Aloha Oe

Leroy & Stitch marks the end of the Lilo & Stitch saga. I’m honestly impressed with how committed Disney was with the franchise. Lilo & Stitch was quickly followed by Stitch! The Movie, the 65 episode long Lilo & Stitch: The Series, and the direct sequel Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch. My brother and I remained just as committed to everything growing up. So I was happy to know the series would end with another feature length TV movie. Leroy & Stitch may have a goofy title, but it’s actually a satisfying conclusion for fans. The movie begins with Lilo & Stitch finally completing their mission to capture and rehabilitate all 624 experiments.

I won’t go to the trouble of naming every experiment like the credits do, but it is nice to see all of them in their new home on Hawaii. Lilo, Stitch, Jumba, and Pleakley are honored by the Grand Councilwoman. Conflict comes when Stitch, Jumba, and Pleakley leave Lilo’s ohana for exciting new careers that aren’t as fun as they were expecting. Lilo gives them a tiki necklace, Elvis record, and rock that all end up being important later. The human element is severely reduced to make room for more alien hijinks. Which means Nani is only around to give Lilo advice about aloha, Cobra Bubbles is just a voice cameo, and David doesn’t speak. Lilo’s rival Mertle is given a bit more attention since she unknowingly has one of the experiments.

Speaking of rivals, Gantu is given a surprising redemptive arc where he finally decides to leave Earth to break the villainous Dr. Hämsterviel out of jail. He forces Jumba to create the titular Leroy, which is basically an evil red version of 626. The difference is building an entire army of Leroy clones. Lilo helps by finally giving the sandwich loving 625 a name and the confidence to use his powers. Gantu is also officially redeemed when Hämsterviel casts him aside. All 626 experiments are gathered together in an exciting moment where they all use their powers to fight the Leroy clones. Needless to say, defeating the army with the song “Aloha Oe” was not what I was expecting. Regardless of execution, Leroy & Stitch is the best aloha I could ask for.

Leroy & Stitch

Stitch vs. Leroy and his clones

Preceded by: Stitch! The Movie

The Great Prince of the Forest

Bambi II is the only direct-to-video Disney sequel to a Golden Age film. Even though it was technically given a limited theatrical release outside of the U.S. Bambi is a beloved classic, but 63 years is a very long gap between movies. My brother and I didn’t watch Bambi II right away, even though it’s one of Disney’s better sequels. The Australian animation is an impressive recreation of the old fashion artwork that captures the painted forest and dramatic lighting of the original. The title makes about as much sense as Tarzan II.

Bambi and the Great Prince of the Forest would’ve made more sense since Bambi II picks up immediately after the young fawn tragically lost his mother. We finally get to see what happened between the Great Prince raising Bambi and him returning to the forest as a buck. The soundalike cast is good, but the sequel may be a bit too chatty in comparison. Nemo himself Alexander Gould voices the eager young Bambi and the respectable Patrick Stewart voices his stern father who keeps him at a distance. Thumper and Flower are around to help toughen Bambi up. Though Thumper is also dealing with his four pesky sisters. The Great Prince teaches his son the ways of the Prince.

They struggle to bond or talk about his late mother. Friend Owl agrees to look for a replacement doe, but the creepiest scene involves Bambi mistaking a deer call for his mother. Since Man is still off-screen, Bambi’s unnamed rival is given a name and a voice. Rono is just an insecure bully who competes for the affection of Bambi’s future mate Faline. Bambi and his father eventually form a strong bond that makes him brave enough to symbolically rescue a potential mother figure. Songs like “There Is Life,” “First Sign of Spring,” “Through Your Eyes,” or “The Healing of a Heart” are fine, but a little too modern. Bambi II may not be as emotional, but I think it was still worth the wait.

20. Bambi II

Bambi and the Great Prince of the Forest

Preceded by: Bambi

Be True to Your Groove

Kronk’s New Groove is a direct-to-video Disney spin-off no one asked for. The Emperor’s New Groove is one of the most underrated movies of the Post-Renaissance, but a sequel without Kuzco as the lead was an odd choice. My brother and I enjoyed the Disney Channel animated series The Emperor’s New School right away, but I think we were thrown off by the movie’s title. I agree that Yzma’s loveable henchman Kronk was a great comic relief and scene stealer, but an entire movie is too much. Though a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes is a bit harsh considering the animation is about as good. David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, and Wendie Malick all return, but Patrick Warburton is promoted to main character. Kuzco only shows up to pause the movie and voice his opinion.

Pacha, Chicha, Tipo, Chaca, and their newborn are mostly around for moral support. Kronk is a reformed cook loved by all the villagers who visit Mudka’s Meat Hut. Focusing on Kronk means plenty of squirrel speak and shoulder angel & devil moments. The plot revolves around Kronk seeking approval from his disapproving Papi voiced by John Mahoney. His goal is getting a house on a hill, a wife, and children, but he already lost those things. The sequel is mostly flashbacks that Kronk tells to the deadpan waitress from the first movie. In his last film role, John Fiedler was given more attention as the elderly Rudy who got thrown out of the palace. The first flashback shows Kronk finding Yzma who still has a cat tail. She makes him sell phony youth potion that unintentionally swindles old people out of their retirement home on a hill.

Kronk gives up the house once he figures out what happened. I liked the second flashback a bit more since it’s where Kronk finds love. Even though Miss Birdwell isn’t the love interest I was expecting. She’s a competitive camp counselor strangely voiced by Tracey Ullman. Although they bond over cooking, Kronk gives her up to protect Tipo. The bonkers climax sees everyone including Kuzco try to help please Papi, but the moral is being happy with what you have. Songs like “Be True to Your Groove” are reminiscent of Kuzco’s theme song, but Yzma’s “Like a Million” feels like an out of place musical song. “Let’s Groove” is a poppy song for a pop culture heavy sequence between Kronk and Miss Birdwell. Since I have a soft spot for the franchise, Kronk’s New Groove earns a mild thumbs up from me.

19. Kronk's New Groove

Kronk cooks

Preceded by: The Emperor’s New Groove

Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride

Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch feels out of place compared to the rest of the franchise. Stitch! The Movie was an immediate sequel quickly followed by the animated series. My brother and I were right in the middle of watching the show when we found out about Lilo & Stitch 2. While the animation is on par with the Post-Renaissance original, the story feels quaint compared to the sci-fi adventures that came before. Though not explicitly stated, Stitch Has a Glitch is meant to take place before the other 625 experiments were discovered. Their house has a bit less technology except for their hover car. A short film called The Origin of Stitch was meant to bridge both movie’s together. Cobra Bubbles, the Grand Councilwoman, and Gantu aren’t involved, but the rest of the cast was.

With the very distracting exception of Lilo who is replaced by famous child star Dakota Fanning. As much as I love Fanning, Daveigh Chase is the only actress who should voice Lilo. All Lilo wants to do is win a hula competition to honor her late mother. Liliana Mumy who now voices Mertle is given a slightly bigger role along with her hula instructor Kumu. Nani’s sort of boyfriend David is an interesting example since Jason Scott Lee didn’t reprise his role in Stitch! The Movie or the series. A comedic subplot shows Pleakley try to help David with his relationship while continuing to crossdress. Nani is also given several hilarious interactions with her extended alien family. Meanwhile, Stitch has a glitch just as the title suggests.

Chris Sanders wasn’t too involved, but Stitch is a bit chattier than he was before. After a nightmare about destroying Hawaii, Stitch grows concerned about his “goodness level.” Despite having glowing green eyes and bursts of destruction, no one seems to figure out something’s wrong until Jumba realizes 626 was never fully charged. He tries to build a solution while Stitch continues to make things worse for Lilo. Lilo & Stitch 2 is the only direct-to-video Disney sequel with a PG rating. The movie takes an emotional turn when Stitch accidentally scratches Lilo and dies in her arms. It doesn’t last obviously, but I do appreciate the commitment. Songs like “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride” get a reprise while the rest is dominated by Elvis. Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch benefits from a personal touch.

18. Lilo & Stitch 2 Stitch Has a Glitch

Stitch tries to be good for Lilo

Preceded by: Lilo & Stitch & Followed by: Stitch! The Movie

Son of Man

Tarzan II is the oddly titled sequel to Disney’s Tarzan. Odd, because Tarzan & Jane is technically a direct follow up while Tarzan II is more of a midquel that focuses on Tarzan’s childhood. Apparently there was an entire life changing experience that happened between the “Son of Man” sequence. As a direct-to-video Disney sequel, I remember when my brother and I rented it on DVD and thinking it was unnecessary. Although the Renaissance style animation is more high quality compared to the repackaged episodes of Tarzan & Jane. The only cast members who return are the dedicated Glenn Close and Lance Henriksen who only has a few lines.

Kerchak is mostly around to give disapproving looks while Kala continues to look after her adoptive son. Kid Tarzan is now voiced by Boots himself Harrison Chad while Terk and Tantor have soundalike voices. Tarzan’s new concern is being too slow for his family and discovering who he is. Following a younger Tarzan is inherently similar to The Jungle Book, but running away from home is more like The Lion King. Tarzan and the rest of the jungle are afraid of a monster called Zugor who turns out to just be a cranky old gorilla. A kid friendly George Carlin is just right for a curmudgeonly mentor like this. He promises to help Tarzan in exchange for keeping his secret.

The villains are a significant downgrade compared to Sabor or Clayton, but even they have their moments thanks to Brad Garrett, Ron Perlman, and Estelle Harris. The dimwitted Uto and hostile Kago are a pair of lumbering gorillas who take orders from their feisty Mama Gunda. They live in fear of Zugor, but they escape their uncomfortable mountain home with plans of taking over the jungle. By the end, Tarzan learns to fight back by swinging and even discovers his trademark yell. The songs don’t stand out too much, but they do benefit from Phil Collins returning to score. “Son of Man” gets a reprise, “Leaving Home (Find My Way)” plays at a low point, and “Who Am I?” plays at three different times when Tarzan learns who he is. Tarzan II is a cute enough side quest.

17. Tarzan II

Zugor teaches Tarzan

Preceded by: Tarzan

You Can’t Run from Your Past

Creed III finally distances itself from the legacy of Rocky Balboa. Though he does have a producer credit, Sylvester Stallone doesn’t return for the first time in the franchise. Rocky making peace with his son was his best conclusion since no one wants to see the death of another icon. Since Ryan Coogler was busy with Black Panther, Michael B. Jordan follows in Stallone’s footsteps by directing himself. Rather than copy Rocky III by having the son of Clubber Lang, Creed III succeeds by forging its own path. The only similarity is Adonis Creed living a lavish life with his family and choosing to retire from boxing. Tessa Thompson has a similar arc as Bianca lets go of her singing career due to hearing loss.

I probably should’ve figured their daughter Amara would be deaf, but her love of boxing adds layers to her character. Creed III brings the Creed franchise full circle by making peace with past opponents “Pretty Ricky” Conlan and Viktor Drago. Unlike every sequel from Rocky V to Creed II, the villain is finally another actor learning to box rather than a boxer who can’t act. The only real life boxer is José Benavidez Jr. as Creed’s young Hispanic protégé Felix who gets outshined by a childhood friend seeking vengeance. Mere months after Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Jonathan Majors plays another villain who steals the show.

Damian “Diamond Dame” Anderson was an aspiring boxer and Donnie’s childhood friend from the group home who took the fall for him years ago. Despite warnings from Little Duke, Dame becomes a dark reflection of Donnie who goes after his legacy. Their emotional performances are only matched by Phylicia Rashad as Donnie’s aging mother. Learning to forgive herself and her husband Apollo brought me to tears. Jordan’s direction meant a surprising amount of anime influence that enhances every fight with more stylized visuals and camerawork. Everything builds to Killmonger fighting Kang in the ring with Valkyrie on the sidelines. SPOILER ALERT! Rocky callbacks are fewer, but nothing beats hearing the original theme when Donnie wins. Creed III is a knockout all on its own.

Creed III

Adonis Creed vs. Damian “Diamond Dame” Anderson

Preceded by: Creed II

What is Your Deepest Fear?

Coach Carter is an inspiring sports drama for the MTV generation. Although I don’t see sports movies often, I have seen plenty of films where an unconventional coach comes around to push his team further than they’ve ever thought possible. Ken Carter is a real life basketball coach who worked at Richmond High School. Though they coincidentally share the same last name, Thomas Carter was still the best director to tell his story. Samuel L Jackson has plenty of opportunities to yell, but he’s also the best man for a dramatic lead role.

Coach Carter’s extreme methods include push-up punishments, suicide drills, and an academic contract. At least 6 team members are given more attention. Before Arrow, Rick Gonzalez fought Coach Carter as Hispanic drug dealer Cruz who has the biggest turn around. The team is predominantly black, but Channing Tatum made a good impression as one of the only white kids Lyle. Robert Ri’chard plays Carter’s more academically inclined son Damien. Rob Brown has his own subplot as Kenyon since his girlfriend is expecting a baby.

Singer Ashanti plays the pregnant teenager Kyra. Meanwhile, Octavia Spencer plays Junior’s concerned mother who wants him to succeed in class. The most attention Worm gets is during a humorous scene where the team sneaks out to a wild party in the suburbs. The media took attention when Carter canceled multiple games in an undefeated season after the team failed to keep up their grades. Although I understand the town and school board’s frustration, Carter’s message of respect, sportsmanship, and responsibility shines through. Coach Carter is far from inadequate.

Coach Carter

Coach Carter addresses his team

Remember My Name!

Fame (2009) is a name I’ll forget almost immediately. The 1980 original was just the beginning. It’s success led to a 1982 TV series with some of the original cast, a singing group called The Kids from “Fame,” a 1988 stage musical, another 1997 TV series set in Los Angeles called Fame L.A., a TV movie sequel that was never produced, and a reality competition series inspired by American Idol. I agree that the performing arts concept has many possibilities, but who was asking for a modern remake? Apart from annoying filters and camera techniques, Fame (2009) was ruined the moment it received a PG rating. There’s still a surprising amount of profanity and adult situations, but it’s sanitized in a way that completely misses the point of the R rated original.

Fame (2009) dropped what made the original special just to be a High School Musical clone. Some teen problems carryover, but there’s clearly a line that they don’t cross. I didn’t recognize any of the young cast with the exception of Danielle Panabaker’s lesser known little sister Kay. I did however recognize every actor who played a Drama, Music, or Dancing teacher. Including Debbie Allen who has the distinction of being in every iteration of Fame. There’s also Kelsey Grammer, Charles S. Dutton, Bebe Neuwirth, and Megan Mullally. Students are so bland that I struggled to remember any of them. Characters are either race swapped, gender swapped, or an amalgamation of multiple characters from the original.

Angry rapper Malik is a combination of Montgomery, Ralph, and Leroy. Jenny is like Doris, but she experiences an uncomfortable audition like Coco. Except that a porno shoot is replaced by some jerk failing to seduce her on camera. Marco is like Ralph since he dates Jenny. Kevin is just a male version of Lisa who also fails to commit suicide. Victor is like Bruno for his electronic music and Leroy since he dates dancer Alice who is like Hilary. Joy is mostly her own character who drops out for an acting gig. Niel is also his own character who stupidly gives money away to an obvious filmmaking scam. Though she has the parental stress of Doris, Denise is also like Coco since Naturi Naughton sings “Out Here on My Own” and an overproduced cover of the Oscar winning title song. The rest of the new songs are forgettable. Fame (2009) has no chance of living forever.

Fame 2009

Students dance in the school

Remake of: Fame (1980)

I’m Gonna Live Forever!

Fame is a name I’m not sure to forget. It marked a notable shift for both musicals and teen movies at the time. Although it was the very beginning of 1980, Fame already felt like an extended music video. The Academy Award winning Best Original Song “Fame” is a perfect reflection of the decade to come. Director Alan Parker also encouraged heavier topics that teen movies rarely dealt with at the time. Fame takes place at the New York High School of Performing Arts from the audition process all through Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior year. We follow the three major branches of entertainment including Drama, Music, and Dance. Although I can personally relate to being a Drama student, being a performer is not as universal as the many teen problems that the cast deals with. Coco Hernandez is a triple threat with big dreams played by the late Irene Cara.

Cara is a natural talent who sings the Oscar winning title song and the Oscar nominated piano ballad “Out Here On My Own.” Coco’s pursuit of fame has disturbing consequences when she ends up at a seedy porno shoot. Bruno Martelli is a music student with a cab driving father who supports his use of electronic music. It’s because of his father that Bruno’s music can be heard in the streets. Leroy Johnson is a tough black dancer discovered by accident who deals with illiteracy and a disapproving teacher played by Anne Meara. Gene Anthony Ray couldn’t overcome his own personal problems before his untimely death. Leroy’s story takes him in many directions that include sleeping with white dancing partner Hilary Van Doren. Lisa Monroe is another dancing student who contemplates suicide when her dreams are denied. Other problems like teen pregnancy are simply alluded to.

The main characters are arguably Drama students Montgomery MacNeil, Doris Finsecker, and Ralph Garci. A young Paul McCrane is awkward closeted gay student Montgomery. He eventually comes out and makes friends with Doris. The Irish Maureen Teefy plays the Jewish Doris who gains confidence through acting. Most of the drama is given to Barry Miller even though Ralph is an aspiring comedian. Ralph is an angry Puerto Rican youth who finds comfort in Doris and Montgomery eventually. Fame earns its R rating with mature language and random nude girls in a changing room. Other random moments include a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with a full “Time Warp” routine. The direction can feel a bit open ended, but I don’t think it’s supposed to have all the answers. At least by the end everyone is given the chance to perform at graduation. Leaving the door open for several TV spin-offs to come. Fame encouraged talented teens around the world to dream big.


Students dance in the street

The End of the World

Mother! is an incoherent mess. Every so often a movie comes along that divides audiences. Darren Aronofsky is a controversial director who regularly pushes boundaries. Mother! has a 68% on Rotten Tomatoes, but a rare “F” grade on Cinemascore and 3 Razzie nominations. As a Christian, I knew I was going to dislike Mother!, but I had no idea why until I eventually suffered through it. If you have no idea what’s going on, Mother! is just incomprehensible with disorienting camera work, cryptic dialogue, unusual behavior, and no score telling you how to feel. Mother! has been compared to Rosemary’s Baby, but the frustrating home invasion that the lead character faces is very different.

Although none of the characters are named, it’s easy to pick up on who they’re meant to represent. The perpetually confused Jennifer Lawrence is the titular mother who wants to turn her beautiful secluded home into a paradise. A mysterious Javier Bardem is her husband Him who is a great poet who loves to create. Their life is interrupted by a man played by a persistent Ed Helms who ends up sick with a wound on his side. The next day a woman arrives played by an assertive Michelle Pfeffer who joins her husband at the house.

Him becomes angry when they break his prized possession. Real life brothers Brian and Domhnall Gleeson play their two sons with the oldest killing the youngest. Blood starts to form in the house and the kitchen is flooded when more people arrive. Him writes a great poem that draws an even bigger crowd that includes an unsettling Kristen Wiig who spreads his message. When mother gives birth to a baby boy, the disturbing aftermath makes the Christian allegory offensively clear. I don’t know what Aronofsky is trying to accomplish, but I know it isn’t good when presented as a horror movie. Mother! deserved all the backlash it got.


mother is surrounded