ordinary city elements for anthropomorphic animals of every variety. For Giraffes, lemonade stand will shoot drinks through a tube. Subways have different size doors for animals of any size. When Hippos emerge from waters, fans dry them off before they go to work. But the most creative element is the way the city is divided to match the environment of different animals. One section is all ice to incorporate arctic animals while another is all rainforest.
As always with Disney, this film has a lot of entertaining characters. In their missing persons search, Judy and Nick meet a wide variety of quirky characters, including head nudist Yax (Tommy Chong) to pushover secretary Bellwether (Jenny Slate). But it’s the leads who tie it all together. Bateman bring his sarcastic charm as Nick. But it’s Goodwin who truly sells this film. In the wrong hands, Judy Hopps’ optimistic enthusiasm could have come off as annoying. Goodwin pulls you into her enthusiasm and determination.
But what makes this film special is how it uses anthropomorphic animals to represent varying kinds of bigotry. Hopps’ ordeal is clearly meant to represent sexism, with other animals saying bunnies are too delicate to be cops. Being prey, Nick endures what is the animal equivalent to racial profiling, especially when he’s refused service by an ice cream scooping elephant. Writers Jared Bush and Phil Johnston bring some surprising complexity to these issues. As the film progresses, Hopps is forced to confront her own prejudices. When Hopps tells Nick he isn’t “One of them,” In the film’s most powerful scene, He angrily responds with “Oh there’s a them now.” Those little words say a lot.
Like any great film, Zootopia sneaks its message under the guise of great entertainment. Judy and Nick play off each other with humour and heart. The environment is creative. But most of all, the film is very funny.
 And ex-rapper Chilly Tee.
 Though you probably can’t call her a princess since she’s the Chieftain’s daughter whose destined to become a chieftain herself. Then again, so is Pocahantas and she’s among the Princesses.