In Your World, I Have Another Name

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader rightfully restored the whimsy that the franchise needed back. Prince Caspian was a fine action filled return, but the dark realism from the book couldn’t be avoided. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was one of C. S. Lewis’ more popular books. Even I heard of it before knowing anything about The Chronicles of Narnia. Sadly, that wasn’t enough to keep Narnia adaptations alive. Major fans like myself remained faithful, but a simple seafaring adventure just wasn’t enough. Michael Apted became the new director and Walt Disney Pictures made the ill advised decision to give the rights to 20th Century Fox (how ironic). With the older Pevensie children too old for Narnia, the younger Edmund and Lucy are still able to go. They’re staying with their obnoxious bookworm cousin Eustace Scrubb. Back in 2010, I thought Eustace was pretty annoying, but he’s far more entertaining when you know him as a young Will Poulter.

Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace are whisked into Narnia when a painting floods the room. They’re picked up by King Caspian, who invites them on a titular voyage of the Dawn Treader. Since only 3 years have passed in Narnia, brave swashbuckling mouse Reepicheep is back too. As someone who doesn’t believe in fairy tales, Eustace does nothing but complain and clash with Reepicheep. Whose voice is now Simon Pegg replacing Eddie Izzard. The decision was due to the greater importance Reepicheep has in the story. In fact, the Christian theme is Reepicheep living a spiritual life as he desires to see Aslan’s Country at the end of the world. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is unique for having no specific villain. Just a group of slave traders who are quickly disposed of. Really it’s an evil green mist that takes over the seas. So Caspian and his loyal shipmates seek to find seven swords belonging to the seven lost Lords of Telmar. They encounter harsh waters and meet a magician on an island inhabited by invisible Dufflepuds. Very bizarre looking dwarves with one giant foot.

They learn about their quest and the tempting nature of the mist. Lucy is first tempted by a desire to be as beautiful as Susan. Even though the actress is far from plain. Peter appears only in a vision where Aslan snaps Lucy out of her obsession. Apart from that, Lucy has become far more of a fighter. Edmund is still a hero worth rooting for, but his past comes back to haunt him. In the form of the White Witch. Edmund and Caspian are like brothers, but they briefly clash as well. King Caspian is far more interesting in his second appearance. With his temptation being the disapproving voice of his father. Eustace is more so tempted by gold that surprisingly turns him into a golden dragon. Which helps make him a better person. The ship is guided by a beautiful blue star that leads them to the final sword. A sea monster is slayed, Aslan restores Eustace, and the end of the world is finally reached. This is sadly another goodbye, but Aslan is indeed known by another name here on Earth. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is good fun, but it feels incomplete without The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle.

4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

King Caspian and the Pevensies reach their destination

Preceded by: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Things Never Happen the Same Way Twice

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is a sequel bound by the content of the book it’s based on. C. S. Lewis wrote The Chronicles of Narnia with the rules of Narnia allowing massive lapses in time. Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia continues to follow the young Pevensie children one year after their adventures in Narnia. The Horse and His Boy explores the adult reign of High King Peter, High Queen Susan, King Edmund, and Queen Lucy. Walt Disney Pictures continued distributing the budding fantasy franchise, director Andrew Adamson remained, and the budget was increased. To accommodate the changes made from the book. Mainly the addition of an extended action sequence. Though I was still blind to the books, I was nevertheless excited to see more Narnia. Prince Caspian was an entertaining addition to the franchise in a decade full of fantasy adaptations. Though not exactly what I was hoping for.

We begin in a starkly different Narnia where the fictional Telmarine humans have driven the fantastical Narnians to near extinction. Though unclear in the book, the Telmarines are ambiguously Spanish in the movie. I’m just not all that interested in Telmarine politics or the grim (almost depressing) tone of the 1,300 year time jump. Meanwhile in our world, the Pevensies deal with their boring school life in Englund. Everyone’s back and a bit more matured as young actors. Their hope of returning to Narnia is answered when a train station is transformed into a cave. Though overjoyed at first, they soon discover the ruins of castle Cair Paravel, animals that don’t speak, trees that don’t dance, and the oppressive rule of the Telmarines. The titular Prince Caspian is a Telmarine heir driven out of his home by his tyrannical uncle King Miraz. His Professor told him stories of the Narnians and that makes him the hero they deserve. Ben Barnes is a highlight in an otherwise standard tale. Caspian encounters a Badger and two dwarves. Of course played by Peter Dinklage and Warwick Davis. The former is a cynical dwarf who joins the Pevensies in their quest in taking back Narnia. They also meet the very important large swashbuckling mouse Reepicheep.

Each character has grown with Peter wanting to reclaim his chivalrous leadership role and clashing with Caspian. Susan gets more action and a random romantic arc with Caspian. Edmund has softened to a far more likable hero. Leaving Lucy as the one with the strongest faith in Aslan’s return. The main Christian theme of Prince Caspian is restoring the true religion to a corrupted world. So Aslan remains absent to allow more freewill. Leaving the allied centaurs, menators, dwarves, fauns, and talking animals to fight without him. Miraz and his people are fought in intense battles and a one-on-one duel. The PG rating remains intact despite getting rather intense. The White Witch is very nearly revived in their desperation. When Lucy finds Aslan again, his roar reawakens the trees and unleashes a water god. Sadly, this is Peter and Susan’s final time in Narnia, but “The Call” is a beautiful send off. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian may be darker than I wanted, but it’s as exciting as it should be.

Prince Caspian

Prince Caspian fights with the Pevensie children

Preceded by: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe & Followed by: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

He’s Not a Tame Lion

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the British children’s fantasy adventure everyone forgot was amazing. The Lord of the Rings trilogy blew everyone away with its dedication to bringing the world of Middle-earth to life. The Harry Potter franchise continued to press on with each adaptation of the Wizarding World. Fantasy book adaptations were all the rage in the 2000’s. So it was only a matter of time before the beloved best-selling 1950-1956 The Chronicles of Narnia series was brought to life. Created by C. S. Lewis after he envisioned a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. Lewis’ friendship with equally famous author J.R.R. Tolkien helped get him saved and influence the strong Christian themes of his work.

Along with the always inviting fantasy element, refreshing Christian parallels are a big reason why I was a fan growing up. My mother and father grew up with the books and were excited to see a big screen adaptation. At 10 years old, it was a real treat seeing it with my family in the theater. After dated BBC films, none other than Walt Disney Pictures stepped in to give Narnia the respect it deserved. Along with the unlikely director choice of Shrek & Shrek 2 director Andrew Adamson. The cast of both big names & unknowns was stellar, the effects & makeup were top notch, and the score was perfectly enchanting. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was so big that it became a high-grossing phenomenon that should’ve been maintained throughout the series…

1. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

Aslan marches forward with the Pevensie children

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is in truth the best novel in the series. My dad got the complete Chronicles of Narnia collection once, but I still haven’t read them. I only know that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the one they really needed to get right. Though technically the first book written/published by C. S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew is chronologically first. The rest of the series is just as mixed up. The Chronicles of Narnia is perfectly British with a period setting. That didn’t stop early 90’s film attempts from either making it American or setting it in modern day. Fortunately the aforementioned fantasy films of the 2000’s ensured a faithful retelling. Thankfully that meant Disney kept the story as Christian as Lewis intended. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe doesn’t begin in fantasy, but in the harsh reality of World War II. During the Blitz bombings, the Pevensie children were evacuated to the countryside.

Finding four British children of varying ages was trying, but they eventually ended up with capable young leads. William Moseley is the oldest Peter, known for his expected leadership role. Anna Popplewell is the second oldest Susan, known for taking a logical approach to things. Skandar Keynes is the second youngest Edmund, known for being a bit of a pest. Georgie Henley is the youngest Lucy, known for her innocent imagination. They’re each taken in by the Professor and his strict housekeeper. Lucy happens upon the titular wardrobe in the mansion’s spare oom during a game of hide-and-seek. It’s a truly magical cinematic moment when Lucy enters the wardrobe and finds herself in the wondrous land of Narnia. Unlike Middle-earth, Narnia is a colourful inviting place that can be found with a link from our world. Time also works differently with hours lasting no more than seconds on Earth.

Like Middle-earth, the vast beauty of Narnia was filmed in New Zealand. Though the warmth of the land can’t be found at first. With an eternal winter that’s lasted for 100 years. Lewis’ vision is brought to life when Lucy meets a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels under a lamppost. Tumnus is none other than pre-fame James McAvoy. The makeup used to create him and every other mythical creature residing in Narnia was so good that it won the Academy Award for Best Makeup. Lucy is simply adorable when befriending Mr. Tumnus and their evening is splendid with comforting flute music. Until it’s made clear that Narnia isn’t what it used to be. No one believes Lucy, but Edmund believes after following his sister into the wardrobe. Unfortunately, Edmund’s trip isn’t quite as pleasant. He encounters the titular White Witch. One of the greatest evil movie witches behind only the Wicked Witch. Tilda Swinton is brillant whether she’s comforting or despicable.

Jadis is the one who started the eternal winter and declares herself Queen of Narnia. Using her spear to turn those who oppose her to stone. Like the devil, she tempts Edmund with promises and sweets like Turkish delights. Something I’ve always wanted to try. Edmund tries to hide what he’s learned from his siblings, but the Professor assures them that they should trust Lucy. Jim Broadbent plays the Professor whose much more important in The Magician’s Nephew. An accident forces the Pevensie children into the wardrobe where Peter and Susan finally see Narnia. Tumnus is sadly arrested by the secret police, but fortunately the hospitable Beavers step in to help. Mr. & Mrs. Beaver are two of many talking animals in Narnia. Including Aslan himself. The titular lion creator of Narnia with unmistakable parallels to Jesus Christ. Special effects vary, but Aslan is so magnificently life-like that I still can’t believe he was done in 2005. The Pevensie children learn all about a prophecy that foretells 2 sons of Adam and 2 daughters of Eve restoring order to Narnia. The only problem is Edmund’s betrayal.

The White Witch shows her true colours when he fails to bring his siblings. She sends her vicious talking wolves who hunt down the children and Beavers. A sly fox working for Aslan leads them astray long enough for them to trek through the snow. What they assume is the White Witch’s sleigh chasing them, turns out to be Father Christmas himself. A bit of a shock when I first saw the movie, but Christmas does exist in Narnia. It’s just been 100 years since the last Christmas, Spring, or Summer. Santa comes bearing gifts for the three Pevensie children. Lucy is gifted a cordial that heals any injury and a dagger, Susan is gifted a bow & arrow and horn to summon help, and Peter is gifted a sword & shield. The weakened power of the Witch melts the ice caps where the particularly ruthless wolf Maugrim corners the children. Peter tries to be brave long enough to get them to safety. They finally happen upon Aslan’s camp. It’s a stunning moment to finally behold Aslan in all his glory. Made better by the mighty voice of Liam Neeson. Aslan imparts his wisdom on the children as only he can. Peter uses it to finally be brave enough to slay his foe. They find Edmund whom Aslan absolves of any mistakes he’s made.

As the children train for battle, Aslan proves his word to Jadis by taking Edmund’s place in a deep magic oath that requires the blood of a traitor. SPOILER ALERT! Aslan is knocked down, shaved, and stabbed on a stone table by the White Witch. Even a kid friendly fantasy version of the Crucifixion can elicit strong emotions. Mice free Aslan from his binds and Susan and Lucy stay with the fallen King. Leaving Peter and Edmund to fight in a great battle for Narnia. It’s in the final hour that we really see all the fantastic creatures known in folklore. Along with all sorts of animals, there are heroic centaurs, evil menators, dwarves, giants, fauns, cyclopses, griffins, mermaids, living trees, and some creatures I couldn’t identify. The PG rating isn’t challenged too much as the battle rages on. Meanwhile, Aslan is of course miraculously resurrected long enough to revive all those who were turned to stone (including Mr. Tumnus). With a mighty roar, Alsan brings his reinforcements.

All the while Edmund is wounded destroying the Witch’s spear and Peter faces her in a sword fight. Aslan ends the White Witch once and for all and Lucy heals Edmund. With peace restored, Aslan crowns all four of the heroic Pevensie children Kings and Queens of Narnia. It’s pure child wish fulfilment that ends with the untamed Alsan off to parts unknown. Many years pass with the now grown up rulers spotting a most peculiar lamppost. Their journey truly comes to an end when they return through the wardrobe children once more. The Professor ensures Lucy that they can find Narnia again one day and one final roar from Aslan confirms it. Though not to the same degree as Lord of the Rings, I was nevertheless obsessed with Narnia growing up. Buying a DVD box set and enjoying the Happy Meal toys. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is almost poetic in how we simply need to revisit it to fully appreciate the magic once more.

2. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

Lucy meets Mr. Tumnus

Followed by: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

The Great Before

Soul is the most out-there Pixar movie ever made. Pixar animation director Pete Docter is known for uniquely emotional movies like Monsters, Inc., Up, and Inside Out. So I knew his next project was gonna be equally emotional in a very unique way. Soul asks the question, how does a soul gain its humanity? I was puzzled the moment I read about the concept. Since Docter was going for a very philosophical story that required a lot more creativity. Everyone has a soul, but interpretations vary depending on who you ask. Soul is a lot like Inside Out and Coco. Inside Out for visualizing an abstract human concept and Coco for dealing with the afterlife, music, and a specific ethnicity.

Soul is the first Pixar movie with a black lead, but we’ll never know if that would’ve made it a financial hit. Thanks to the Pandemic, Soul is also the first Pixar film not given a theatrical release. Something that still enrages me since high caliber Pixar animation is made for the big screen. Instead I had to contend with seeing it on Disney+ Christmas day. Unlike Onward, which was fortunately released early in 2020. I’m not sure I’m ready to call Soul an instant masterpiece, but I am happy I finally got to see it. Maybe I just needed a theater going experience to fully take in the all too relatable life-affirming message. Of course I can’t argue with Soul managing to win Best Animated Feature in 2020…

46. Soul

Joe introduces 22 to pizza

Soul was meant to release alongside the traditionally animated short Burrow. A cute little story about a stubborn rabbit burrowing to make his own home. Soul has more than one meaning. Although Pixar considered a variety of professions to follow, they ultimately decided on a soulful jazz player. Which also meant focusing on black culture. Pixar went the extra mile by hiring African American consultants including first time co-director Kemp Powers. In order to accurately portray the diverse look of multiple different black characters in New York City. Something you’re only ever likely to see in a predominantly black movie or show. Hair, body types, and skin tone are all distinctly black. With several other ethnicities present as well.

Along with a respectable mostly black cast consisting of Jamie Foxx, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, and Angela Bassett. John Ratzenberger is apparently present, but I couldn’t hear his voice anywhere. The computer animation is stunning even on the small screen, but the stylized head shapes and lanky bodies are still a little weird to me. Joe Gardner is a part time middle school music teacher who’s very passionate about jazz. He zones out while playing the piano and always encourages his students whether they’re good or bad. It’s just not his dream job. Joe really wants to play in a jazz band despite his seamstress mother’s objections. Their strained relationship is partially related to how his deceased father felt about jazz. One of his former students Curly gives him the big break he needs. Getting him a once in a lifetime audition with jazz legend Dorothea Williams. The audition goes well, but Joe’s life is abruptly cut short when he falls to his death in an open manhole cover.

This is when the second meaning of Soul officially kicks in. I’ve never been a big fan of jazz music, but the human soul is a different story. As a Christian, I know a soul makes us who we are and ascends to Heaven (or descends to Hell) when we die. Casual uses of Hell are mainly to thank for the PG rating. I just got a bit nervous when I read about Docter seeking out various religious representatives for their interpretation of the afterlife. You can’t please everyone, so Soul feels more fantasy than factual and even a little random in its portrayal. Unlike Coco, which was distinctly hispanic with its Day of the Dead interpretation. Souls are visually represented by small blue forms with the features of whomever past away. Along with a complete lack of feeling. Unlike Inside Out, visualizing souls without a defined appearance in a kid friendly way was probably trickier. Joe ascends a staircase into the light known as the “Great Beyond.”

Since he’s not ready to die, Joe finds himself in a dark in between area visualized by a variety of 2D animation styles. Enter the “Great Before.” An abstract concept where formless numbered baby souls get their quirks, passions, and identity before falling to Earth. They’re led by several soul counselors named Jerry (all with distinct accents) that are visualized by undefined abstract human-like shapes. This is what I mean when I say it felt random at times. Inside Out had a far easier time portraying emotion in the human mind. The closest thing to a villain is soul counter Terry. Since Joe is meant to pass on, he must find a way to get back to Earth before he’s discovered. He forms an unlikely Pixar duo with 22. An old soul voiced by Tina Fey who never wants to live on Earth or discover what her purpose is.

Young souls are paired up with an experienced soulmate mentor from Earth that helps them find out what they’re good at. One of the funniest gags is 22 failing to receive help from the likes of Mother Teresa, Muhammad Ali, and even Abraham Lincoln. Not sure I fully understand, but the “Hall of You” and everything room to find one’s spark (complete with Pizza Planet truck) are interesting concepts. Joe & 22 don’t see eye to eye on life, but he tries his best to explain the joys of living. There’s only so much you can do with a soul, but they utilize various soul related concepts. Lost souls are represented by empty monsters that wander the world without passion for what they do. “The Zone” is where souls end up when what they do really clicks with them. The most cosmically nonsensical aspect is what happens to people who enter spiritual nirvana. They pass into the soul world on a boat in order to help lost souls. Moonwind is Joe’s best hope of returning to his body since 22 can’t get her pass to Earth.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT! What follows is the most unexpected part of the movie. Moonwind opens a portal to Joe’s body in the hospital, but 22 ends up falling in as well. Soul surprisingly turns into a body swap comedy when 22 enters Joe’s body and Joe enters the body of the hospitals therapy cat. I guess the random unexplained cat seen on the poster has a purpose after all. Characters hear Joe’s voice and a cat meowing, while the audience gets to hear Tina Fey’s voice come out of Joe’s body and Jamie Foxx voicing a cat. It’s a really bizarre direction to take, but I didn’t really expect the whole movie to take place in the “Great Before.” Especially since too much unseen footage takes place in New York without context. The purpose of the body swap was for 22 to experience the joys of living and for Joe to realize his life only ever revolved around his dream. 22 learns to love pizza, appreciate music, communicate with others, and find a reason to live.

From a cat’s perspective, Joe witnesses his student regain her passion for playing the trumpet, overhears how his barber feels about his profession, and tells 22 to tell his mother how he really feels about jazz. They try to swap bodies with sign twirler Moonwind’s help, but 22’s lust for life gets them caught by Terry. 22 gets her pass to Earth only to throw it in Joe’s face. He returns to his body, but his successful jazz band performance isn’t as glamorous as he thought it would be. I guess Joe’s soul searching moment of realization at how great the little moments in life were, is supposed to be the big tear worthy moment. I just wasn’t sure when the best moment to cry in Soul was. Surprisingly, Onward made me more emotional than a movie literally about dying. My experience won’t be the same as others though.

Joe uses his piano to enter “The Zone” and find 22. She’s become a lost soul in desperate need of Joe’s reassurance. So Joe gives up his life in order to help 22 live. Joe earns his life back in return and chooses to live rather than chase a dream. I guess I just felt like there was more to see. A lot of questions concerning Joe’s life are left open ended. Maybe that was the point. I’ll probably soften up more after the movie ages a bit, but right now it was simply a satisfying experience with Pixar continuing to top themselves after all these years. The music is finely tuned with soulful jazz numbers, including an appropriate use of Impressions song “It’s All Right.” While certainly unique in portraying the before and afterlife, Soul is nevertheless a spirited journey more likely suited for an older crowd.

47. Soul

Joe Gardner teaches music

Quests of Yore

Onward brought a little magic back into the world. Pixar Animation Studios officially turns 25 as of 2020. After 7 Pixar sequels (and/or prequels) in the 2010’s, Onward marked the return to original ideas for awhile. It’s somewhat fitting that the decade began with Toy Story 3 and ended with Toy Story 4. Especially since it turned out to be the final Pixar production with input from their founder John Lasseter. Onward asks the question, what if mythical creatures lived in the modern world? Urban fantasy is far from a new concept. Just look at movies like Bright. The difference was the always reliable Pixar formula. I’ll admit Onward looked weird to me, but I’m a big fan/expert of high fantasy.

Like all the great Pixar movies, human emotions are given to the not quite human. In this case it’s mostly elves in a non-human world. The emotional center of Onward came from Monsters University director Dan Scanlon. Who also has an older brother and lost his father at a young age. It’s only fitting that Onward was the last movie my brother and I went to see in theaters (before you know what happened). The brotherly story was very relatable, but sadly Onward suffered at the box-office. Until they just decided to put it on Disney+ several months early. It’s unfortunate, but I’m happy it reached an even bigger audience than it might have gotten as an original Pixar film. Onward was still eligible for Best Animated Feature, but 2020 was another year with two competing Pixar movies…


Barley encourages Ian

Onward exploits its Disney ownership with the Simpsons short Playdate with Destiny. The second cute Maggie Simpson baby adventure where she falls in love with another baby. Onward presses onward with an adventure that hits close to home. Long ago the world was full of magic. Making Onward the second Pixar movie after Brave to involve magic. The world is inhabited by tons of familiar mythical creatures. Regardless of which mythology they belong to. There’s elves, centaurs, trolls, fauns, gnomes, mermaids, cyclopses, sprites, unicorns, dragons and so much more. Each character has a very stylized look with colorful appearances. Elves have a light blue skin tone with big pointy ears and dark blue hair. Although the world used to be a lot like Lord of the Rings or World of Warcraft, magic was hard so they quit. Mimicking our own advancements in technology, increased laziness, and eventual modern society.

The suburban fantasy setting New Mushroomton boasts stellar computer animation. With so much little detail in every outfit, object, and location. It just doesn’t take too much advantage of the fantasy world. Most of it is just mundane things being done by mythical creatures. I’m not even sure how mermaids fit in. Since vehicles aren’t even changed to fit the varying sizes of a creature. The most they do is replace stop signs with halt signs and give buildings a castle or cottage feel. Unicorns are also vermin and dragons are pets. Onward once again exploits its Disney ownership by casting Tom Holland and Chris Pratt as brothers. Both actors have been around for a long time, but seemed to get famous overnight. So they were perfect to play off each other. Ian Lightfoot is your average timid teenage elf. Who just wants to fit in and be more bold. Barley Lightfoot is the exact opposite with a sense of adventure and deep obsession with historical tales of yore.

Barley plays a Dungeons & Dragons style game and tries to preserve landmarks. Although he’s known to screw up, Barley really cares about his little brother. A love only matched by his dear broken down van with unicorn mural Guinevere. Ian & Barley have a dragon named Blazey and live with their loving mother Laurel. This was the first Pixar role for Julia Louis-Dreyfus since A Bug’s Life. Laurel is a strong willed mom who’s currently dating goofy centaur police officer Colt Bronco. Not sure how that works exactly. The heart of the story is the father Ian never met. He misses him even more on his 16th birthday when he conveniently runs into an old elf friend of his dad. He takes it as a sign to be more fearless in high school, but he fails to even invite friendly classmates to his party. So Ian instead sadly listens and responds to an old recording of his father.

I know Onward means well with its emotional message, but the first act has way too much of it. I really do wish Pixar would stop prioritizing sadness over joy. Not to mention every random creature being extra friendly. Fortunately the comedy and emotion gets more balanced over time. In order to make Ian feel better, Laurel gives Ian & Barley their father’s staff. Which Barley quickly identifies as a wizard’s staff. It comes with a Phoenix gem and “Visitation spell” that will allow their father to come back to life for just one day. Kinda creepy, but worth the risk. When Barely fails to perform the spell, Ian turns out to be the worthy one. Only the gem shatters before it can finish materializing him. Leaving their dad as just a pair of legs. It’s beyond bizarre, but they somehow manage to make that work. With their dad set to disappear in 24 hours unless they find a second Phoenix gem.

Thus Barely initiates a glorious quest with Ian and their torsoless dad in Guinevere. Leaving their confused mom to track them down using clues they left behind. Along the way, Barley tries to teach Ian a variety of spells like levitation, which requires him to believe in himself. Ian also gives their dad a body and props him up à la Weekend at Bernie’s. The first perilous destination is the tavern of the mighty quest sending Manticore. A beast with lion body, bat wings, and scorpion tail that I’m frankly not familiar with. Although it looks dark and dangerous on the outside, the tavern is really just a family restaurant. While Corey is now more concerned with business than adventure. Octavia Spencer has the right range for either personality trait. Ian & Barley find her map which is also a children’s placemat. Ian somehow convinces Corey to trash her restaurant using her fire breath. The only good to come out of it is Ian successfully levitating and Barley making off with the placemat.

As the brothers make their way to Raven’s Point, their mother finds the Manticore. They become gal pals as she remembers a curse that will be unleashed unless they find her magic sword. Which happens to be in a goblin’s mysterious pawn shop. Meanwhile, Ian accidentally shrinks Barley with a failed growing spell. It’s at this point the humor really gets good. Since they encounter tough sprite bikers at a gas station. Like Corey, they don’t fly due to modern convenience. The sprites chase after them as Ian faces his fear of driving on the highway (with a Pizza Planet truck). When the spell wears off, Ian performs a truth induced disguise spell in order to trick two cops into thinking they’re Officer Bronco. The faun and lesbian cyclops cops get randomly personal and force Ian to lie about Barley being a screw up. It messes things up between them at first, but it’s nothing a goofy dance with their dad’s legs won’t fix. They eventually make it to Raven’s Point with Bronco hot on their trail.

In order to cross a bottomless pit, Ian must perform a spell that creates an invisible bridge of belief. It’s heartstopping, but they make it across, evade Bronco in Guinevere, and reach a dead end. When Ian fails to perform the advanced lightning spell, Barley sacrifices his majestic van. Then they find a perilous gauntlet fraught with many dangers beneath. But first they travel on a Cheeto puff where they have a heart to heart about their dad. Then they face booby traps, flooding water, and a particular cube. SPOILER ALERT! The end of the journey leads them right back to where they started. Ian denounces Barley with no time left to see their dad. Barely desperately searches for the gem and finds it at the same construction sight he was protecting. This would be the second construction worker John Ratzenberger voiced, but the first cyclops.

As Ian looks over his list, he realizes Barley has been there for him all along. It’s a tear worthy moment that I could more than relate to. Since my older brother does the same. The gem unleashes the curse which turns out to be a dragon made up of objects from the high school. It’s a worthy last minute villain that puts up an exciting fight. Laurel arrives atop the Manticore and they bravely fight off the beast. Although the entire movie was leading to it, Ian decides Barely is the one who should say goodbye to their dad. Ian becomes a confident wizard who masters every spell to slay the dragon. Their father arrives at a distance and passes a heartfelt hug onto his son. Something Barley gives to Ian. That’s when I officially cried. In the end, Barley wound up convincing every mythical creature to embrace their strengths and Ian learned to be bold. The world building is magical, the music is majestic, and the message is sweet. It’s not likely to become a Pixar classic, but tis a fair adventure for modern audiences. Onward goes “Upward and onward to greater glory.”

45. Onward

Ian casts a spell

He’s an Angry Elf

The Christmas Chronicles 2 proved to be just as joyous as the original Netflix offering. I think I still prefer the unpredictable nature of The Christmas Chronicles, but the more fantasy filled sequel does the trick too. Rather than focus on the gimmick of a rugged Kurt Russell Santa stuck in the real world, we see what things are like in the North Pole. Goldie Hawn’s Mrs. Claus cameo is expanded into a featured role with way more attention given to the computer animated elves.

The Christmas Chronicles 2 follows a pre-teen Kate frustrated with her mom’s new boyfriend. She ends up teleported to the North Pole along with her potential step-brother Jack. While hunting a giant Yule cat, Santa brings the children into the shielded Santa’s Workshop. It’s a magical place with some modern inventions designed by Mrs. Claus. While I didn’t care for some cringy jokes, I couldn’t deny the real life love shared by Russell & Hawn. We even learn some backstory on Santa’s days as St. Nick. Including how he met the elves and received the “Star of Bethlehem” that powers the North Pole. Christian references like that are a nice touch.

The conflict comes from a naughty elf turned human named Belsnickel seeking revenge on Santa. This is the second power hungry character Julian Dennison has played. The Christmas Chronicles 2 is full of peril and even more unique Christmas themed ideas. Like Mrs. Claus baking sweet versions of healthy food or having magic Christmas cookies. Plus Santa time travels and sings another hip musical number with Darlene Love. With just as much heart as before, The Christmas Chronicles 2 is another Christmas hit from director Chris Columbus.

The Christmas Chronicles 2

Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus in the North Pole

Preceded by: The Christmas Chronicles

The Manger Babies

The Star is the unlikely blend of animated comedy and the Nativity of Jesus Christ. It’s a little awkward to see “From the studio that brought you Miracles from Heaven and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” but it works better than you’d think. Merry Christmas everyone! As a Christian, I’m always willing to watch the greatest story ever told. I just didn’t know how to feel after seeing the talking animals and occasionally juvenile jokes in the trailer. Especially considering this was Sony Animation’s follow up to The Emoji Movie.

It was a massive collaborative effort with an all-star cast despite the reserved animation. Fortunately, they knew how important this story is. Just as in the Bible, Mary of Nazareth is visited by an angel of pure light. She is to carry the son of God with the help of her husband Joseph. They follow the titular star to Bethlehem and bear the true king (and my savior) in a manger. All the while the evil King Herod threatens the birth. It is as it is written, but it’s the animals that get the attention.

With the Biblically appropriate use of Bo the donkey, Dave the dove, and Ruth the sheep. Along with camels ridden by the Three Wise Men and all the animals from the manger. They’re not quite sure what’s going on, but they know Mary needs to be protected when dogs are unknowingly sent after her. Even with the kid friendly comedic tone, they never forget to pray and acknowledge God. I couldn’t help but tear up when Jesus was finally born. It’s not a definitive take, but The Star is a sincere retelling of the true meaning of Christmas.

The Star

The animals witness the birth of Jesus

Letters for Santa

Klaus is the most surprising retelling of Santa Claus’ origin I’ve ever seen. It’s no secret that computer animation has left traditional animation all but extinct on the big screen. The goal of Spanish Disney alum Sergio Pablos was to bridge the gap between 2D & 3D. So he formed SPA Animation Studios. After years of development, the hand drawn look with computerized texturing ended up looking more beautiful than anything I’ve seen in the medium before. Of course no studio wanted to take the risk. Until Netflix came around to save it.

Klaus is honestly the film that should’ve won Best Animated Feature. I don’t call many new Christmas movies instant classics, so I was surprised by how much I loved it. Klaus does indeed offer an alternate version of Santa Claus’ origin, but this is actually Jesper’s story. He’s a spoiled rich kid whose postmaster father gives him a serious reality check. Forcing him to deliver letters as a postman for the unhappiest place in the North called Smeerensburg. Everyone fights because of feuding families and kids don’t go to school since the embittered teacher Alva sells fish.

The answer to Jesper’s letter problem comes in the form of burly woodsman Klaus. As Santa’s go, he’s a man of few words, but J. K. Simmons brings warmth to the recluse. Many clever Santa explanations are given. Whether it’s kids sending letters for toys, how he got his sleigh, used reindeer, or got his red coat from Sami people acting as elves. The explanation for why he makes toys is unexpectedly heartbreaking. It only strengthens the bond between the postman, toymaker, schoolteacher, the town, and kids everywhere on Christmas day. Klaus is a heartwarming modern Christmas tradition in the making.


Klaus rides with Jesper

Baby it’s Cold Outside

Neptune’s Daughter showcases world class swimmer Esther Williams. At the time when Hollywood wanted to put her in pictures. She made a variety of simple films dubbed “aquamusicals.” Which blended music with Williams’ swimming talents. Neptune’s Daughter is probably the best example of one. Williams plays diver/aquatic ballet dancer Eve Barrett. She’s scooped up by businessman and occasional narrator Joe Beckett. They partner up to design swimsuits and that’s where her head’s at.

Meanwhile, her sister Betty is more concerned with boys. It’s a case of mistaken identity when Betty falls for goofy masseur Jack Spratt, thinking he’s one of the Latin polo players who’ve just come in. So Jack pretends to be Latin and hijinks ensue. Betty Garrett, but especially Red Skelton get most of the laughs. The real Latin lover is José O’Rourke played by the always charming Ricardo Montalban. Eve thinks he’s the one dating her sister, but José really has eyes for her. They flirt, fall in love, and some misunderstandings mess things up. Until the truth comes up in time for one last magical swim.

The focus on hispanic culture is a bit exaggerated (especially for Mel Blanc’s Speedy Gonzales voice), but the love is there. Fun fact, this was one of the first movies to have characters watching TV. All are great reasons to watch Neptune’s Daughter, but my main reason was to hear the debut of Oscar winning song “Baby it’s Cold Outside.” A Christmas tradition even though this isn’t a Christmas flick. Despite it’s unfair reputation, “Baby it’s Cold Outside” will always be a fun flirtatious song that works both ways since a gender swapped version immediately follows it. Neptune’s Daughter is a lovable watery romance.

Neptune's Daughter

“Baby it’s cold outside”

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Meet Me in St. Louis is a sweet seasonal treat. When it comes to Judy Garland, her most iconic role will always be The Wizard of Oz. But Meet Me in St. Louis is a very close second. If you want Garland at the top of her musical game, look no further. She met her second husband while making it and their daughter Liza Minnelli considers it her favorite. Although labeled a Christmas movie, Meet Me in St. Louis is a year round slice of life from the perspective of the Smith family. They love their home in St. Louis and look forward to the grand opening of the 1904 World’s Fair.

The Smiths are straightlaced father Alanzo, caring mother Anna, their Grandpa, eldest son Lon, hopeless romantic Rose, musically inclined Esther, troublesome Agnes, and youngest daughter Tootie. A precocious little lady who steals many scenes thanks to Margaret O’Brien. Esther gets all the best songs and struggles with love herself. In the summer, Esther persistently tries to get her neighbor John’s attention. In autumn, Agnes & Tootie enjoy an old fashioned Halloween. I had no clue it was celebrated this far back (or that it was more about tricks than treats).

It’s at this point that the family faces the possibility of leaving their home when dad gets a job in New York. So winter is bittersweet for them. Esther, Rose, and Lon try to enjoy a ball, but it’s not till dad changes his mind that Christmas is complete. Ending with the World’s Fair in spring. The colorful Victorian style is plenty of old fashioned fun. The songs are classics that I’ve known long before I saw the film. “The Trolley Song” is a real humdinger and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is a warm festive staple. From the moment I saw Meet Me in St. Louis I fell.

Meet Me in St Louis

“Clang, clang, clang went the trolley”