Sweets, Flowers, and Snowflakes

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms brings together my love of Christmas and my love of Disney. In the most basic corporate manufactured way possible. Sure I’ve never been a huge Nutcracker fan, but I still appreciate the story and music. The moment I saw Disney’s interpretation, I immediately compared it to their live-action remakes. Although The Nutcracker Suite is featured in Fantasia, I wouldn’t consider it a remake. It’s just a lifeless overblown CGI filled adventure like all the others. The Four Realms title made it pretty clear what to expect. I’ll admit the classical music and whimsy of the teaser made me a little curious, but I didn’t run to the theater come Christmas season.

After seeing The Four Realms, all my assumptions were correct. Not even the directing duo of Lasse Hallström & Joe Johnston could change that. Clara is just like other modern Disney girls who are smart, yet lack a personality. It’s nice to see Mackenzie Foy again, but she’s just a bland version of Alice or Dorothy with a deceased mother. On Christmas Eve, she ignores her family and instead follows her godfather’s present string to the titular Four Realms. Hardly any attention is given to the titular Nutcracker and when he does appear, he’s just some guy. No nutcracker features to speak of. The mice and mouse king are just CGI mice that form a giant mouse. While Keira Knightley goes really cutesy with the Sugar Plum Fairy.

The Realms themselves are creative and pretty to look at. With an imaginative Land of Sweets, Flowers, and Snowflakes. But that’s always the highpoint of any Disney remake. They still end up going with the cliché of a warring kingdom (against Mother Ginger), with a chosen Princess, a moral about believing in yourself, and a forced surprise villain twist that Disney is far too reliant on. Yes, it is the most innocent character you can think of from the story. Shockingly, the only part of the movie I really liked was an extravagant ballet number. The rest of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is just everything you’ve seen before.

Nutcracker and the Four Realms

Clara enters her throne room

The Rat King

The Nutcracker in 3D is more of a nightmare than a dream. Yet somehow this abomination is the dream project of director Andrei Konchalovsky. This is probably the worst Christmas movie I’ve ever seen. I thought 0% on Rotten Tomatoes was an exaggeration, but boy was I wrong. The Nutcracker in 3D is so bafflingly bad beginning to end. It’s also called The Untold Story, but NO child should stick around to hear it. Outside of awkward musical remixes of classic ballet music, hardly anything has to do with the original Nutcracker. The forced 3D is just a gimmick.

Mary is a monotone Elle Fanning whose parents leave her and her bratty brother on Christmas day. So an occasionally fourth wall breaking Nathan Lane babysits as their Uncle Albert… Einstein. I wish I was making that up, but it gets so much worse. The titular Nutcracker called N.C. is pure nightmare fuel. I felt genuinely uneasy staring at its dead wooden eyes. When the nightmare creation comes to life, Mary is whisked off to a dream with an enormous Christmas tree and more awkward living toys. A monkey man, a fat clown, and a Jamaican drummer.

No magic can come from the toys or snowflakes when that wooden image is on screen. Even when he becomes a Prince the imagery doesn’t get much better. They seriously turn the Rat King and his army of rats into Nazis with jet packs and robot dogs. And the Rat King is John Turturro as a Hitler Andy Warhol with a rat nose and occasionally freakish CGI rat teeth. Told you it would get worse. After an hour goes by, the remaining 50 minutes are in a rat Nazi controlled city where living toys are burned to make smoke. The Nutcracker in 3D should NOT be viewed by anyone during the Christmas season.

Nutcracker 3D

Mary and N.C.

The Sugarplum Fairy

Is The Nutcracker (1993) a stage production posing as a film or a film posing as a stage production? Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 1892 ballet The Nutcracker has long been a Christmas tradition. I can’t say that it’s been a big part of my life growing up, but I have seen many small scale interpretations of it. My only reason for watching the 1993 version is to re-familiarize myself with the story. Since it’s literally the stage show with a movie budget.

I’m not even sure how to review it since any criticism would be directed at the show itself. Considering The Nutcracker is a wonderfully joyous show. Little Marie enjoys a party on Christmas Eve where her godfather and his nephew introduce a Nutcracker to her. She dreams about the Nutcracker coming to life, fighting the Mouse King, and becoming a handsome Prince (played by a young Macaulay Culkin). Then they watch the elaborate dance numbers of snowflakes, sweets, and the Sugar Plum Fairy.

It helps that I was of course already very well familiar with the classic music. Characters still don’t speak, so the Kevin Kline narration and music speaks for itself. There’s honestly nothing wrong with the movie. It’s just that a movie needs to take advantage of its medium. Late musical director Emile Ardolino could’ve done so much more. Instead he simply filmed a play and gave it a few movie flourishes. The Nutcracker (1993) is mostly just a reason to appreciate the Christmas classic.

The Nutcracker

The Prince and Marie enjoy the show

March of the Toys

Babes in Toyland is the first Disney Christmas movie. I have zero attachment to it, or any other adaptation of the 1903 operetta. Sure there are TV movies and a Laurel & Hardy film, but the 1961 Disney version is the most well known. Babes in Toyland brings together various figures from nursery rhymes. There’s Mary Contrary, Tom Piper, Bo Peep, Jack & Jill, and Mother Goose herself. Although it very much feels like a cartoon, Walt Disney went with live-action instead. Making this the first fully live-action Disney musical.

I’m so glad Disney didn’t make Wizard of Oz, because I get a sneaky feeling this is how it would’ve ended up. Babes in Toyland is just a little too sickeningly sweet for my taste. With bright colors throughout, cartoonishly cheerful characters, and song after song after song. The set is fine for the time, but I’m not a big fan of stage sets in movies. The story is simply Tom and Mary wanting to get married until the dastardly Barnaby comes between them. The Scarecrow himself Ray Bolger as the delightfully over-the-top villain and his henchmen are one of the movie’s few high points.

It’s mostly just a bunch of over extended dance numbers and unnecessary songs. Only at the halfway mark do the babes go to Toyland. Where hilariously screwy Ed Wynn shines as the Toy Maker. Only then is Christmas finally mentioned. I really got interested near the end when Tom gets really small and unleashes an army of stop motion toy soldiers. It only sort of makes senses with context. It may be nonsensically colorful for kids, but Babes in Toyland is just too hokey for me.

Babes in Toyland

Mary and Tom hug

Go Go Power Rangers

Power Rangers (2017) is what happens when the colorful & campy team gets dark & gritty. Which sounds like the most incompatible thing imaginable. Yet they somehow managed to make it watchable, but far from perfect. The Power Rangers franchise had been going strong for nearly 3 decades with over 20 different TV iterations. I can’t say that a movie reboot ever crossed my mind. Despite every superhero property getting that treatment in the 2010’s. I was skeptical, but I can’t deny my inner Power Rangers fan came out when the trailer did. Power Rangers (2017) is a cross between Chronicle and The Breakfast Club. Since the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers now meet in detention and bond over their individual teen problems. The team does consist of Jason Scott, Kimberly Hart, Billy Cranston, Zack Taylor, and Trini Kwan, but all the races are mixed up. To avoid certain races ending up with certain colors.

So now Red is white, Pink is Middle Eastern, Blue is black, Black is Asian, and Yellow is hispanic. Although it looks dark on the surface, the characters do retain their obvious color coded clothing. They just throw edgy stuff in that feels like it goes too far, but occasionally cringy jokes balance things out. Jason is a jock who acts out, Kimberly is a cheerleader who cyber bullied, Billy is an autistic nerd, Zack is a rebel with a sick mom, and Trini is a possibly lesbian outcast. Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, and Becky G have good chemistry, but man does it go on forever. They discover the Power Coins à la Chronicle and wake up with superpowers. In a more complicated way than the show, everyone dives into a chasm which hides Zordon’s secret base. Bryan Cranston is Zordon in a clever nod to his past with the show. Only now he’s a more hard headed digital face on a wall. Bill Hader is decently comedic as Alpha 5. Who’s now short, active, and done with CGI.

Among other changes, Rita Repulsa is a former Green Ranger. Now a villainess who looks nothing like the show and needs gold to build a lumpy version of Goldar. Elizabeth Banks is over-the-top, but I’m not sure if that works for this interpretation. Especially when she’s after the Zeo crystal hidden under a Krispy Kreme (the most blatant product placement ever). Power Rangers (2017) puts way more effort into its teen characters bonding and training that a full 1 hour & 30 minutes go by in this 2 hour movie before they finally morph. The last 30 minutes are basically a so-so version of “Day of the Dumpster.” Although it is awesome to see the updated Rangers fight golem-like Putties, man their Zords, and form the Megazord in a totally destroyed Angel Grove. The original Kimberly and Tommy even make cameos, while the real Tommy Oliver teases a sequel that will never happen. Power Rangers (2017) can stay or go go depending on who you ask.

Power Rangers

The Power Rangers prepare for action

Power Drive

Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie isn’t half the cult favorite that Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie was. Although I didn’t regularly watch the original series, I still knew enough to appreciate the first movie. Turbo will totally blindside you if you haven’t watched the subsequent series Alien Rangers or Zeo. Since the sequel is far less accessible for casual fans. The events of the first movie were practically redone in the third season, while Turbo is clearly a feature length pilot for Power Rangers Turbo. That means we’re back to TV budget costumes, Zordon, Alpha 5, Zords, and villains. No bad CGI since they go back to practical Zords.

Since my Power Rangers knowledge stops at Mighty Morphin, Turbo wasn’t a favorite growing up. I didn’t watch it on VHS nearly as much. Although it seems like even hardcore fans agree the sequel is lame even by campy Power Rangers standards. The problem is an almost complete lack of Power Rangers. Instead Tommy the Red Ranger, Kat the Pink Ranger, Tanya the Yellow Ranger, and Adam the Green Ranger spend an unbearable amount of time out of costume. When Rocky is injured, a 12 year old kid named Justin seriously becomes the new Blue Ranger. He actually grows to adult size, but keeps his kid voice. Among mistakes like that, the Rangers are also given new toy appropriate Zord upgrades. If only they weren’t underwhelming road vehicles.

The threat this time is a busty over-the-top pirate named Divatox. She plots to capture a bright eyed alien wizard in order to marry a demon monster. Not even a Rita Repulsa cameo can help her obnoxious scenes. Same with seriously unfunny Bulk & Skull with amnesia. Or featured appearances from original Rangers Jason and the always cute Kimberly. All the Rangers do is slowly take a ship to an island, then finally morph after more than an hour passes. You know the drill; fight some minions, face an enlarged monster, form the Megazord, and save the day. Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie is strictly for super fans, but even they don’t seem to want it.

Turbo A Power Rangers Movie

The Power Rangers prepare for action

Preceded by: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie

It’s Morphin Time!

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie finally put Angel Grove’s mightiest protectors on the big screen. Like every other kid who grew up in the 90’s, I loved the Power Rangers. Although I never watched the series regularly, I did have episodes on VHS, awesome toys, and I was even a Power Ranger for Halloween. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers has a very unique origin. Footage from Japanese series Super Sentai was repurposed for a cheaply made American series. Airing on Fox Kids, the Power Rangers wowed generations with their campy martial arts fighting, giant fighting Zords, and teenagers with attitude. So a big budget movie was set for release between seasons 2 & 3. I watched the movie frequently on VHS despite my limited knowledge. The movie is the first Power Rangers property not to rely on repetitive Japanese stock footage.

Meaning more detailed costumes, a bigger Angel Grove, and CGI instead of suits. The CGI didn’t age well at all, but I still love the movie for all its cheesy one-liners and constant posing. Right off the bat you know this is the 90’s since everyone is extreme skydiving, then roller blading. If you’re a casual fan like me, then three of the Rangers will probably confuse you. Power Rangers originally consisted of Jason the Red Ranger, Billy the Blue Ranger, Kimberly the Pink Ranger, Trini the Yellow Ranger, and Zach the Black Ranger. Their disembodied floating head leader Zordon gave them power while his nervous robot assistant Alpha 5 looked over things. Favorite character Tommy the Green Ranger fought, then joined the team until he became the White Ranger. Jason, Trini, and Zach all left the team possibly because of race related color coordination. So they were replaced by the less memorable Rocky, Aisha, and Adam. They got to be in the movie, but that’s ok. Bully duo Bulk & Skull are of course around too.

The movie is basically a really long version of the pilot “Day of the Dumpster.” Except main antagonist Rita Repulsa, Lord Zedd, Goldar, and Mordant are all upstaged by Ivan Ooze. An over-the-top megalomaniac with oozy powers who wounds Zordon and strips the Power Rangers of their power for a majority of the movie. There’s still plenty of Ranger fighting, but it’s a long journey in between. They travel to a distant planet where a sexy Amazon warrior gives them new toy friendly personas. With Ninjetti and the great power on their side, Dino Zords are replaced by animal themed Zords. Meanwhile, Ivan Ooze digs up giant robot bugs with the help of Angel Grove’s parents. He also tells them to commit mass suicide which gives some kids something to do. The final Megazord fight is familiar, but just as exciting with crude CGI. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie may be non-canon, but that just means it can speak to a wider audience like myself.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers The Movie

The Power Rangers prepare for action

Followed by: Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie

I’ve Got the Magic in Me

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice pulls a feature length film out of its hat. I wouldn’t exactly call it part of the Disney live-action remake craze, but The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is directly from Fantasia. Which in turn was based on a poem/ballad. Although the story is just a sorcerer having his young apprentice clean up until it gets out of hand, Disney somehow built a story around it. So they recruited the team from National Treasure and granted Nicolas Cage’s request to be magical. He doesn’t quite go full Cage though.

Instead of Yin Sid, Balthazar Blake is a sorcerer trained by Merlin himself. Along with his beloved Veronica and betrayer Horvath. He sides with legendary Merlin rival Morgana Le Fey and yada yada magical stuff. The important thing to know is that instead of a creepy live-action Mickey Mouse, modern New York kid Dave is the chosen one. It’s how to train your sorcerer when Balthazar teaches Dave to harness his magical power through a ring. Dave is just your average awkward Jay Berascheal type with a strangely specific interest in tesla coils. He’s more interested in his childhood crush Becky than fighting evil, but when he does, it’s a fine magical romp.

Alfred Molina is your typical mustache twirling villain with a magician as an assistant. The spells cast between enemies are imaginative enough. Just not enough to capture my interest when it first came out. It’s not much different than other magical teen movies. The most fun sequence is definitely the shoehorned recreation of the enchanted brooms flooding a room. They’re just mostly mops. The iconic starry hat appears too, but only in an after-credit scene. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice casts a perfectly serviceable spell.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Balthazar and Dave perform magic

Space Sheep

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon is out of this world. Aardman animation hasn’t made many movies since stop-motion is just too time consuming. So it’s not difficult to understand why they haven’t made any sequels. Farmageddon is the first sequel the now independent studio has made. Which is understandable considering the non-verbal nature of Shaun the Sheep makes it easier to animate. Wallace & Gromit will just have to settle for short films for now.

Farmageddon is a classic, more furry version of any movie where an alien is lost on Earth. Shaun, the sheep, Bitzer, the Farmer, and the rest of Mossy Bottom Farm are all enjoying life. Shaun tries to have fun, but Bitzer keeps putting up “No” signs. All that changes when cute alien Lu-La arrives. Lu-La is like a blue bunny with purple ears and tentacles. Along with a big appetite and the usual alien powers like levitation. Her arrival triggers UFO mania, so the Farmer decides to cash in on it with an amusement park called Farmageddon.

Bitzer is an unwitting sideshow who gets mistaken for the alien. Meanwhile, Shaun & Lu-La become fast friends. A female government suit, her hazmat workers, and an emotive robot act as the antagonists who want to track the alien. Like the first movie, the visual humor works just as well the second time. The friendly alien stuff may be familiar, but that’s not a problem when they tell it so well. Admiration was just as high the second time around. It just didn’t receive any Oscar attention likely because it was between years and release platforms. Farmageddon is as grand a day out as claymation can offer.

A Shaun the Sheep Movie Farmageddon

Shaun with Lu-La

Preceded by: Shaun the Sheep Movie

Baa

Shaun the Sheep Movie is baa baa baa-rilliant. Even though Aardman was no longer working with Dreamworks, they kept their Wallace & Gromit franchise going without them. Releasing a surprise short film in 2008. A Matter of Loaf and Death is a tastefully suspenseful piece for the iconic duo. Meanwhile, a spin-off series was released on TV. Shaun the Sheep is a mischievous sheep first introduced in A Close Shave. Although I never watched the show, Shaun’s newfound popularity earned him his own movie.

Like the series, Shaun leads a herd of troublemaking sheep on Mossy Bottom Farm. The Farmer looks after the farm with his responsible dog Bitzer. What makes Shaun the Sheep and its movie unique is the complete lack of dialogue. That’s right, an entire movie with muttering, grunting, and animal noises. You’d think it would be difficult to get humor out of that, but never underestimate sight gags and physical comedy. Shaun the Sheep Movie is actually pretty hilarious without saying a word.

Like most simple farm stories, the next step for a movie is taking things to the big city. When Shaun and his herd put the Farmer to sleep in his trailer, he winds up in the city with amnesia. Becoming a high class barber thanks to his sheering skills. So Shaun, the sheep, and Bitzer take to the city in order to rescue their beloved Farmer. While avoiding a psychotic animal control worker named Thumper. Lack of dialogue means plenty of characters since talking doesn’t get in the way of the flawless stop-motion. Shaun the Sheep Movie got the usual Oscar attention, a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, and many new fans of our little wooly friend.

Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun and family

Followed by: A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon