Meet the Kids

Little Fockers is too little too late. Meet the Fockers wasn’t universally loved like Meet the Parents, but at least it was a logical follow up. Little Fockers struggles to find a reason to exist aside from the popularity of the franchise. Although the title was foreshadowed a few times whenever someone mentioned Greg and Pam having little Fockers of their own. Despite the 6 year gap, Little Fockers was a financial success, but it does have a lousy 9% on Rotten Tomatoes. You’d be surprised how unfunny the concept can get in the wrong hands. Paul Weitz replaces the original director and Randy Newman doesn’t return as composer. All that’s left is the all-star cast that needed extra pay just to return. Specifically Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, and Dustin Hoffman.

Little Fockers isn’t a repeat of what came before, but that just makes the story even less focused. Greg and Pam have a twin son and daughter named Henry and Samantha. Samantha refuses to talk to her dad and Henry is obsessed with lizards, but the title is misleading. The most we get of them is a birthday party and Greg scouting out a prestigious school with Jack’s help. Hoffman is almost completely absent with Bernie flamingo dancing in Spain. Barbra Streisand has a smaller Razzie nominated appearance with Roz as a sex talk show host. Dina continues trying to spice up her marriage and Pam deals with Greg being away. The entire plot of Meet the Parents in undermind when Dr. Bob divorces Pam’s sister off-screen. Leading to an extremely forced subplot where Jack wants Greg to be “The Godfocker” after having a heart attack. The less said about the ballpit Jaws scene the better.

Jinx is barely in the movie, but Owen Wilson is given a bigger role as Kevin. He’s an annoying presence who adds unwanted tension between Greg and Pam. More celebrities can’t save a weak script. Laura Dern and Harvey Keitel are wasted in fleeting appearances. Kevin Hart plays a male nurse in another one of his before he was famous supporting roles. Although the most unexpected cameos are from voice actor John DiMaggio and Jordan Peele in his first movie appearance. Jessica Alba won a much deserved Razzie playing sexy nurse Andi Garcia who acts like a teenager while coming onto Greg. They sell sex drugs in one of several failed attempts to have conflict. The CIA surveillance ending is replaced by a cringy YouTube remix. Little Fockers is a focking embarassment.

Little Fockers

The twins at the dinner table

Preceded by: Meet the Fockers

Misery Loves Family

Meet the Fockers is more Fockers than anyone can handle. How they got away with that title I’ll never know. Meet the Parents was a surprise hit that inspired a short-lived reality show, sitcom, and even more financially successful sequel. Meet the Fockers was a natural progression after Jack mentioned needing to meet Greg’s parents at the end of the first movie. As predicted, the Fockers are exactly the kind of wonderful and fascinating people who would name their son Gaylord Focker. Meet the Fockers is essentially a repeat of Meet the Parents, but director Jay Roach, composer Randy Newman, and most of the original cast managed to maintain the quality 4 years later. Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Teri Polo, and Blythe Danner are just as committed as they were before. Greg is only briefly seen as a male nurse just to make fun of his name.

Greg and Pam are engaged, but Jack and Dina still need to meet the Fockers. The sequel is overly long thanks to a minor road trip in Jack’s CIA approved RV. Meet the Fockers has more of Jinx the house trained cat and an adorable baby is added to the trip. Pam’s sister and extended family are absent, but she does leave behind her baby little Jack who knows sign language and absorbs Greg’s bad behavior. Jack takes having nipples that can be milked a little too seriously by wearing a prosthetic boob for breastfeeding. The humor is a bit more crass, but 2 additional Oscar winners managed to save the sequel. Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand are dream casting choices for Gaylord’s eccentric sexually active Jewish parents. Bernie is an overly affectionate hippie, Roz is a highly successful elderly sex therapist, and their dog Moses is particularly excited. The contrast between the loose Fockers and the uptight Jack makes every situation more funny.

Dina is given a bit more character development by seeking Roz’s sexual advice. Pam being pregnant is what brings Jack back into conflict with his future son-in-law. Owen Wilson briefly appears as Kevin near the end, but the role of ex-lover is given to Alanna Ubach as Greg’s busty former maid Isabel. A young Mexican Ben Stiller lookalike opens up the possibility of Greg already being a father. The sequel has another botched family sports game and another awkward dinner scene, but Greg being given truth serum is an unexpected addition. This time Greg and his father are detained by a state trooper played by Tim Blake Nelson. Meet the Fockers ends with another wedding and surveillance camera gag, but the sequel is welcomed enough to keep the franchise going.

Meet the Fockers

Bernie kisses Jack on the forehead

Preceded by: Meet the Parents & Followed by: Little Fockers

The Circle of Trust

Meet the Parents is the ultimate “meeting the parents” movie. Although simple in premise, Meet the Parents is one of the most financially successful comedies of the year 2000. Randy Newman was even nominated for his song “A Fool in Love.” So it’s a bit surprising to learn Meet the Parents was actually a remake of an independent 1992 comedy. Producers liked the concept so much that they gave it a bigger budget and an A-list cast. Meet the Parents surprisingly gained attention from Steven Spielberg and Jim Carrey before they dropped out. I probably would’ve seen the movie sooner if they were involved, but Meet the Parents belongs to Austin Powers director Jay Roach and deadpan comedian Ben Stiller. Greg already has the stigma of being a male nurse, but he also has the most hilariously awkward name in movie history.

I’m not sure how they got away with a name like Gaylord Focker in a PG-13 movie. I wouldn’t exactly call it family friendly despite Greg meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. I’m not familiar with Teri Palo, but she plays things straight as Pam Byrnes. Blythe Danner as Pam’s mother Dina is also reserved compared to her Oscar winning co-star. After taking more comedy roles, Robert De Niro was surprisingly perfect for Pam’s overprotective father Jack. Since Jack is a former CIA agent, he uses hidden surveillance cameras and literally cross-examines Greg with a lie detector test. Hilarity ensues the more Greg attempts to gain entry into Jack’s so-called “circle of trust.” Like a sitcom, the subtle humor comes out of awkward situations.

Being Jewish, Greg fumbles saying grace at dinner and claims to have milked a cat. Jinx is a memorable movie cat for his unique ability to use the toilet. Most of the plot centers around Greg wanting to propose, but he also deals with Pam’s more successful relatives during her sister’s wedding. Pam has her sister Debbie, delinquent brother Denny, Debbie’s fiancée Dr. Bob, and his parents. The only other cast members I recognized were James Rebhorn and of course Owen Wilson. Kevin is Pam’s wealthy ex-fiancée who works as a carpenter and demeans Greg even further. So much goes wrong including Greg blowing a volleyball game, burning down the wedding, losing Jinx, and yelling “bomb” on an airplane. Some jokes are predictable, but Meet the Parents kept me laughing all the way through.

Meet the Parents

Jack gives Greg a polygraph test

Followed by: Meet the Fockers

Lovers Loop

Palm Springs is not your typical time loop. 2020 was a year where most people sat around doing nothing almost everyday. So Palm Springs came out at just the right time. Since time loop movies are practically their own genre, the formula needed shaking up. Palm Springs is about more than one person experiencing the loop and it actually begins with the main character already in the middle of it. The latter was one of the original concepts for Groundhog Day, but that wouldn’t have worked.

Though it is a comedy, this was the most mature performance I’ve seen from SNL alumni Andy Samberg. Nyles is a slacker who eventually figured life was meaningless and learned to accept the loop. I wasn’t a fan of the movie’s overly nihilistic tone that Nyles’ name not so subtly indicates. Plus the excessive language and occasional gross moments that the 2020’s keep pushing. Though Cristin Milioti does make an impression as Nyles unwitting companion in the loop. Sarah and Nyles meet at the Palm Springs wedding for Superman and Veronica.

Camila Mendes and Tyler Hoechlin both took a break from the CW to play the couple. Sarah is also a mess, but together her and Nyles do whatever they want without consequences. The only minor inconvenience is another trapped looper played by J.K. Simmons who wants Nyles dead. The mysterious source of the loop is the reason for more than one person being effected. Nyles and Sarah finding meaning in each other is probably the only thing that endears Palm Springs among the ever-growing list of time loop movies.

Palm Springs

Nyles and Sarah do nothing

My Extraordinary Ordinary Life

About Time is the feel good time travel movie of the 21st century. It’s about time I watched the movie. I’ve been curious to see About Time ever since I stumbled upon the trailer back in 2013. About Time is about one man’s journey to find happiness in his ordinary life. Third time director Richard Curtis is known for sentimental British romance. Domhnall Gleeson is a fitting romantic lead who plays the nervous Tim Lake. Tim has a perfectly loving family that includes his caring father James, mother Mary, confused Uncle Desmond, and fairy-like sister Kit Kat. Bill Nighy plays Tim’s father who very casually tells him all the men in their family can travel back in time.

Unlike most time travel movies, Tim can only go backwards in his own life by clenching his fists in a dark room. Unlike most romantic movies, About Time is refreshingly simple with very little conflict and no forced break ups. Tim just wants to get a girlfriend. So he improves his life similar to a time loop movie if it took place on more than one day. This is technically the earliest I’ve seen Margot Robbie as the first girl Tim fails to romance no matter how many chances he gets. This was also the earliest I’ve seen Vanessa Kirby. Tim eventually uses his power to help people like his jaded playwright flatmate played by Tom Hollander. His play sadly features Richard Griffiths in his final role.

Tim eventually falls for Mary played by the lovely American Rachel McAdams. Every attempt to woo Mary feels earned since they initially felt a connection without the use of time travel. Their relationship is genuine and heartfelt. About Time is honestly one of my new favorite genre-bending movies. Characters are hilarious beginning to end, the soundtrack is smashing, and I was so moved that I ended up crying. The only conflict is Tim realizing time travel can’t fix everything in his life. So he eventually learns from his dad that the key to happiness is appreciating life. About Time is a criminally underrated unconventional love story.

About Time

Tim and Mary as newlyweds

Where Imagination Comes to Life!

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is an oddity. It’s a live action G rated family film made at a time when those were becoming less common. Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium sounds like a children’s book, but the movie is surprisingly 100% original. It’s practically forgotten aside from a bizarre reference in Breaking Bad. Although I was 12 at the time, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium looked way too childish for me. It’s about a magical toy store ran by the eccentric 243 year old Mr. Magorium. My brother compared it to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but with toys.

The store itself is colorful and comes to life with many animate toys and magical rooms. Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman plays Mr. Magorium as a cross between Willy Wonka and the Mad Hatter. I never thought he could do something so silly and childish, but that’s kind of the idea. Hardly anything makes sense, like an out of nowhere Kermit the Frog cameo. Hoffman is joined by future Oscar winner Natalie Portman as his equally childlike store manager Molly Mahoney. Her pixie cut is the result of previously doing V for Vendetta.

The movie is narrated by the hat wearing child Eric who sticks close to the store. The only conflict is Mr. Magorium deciding to die and the store turning grey because of it. Jason Bateman plays the boring accountant referred to as “Mutant.” Mahoney has trouble believing in herself and Mutant has trouble believing in magic. The message of maintaining your youth is an okay one and Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is harmless enough to simply be cute.

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

Mr. Magorium and Mahoney at the Wonder Emporium

The White Death

Bullet Train is one crazy ride. After directing 2 franchise movies in a row, David Leitch chose to adapt the lesser known Japanese action novel Maria Beetle. Bullet Train is technically a sequel in a Hitman trilogy that began with Three Assassins which was adapted into the Japanese film Grasshopper. Since I knew nothing about the source material, the hilarious trailer and expected comparison to John Wick drew me in. It was one of a few original movies my brother and I saw in 2022. Despite the title, Bullet Train has a slow start, but it does become funnier and more action packed over time. The plot involves several highly trained operatives and/or assassins with colorful codenames. Most of them are after a briefcase that brings them together on the titular high speed bullet train.

Although Bullet Train takes place in Tokyo, the A-list cast isn’t entirely Japanese. Some critics complained about that, but I’m not sure it would’ve made a difference. Brad Pitt is an entertaining unlucky American operative codenamed Ladybug. I didn’t care for his quest for enlightenment, but he is a kick ass fighter. Speaking of Kick-Ass, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry steal the show as bickering English assassin twin brothers Tangerine & Lemon. Tangerine is a tad profane, but Lemon stands out with his out of nowhere obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine. The Diesel of the story is Joey King disguised as an unassuming pink school girl. The Prince is a particularly annoying villain who manipulates everyone she encounters.

The only Asian characters are also the most serious. Andrew Koji and Hiroyuki Sanada play a father and son who are both after the vengeful Russian head of the Yakuza. Michael Shannon is almost unrecognizable as the White Death and so is Logan Lerman as his ill-fated son. Mexican assassin the Wolf is just an obstacle, but Bad Bunny manages to make an impression with his brief role. So does Zazie Beetz as the poison spreading assassin the Hornet who loves saying “b*tch.” David Leitch also manages to sneak in a cameo for Ryan Reynolds. After appearing together in The Lost City, Channing Tatum gets an unexpected cameo and Sandra Bullock plays Ladybug’s mostly unseen handler. Despite a reliance on bloody violence, Bullet Train is stylish with plenty of well choreographed action.

Bullet Train

Ladybug interrogates Tangerine

I Want My $200

Paper Moon is the second best con of 1973. Since it came out the same year as Best Picture winner The Sting. Both movies managed to capture the 1936 Great Depression time period, but Paper Moon goes the extra mile by shooting in black & white. Though intended for Paul Newman and his daughter, the 1971 book Addie Pray became a starring vehicle for Ryan O’Neal and his daughter instead. The new title refers to the old fashioned Ella Fitzgerald song “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” Aside from a reference in The Simpsons episode “The Great Money Caper,” Paper Moon captured my attention long ago for featuring one of the greatest child acting performances of all time.

Despite having zero acting experience, 10 year old Tatum O’Neal became the youngest actress to ever win a competitive Oscar in her debut performance. O’Neal won Best Supporting Actress even though she’s clearly the co-lead. Her mature performance even manages to outshine her own father, but Ryan O’Neal is just as good. Their characters may or may not be father and daughter as Moses “Moze” Pray agrees to take the orphaned Addie Loggins to her aunt in Missouri. Moze is a small time con man and Addie is a bit of a tomboy who catches on to his scheme.

Her demand for $200 leads to a humorous road trip across the great state of Kansas. Their cons start small with phony Bible sales, but they hit a snag when Moze picks up bimbo burlesque dancer Miss Trixie Delight. Madeline Kahn earned her first Best Supporting Actress nomination with her airheaded performance. Paper Moon was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound. Addie befriends Trixie’s black teenage maid and forms a tight bond with her possible father. They make the mistake of conning a crooked bootlegger, but that’s not enough to keep them apart. Paper Moon is a caper that the whole family can enjoy.

Paper Moon

Moze drives with Addie

You’re Never Not On My Mind

Turning Red is Pixar at their most awkward and relatable. Chinese Canadian animator Domee Shi became the first woman to helm a Pixar short. The Academy Award winning Bao won everyone over with its unique premise where a mother learns to let go of her son. Though Brenda Chapman co-directed Brave, Shi also became the first woman to helm a feature length Pixar movie. When Pete Docter became the new chief creative officer of Pixar animation, the studio embraced more passion projects like Luca. Turning Red is another personal story based on the director’s adolescence as a Chinese immigrant growing up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Though it’s another Asian influenced Disney movie, Turning Red stands out for one big reason.

Turning Red asks the question, what if a hormonal teenager transformed into a literal beast? A girl turning into a giant red panda is certainly different, but there’s more than enough Pixar magic in the movie. Turning Red is practically a spiritual successor to Inside Out that takes place in the early 2000’s. I was won over the moment I heard The Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC in the trailers. At this point I wasn’t surprised when Turning Red went from theatrical release to streaming exclusively on Disney+. It’s another shame since it would’ve been an interesting theater experience. Turning Red had an all female production team that focused on a lot of taboo feminine experiences. Though I can’t always relate, Turning Red is one of the better Pixar movies I’ve seen in a long time…

50. Turning Red

Mei is the life of the party

Turning Red never came with a short, since it’s the third Pixar movie in a row to be streaming exclusive. Though they blamed it on the Pandemic, I’m pretty sure Disney didn’t have enough faith in the movie to keep it in theaters. Soul, Luca, and Turning Red are all original projects that Disney underestimated the impact of. After Brave, Turning Red is the second Pixar movie about a complicated mother-daughter relationship. The main difference is a Chinese perspective. Bare in mind Everything Everywhere All at Once was released the same month, but both movies couldn’t be more different. Turning Red begins with 13 year old Chinese Canadian middle schooler Meilin Lee as she talks about honoring her parents and potentially forgetting to honor herself. Then the serious tone shifts the second Mei breaks the fourth wall. Newcomer Rosalie Chiang was born to voice Mei-Mei. The 12 year old aspiring actress was originally a temporary placeholder voice, but Pixar soon realized she was perfect for the role. Chiang captures Mei’s overachieving personality, inner conflict, and quirky sense of humor. It’s refreshing to see a Pixar movie that actually tries to be funny up front. Lately there’s been way more emphasis on emotion than comedy.

Turning Red is one of the funniest Pixar movies in recent memory. Backgrounds and clothing are very colorful since the movie is from a tweens point of view. The warm and inviting computer animation is distinctly Pixar, but Turning Red is a lot more unique and stylized. Similar to Bao, Domee Shi was influenced by Anime like Sailor Moon and video games like Pokémon. The flashy imagery and big bright anime eyes are unmistakable. Though Mei’s Chinese ancestry is a big part of the movie, there’s just as much attention given to Canada. Despite the modern sensibilities and usual emphasis on diversity, Turning Red is set in the year 2002. Since I grew up in the early 2000’s, nostalgia was another reason I enjoyed the movie. Mei has a Tamagotchi and is totally obsessed with the fictional boy band 4*Town. So now Coco, Soul, and Turning Red have all centered around era appropriate music. 4*Town looks and sounds so much like every boy band from the late 90’s and early 2000’s. They’re ethnically diverse with matching outfits and boyish good looks. Robaire is the front man who speaks French, Jesse is the artistic one, Tae Young loves animals, and Aaron T. & Aaron Z. also exist. Despite being less than 1 year old at the time, Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell flawlessly capture the sound of a 2002 boy band.

Though they have other hits like “1 True Love” or “U Know What’s Up,” “Nobody Like U” is their catchiest signature song. It’s the song that Mei often sings when she’s goofing off with her friends. Turning Red is very unique for featuring a sisterhood of close female friends. Mei’s circle of equally quirky friends includes Miriam, Priya, and Abby. Miriam is a Caucasian tomboy with braces voiced by singer Ava Morse. She’s arguably Mei’s best friend, since Miriam sticks up for her the most and keeps everyone else in check. Priya is Indian with a deadpan personality voiced by Never Have I Ever star Maitreyi Ramakrishnan. Abby is Korean with a short fuse and a lot energy voiced by storyboard artist Hyein Park. Mei’s friends are the right combination of weird and hilarious. Though they aren’t exactly unpopular, Mei does deal with her obnoxious biracial bully Tyler voiced by Tristan Allerick Chen. Most of the respectable cast is unknown, but there are well known Asian stars like Sandra Oh. This is Oh’s third computer animated mother role in 3 years after Over the Moon and Raya and the Last Dragon.

Ming is Mei’s overprotective mother who sets a lot of rules and wants her daughter to be the best. She doesn’t approve of 4*Town or Mei’s friendship with Miriam for unexplained reasons. Oh manages to make Ming funny in an embarrassing parent kind of way. Though people might call her a “tiger mom,” Mei has a very close relationship with her mom. They spend time cleaning up and giving tours in their family’s ancient temple. Although Mulan included praying to ancestors, Turning Red has more overt references to Buddhism and a mystical connection to red pandas. I’m not crazy about those story beats, but at least the food looks delicious. There’s plenty of Bao, along with a Miyazaki-esque cooking scene filled with other Chinese dishes. Orion Lee is Mei’s soft-spoken father who does most of the cooking, but tends to stay in the background. Though the story could’ve gone in all sorts of directions in this day in age, Mei and her friends are all boy crazy fangirls who make 4*Town their rite of passage into womanhood. Turning Red more than earns its PG rating with a lot of surprisingly risque jokes and edgy topics for Pixar (or Disney).

It all starts with Mei saying “crap” after a failed spontaneous cartwheel. Mei’s friends spend time gawking at boys like the 17 year old Daisy Mart clerk Devon. Mei’s hormones flare up when she impulsively draws several “sexy” pictures of her and Devon. Teen lust is not something I ever expected to see in a Pixar movie, but I imagine this is what Inside Out 2 would be about. It’s another hilarious sequence, but Mei’s mom finding out and showing Devon is next level embarrassment. Ming accuses Devon of doing drugs and causes Mei to question what she did. Overnight, Mei undergoes a startling transformation into a giant red panda. Transformations are another anime staple, but Turning Red is one of several Pixar movies influenced by Hayao Miyazaki. Like Totoro before her, Mei is a large huggable monster with soft fur. Red pandas aren’t as well known as actual pandas, but the adorable animals did receive attention in the Kung Fu Panda trilogy. The title Turning Red has several meanings. It can refer to embarrassment, Mei’s literal transformation, or the film’s most taboo subject. Mei becoming a red panda is a metaphor for puberty, but Ming mistakes it for her first period.

Growing up as a boy who never had sisters, I didn’t learn about menstruation until I was older. It was just something no one ever talked about. Especially not in a movie meant for children. The only other kids cartoon to explore menstruation was Braceface in 2001. Ironically, Braceface and Turning Red are both set in Canada and deal with the messy side of growing up. Though the word “period” is never said, it’s obvious when Ming brings out an assortment of pads and herbal tea for cramps. Mei has several mood swings and attempts to hide her panda from her parents. Only when Mei calms down does the panda go away. Though her black hair is red from now on. Mei covers her hair with a hat and tries not to show any emotion at school. Except when Tyler picks on her and she sees another boy that she likes. The panda finally comes out when Ming shows up at school with more pads. A big pink cloud hides Mei’s identity, but her mom and a girl with diabetes manage to see her. Panda Mei runs across the city until she gets home. Turns out her parents know all about the red panda curse.

Mei learns about her ancient ancestor Sun Yee who prayed to become a red panda in order to protect her village. Since then every female descendant has had to deal with becoming a red panda once they reach a certain age. The only way to contain the curse is by locking it in a talisman during a red moon ritual. Turning Red is very unique for Pixar, but it is similar to The Incredible Hulk since strong emotion brings out a beast. It’s also similar to Teen Wolf since it takes a casual approach to a hereditary teen monster going through changes. Believe it or not, even I once had an idea for an adolescent superhero who transforms into a red animal during puberty long before the movie came out. At first, Mei keeps her power locked in her room just like Elsa in Frozen. Until she accidentally exposes herself to her friends who are excited for 4*Town coming to Toronto. Priya, but especially Abby are enamoured with Mei’s adorable red panda appearance. Miriam manages to cheer Mei up with an impromptu “boots & cats” beatbox of “Nobody Like U.” Their friendship is enough to neutralize the panda, but her parents still test her emotions in a variety of humorous ways. When Mei passes she takes the opportunity to ask to go to the concert. Mei shows signs of rebellion when her mother says no and it’s revealed that Ming had a similar relationship with her mother. Encanto had more than enough generational trauma in it, but at least Turning Red doesn’t dwell on it.

After her recurring role as Madame Gao in the Marvel Netflix shows, Wai Ching Ho voices Mei’s grandmother Wu. Her facial scar is later revealed to be the result of Ming’s red panda. Wu arrives for the red moon ritual and is joined by Mei’s four interchangeable aunts. When Ming continues to helicopter parent, Mei grows even more rebellious. Like Teen Wolf, Mei grows increasingly popular when she exposes her panda to the rest of the school. Together with her friends, Mei uses the red panda to sell enough merchandise to afford going to the concert. Ming assumes Mei joined a math club, and everything goes well until Tyler promises to pay $200 to have the red panda at his birthday party. When she accepts, Mei’s grandmother tells her the more she transforms the harder it will be to control. Mei goes to the party anyway, and her friends convince her to transform. The red panda is the hit of an early 2000’s party that includes era appropriate songs like “Cha Cha Slide” and “Bootylicious.” Problems arise when it turns out the night of the red moon is the same night as the concert. Mei loses control when she attacks Tyler with her red panda. Then it gets worse when Mei sides with her mother who accuses her friends of making her use the panda.

Miriam, Priya, and Abby go to the concert alone while Mei prepares for the ritual. Mei’s father finally speaks up when he tells her about Ming’s panda and encourages her friendships. Of course Turning Red wouldn’t be complete without James Hong as local shaman Mr. Gao. He leads the red moon ritual in a chalk circle where Mei’s relatives must sing from the heart. Mei enters an astral plane where she must cross a veil in order to lock away her panda. SPOILER ALERT! In a surprising twist, Mei chooses to embrace her panda and disobey her mother to go to the concert. Ming is so distraught that her talisman breaks and she becomes a red panda too. I expected more than one red panda, but Ming is the size of a ten story kaiju! Mei rides her transformation cloud all the way to the concert where she makes amends with her friends. They also discover Tyler is a 4*Townie and embrace him as one of their own. The concert kicks off without a hitch, but it all comes crashing down when the building size Panda Ming embarrasses Mei once again. This time Mei is ready to confront her mother. Turning Red has what may be the weirdest climax in Pixar history. Panda Mei finally confesses to lying, liking boys, and she shakes her butt in defiance.

It gets to a point where Mei knocks out her mother in the middle of the SkyDome. Mei’s remorse mirrors the regret Ming had for hurting her own mother. With time running out, the only hope to get rid of the pandas are by recreating the ritual in the middle of the concert. Grandma Wu, Aunt Chen, Aunt Ping, Aunt Helen, and Aunt Lily all transform back into red pandas in order to help pull Panda Ming into the chalk circle while continuing the ritual chant. Would you believe they somehow found a way to have a pop song be the thing that saves the day? That’s exactly what happens when Mei’s friends convince 4*Town to sing “Nobody Like U” to complete the ritual. In a tear worthy moment, Mei is taken to the astral plane where she reconciles with a past version of her mother. Ming reconciles with her mother and the aunts who are ready to walk through the veil. Never thought I’d see so many Asian women with red hair in one scene. Ming makes one last attempt to reason with Mei, but she ultimately agrees to let her grow up. In the end, Mei finds a way to balance her family life and personal life without letting go of the red panda within her. Turning Red isn’t always comfortable viewing, but that’s all a part of growing up.

51. Turning Red

Mei goofs off with her friends

We Don’t Talk About Bruno

Encanto is Disney’s biggest cultural phenomenon since Frozen. Walt Disney Animation continued to make successful films, but nothing came close to the 2013 hit. Since musicals like Moana and Frozen II tend to make a stronger impression, Lin-Manuel Miranda followed up the former with his own Latin inspired musical. Miranda had a ridiculously busy 2021 that included In the Heights, Vivo, and Tick, Tick… Boom! Though he still hasn’t won an Oscar, Encanto managed to win Best Animated Feature and top several Billboard charts with its soundtrack. I’m glad the sixtieth Disney animated movie made such an impact, but it was far from the traditional Disney magic.

Unlike Tangled, Encanto was another original project centered around the next marketable culture. This time Disney was influenced by Colombian culture and a Colombian Cultural Trust was formed similar to Raya and the Last Dragon. The non-Hispanic directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard made Encanto their next project after Zootopia. The story changed many times, but family was a constant theme. Though it later gained new life on Disney+, Encanto wasn’t a success at the box-office. Most people blame the Pandemic, but I’m pretty sure there was a lack of interest. Although I didn’t take part in the obsession, I do understand Encanto eventually connecting with a new generation of Disney fans…

95. Encanto

Mirabel shows off the Casita

Encanto looks and sounds different than most Disney animated movies, but it is similar to Coco. Both are about large Hispanic families righting wrongs across several generations. I have no problem with Pixar experimenting, but I just haven’t been a fan of the new direction Disney has been taking. Diversity is expected, but I’d like something with animals or a fairy tale every once in awhile. There’s so much emphasis on family and complex emotional drama. My brother and I saw Encanto in a packed theater, but the audience of children wasn’t very lively. The traditionally animated raccoon short Far from the Tree didn’t get much of a response either. Encanto was hailed for its use of transgenerational trauma, but is that really what kids want to see? Luckily the colors are vibrant and the songs are enough to keep kids distracted. There’s a considerable amount of complex backstory, but it is easier to follow than Raya and the Last Dragon. I’m neither Hispanic nor Colombian, but Disney went the extra mile to ensure the setting and community was accurate. Unlike In the Heights, Hispanic characters have different skin tones that I never expected to see in an animated movie. There’s brown skin, light skin, and darker Afro-Latino skin.

Encanto was inspired by Colombian folklore and history with a twist of magical realism. The Madrigal family flee their home in order to escape the Thousand Days’ War. Tragedy gives the family a miracle candle that shields their community in a magical Encanto protected by mountains. The Madrigal family lives in a magical Casita come to life. Between Encanto and Moana, Disney really likes living inanimate objects lately. Similar to the water in Moana, the Casita shifts its architecture and helps the protagonist on her journey. Most members of the Madrigal family are given a gift that they use to help their community. Encanto is like a superhero movie without the action or villain. Lack of romance and Disney villains continue to frustrate me. Now it’s just familial love and characters who end up looking bad for the sake of tension. Encanto feels more aimless than usual with one location and an ensemble cast of 11 family members. Disney found it particularly difficult fitting so many multilayered characters into a 90 minute kid’s film.

Encanto has a mostly Colombian cast that Spanish audiences may recognize more. Brooklyn Nine-Nine actress Stephanie Beatriz voices the quirky Mirabel Madrigal. Mirabel is an awkward 15 year old teenager and the first person born to her family that doesn’t have a gift. As a Disney heroine, Mirabel is unique for her large glasses and mostly plain appearance. The movie was originally about Mirabel desperately wanting a gift, but it was appropriately changed to Mirabel feeling left out and seeking purpose in her family. The Madrigal family is made up of three generations. María Cecilia Botero voices the stern, but well-meaning family matriarch Abuela. Abuela has been holding onto the magical candle ever since her husband Pedro was killed. She was left with fraternal triplets that all received gifts from the Casita once they reached a certain age. Angie Cepeda voices Mirabel’s caring mamá Julieta who can heal injuries with her cooking. I expected Colombian cuisine and staples like coffee, but there’s not too much focus on food.

Julieta gives her daughter motherly advice along with her equally supportive husband. Fez himself Wilmer Valderrama voices Mirabel’s accident prone papá Agustin who benefits from his wife’s cooking. Mirabel’s older sisters are Isabela and Luisa. Diane Guerrero is mostly known for her TV roles, but she makes the perfect Isabela. Isabela represents the beautiful primadona golden child who has the power to make flowers bloom. Jessica Darrow has the right kind of deep voice for the buff Luisa. Luisa has super strength and does most of the heavy lifting. A big muscular woman was wierd for Disney, but she ended up being a standout character. Julieta’s sister is Mirabel’s lighter skinned Tía Pepa. Carolina Gaitán voices the high strung Pepa who has the ability to change the weather with her mood. She’s the polar opposite of her shorter Afro-Caribbean husband and Mirabel’s Tío Félix, but they’re a nice interracial couple. Lesser known singer Mauro Castillo voices the fun loving Félix who doesn’t have a gift just like his brother-in-law Agustin. Mirabel technically has people in her family she can relate to, but it’s different for people married into the family.

Mirabel’s cousins are Dolores, Camilo, and Antonio. Latin singer Adassa voices the soft spoken Dolores who has the gift of super-hearing. Dolores is my personal favorite character since her power is useful and I like the humming sound she makes. Runaways actor Rhenzy Feliz voices the mischievous Camilo who can shapeshift. Since his gift is used mostly for comic relief, Camilo isn’t given much of an arc. Child actor Ravi Cabot-Conyers voices the youngest Madrigal Antonio who receives his gift at the beginning of the movie. Dolores and Camilo are definitely mixed, but Antonio is the spitting image of his dark skinned papá. Antonio is a little sweetheart who has a close relationship with his cousin Mirabel. He worries about not getting a gift, but he’s also sad that Mirabel doesn’t have one. The gift giving ceremony is a major event involving the entire community. Antonio chooses to walk with Mirabel and Abuela officiates the ceremony by reciting the responsibilities of his gift. All members of the Madrigal family (except Mirabel) receive a magical door leading to their much bigger bedroom that represents their gift. It’s a cool Dr. Who concept, but I do wish we saw everyone’s room.

Since Antonio loves animals, he’s given the ability to talk to animals. His bedroom is a jungle treehouse filled with Colombian animals like jaguars, capybaras, and toucans. You’d think Disney’s focus on diversity would make it difficult to include Alan Tudyk, but he once again voices an animal companion. Even though Pico the toucan isn’t much of a character. Mirabel continues to feel isolated, but she finds purpose when cracks start to form in the Casita and the magic starts to go out. So Mirabel sets out on an adventure to save the miracle. The trailers are kind of false advertising since she technically never leaves home. Mirabel tries to get answers from Dolores since her hearing should be enough to solve most problems in the movie. She points Mirabel in the direction of Louisa who felt weak at the time the magic started to wear off. Louisa opens up about the pressure she feels doing all the heavy lifting and it makes her even more relatable. She points Mirabel in the direction of their Tío Bruno. Who I haven’t mentioned since we don’t talk about Bruno. Disney sure does like that name after its other explicit use in Luca.

Bruno is the mystery relative who was ostracized by the family and community for his gift of seeing the future. Mirabel journeys into his perilous sand covered tower where she finds a broken vision that shows her at the center of everything going wrong. Despite warnings from Pepa, Félix, and the rest of her family, Mirabel’s papá ends up seeing the vision and Dolores overhears everything. In terms of humor, I didn’t think Encanto was very funny, but the dinner scene is comedy gold. Dolores passes the information to everyone as they start to freak out. Colombian singer Maluma voices Isabela’s lovesick suitor Mariano who remains clueless to the family losing control of their powers. As they storm off, Mirabel follows a mischief of rats to a space between the walls. SPOILER ALERT! She chases a mystery figure who ends up being Bruno. John Leguizamo is easily the most well known actor in the movie. I knew he was Spanish, but I never realized he was Colombian. Leguizamo has the right kind of skittish voice for the reclusive Bruno. Though his “acting” and mannerisms are odd, Bruno never left since he still loves his family. Mirabel tries to convince Bruno to reinterpret his vision.

Antonio discovers them using his rat companions and gives them the space he needs to see a new vision. I’ll admit Isabela showing up in the vision came out of nowhere, but she has been not so secretly resenting her younger sister throughout the movie. Mirabel is led to Isabela’s floral bedroom where she has to reconcile with her oldest sister. Isabela also opens up by admitting she doesn’t want to marry Mariano and she doesn’t want to be perfect either. There was originally supposed to be another imperfect guy in Isabela’s life, but it would’ve been too much. Instead Isabela embraces an imperfect cactus and Mirabel for encouraging her to let loose. Encanto may not have a villain, but Abuela comes across very antagonistic when she repremends Mirabel for her actions and openly admits disappointment in her for not receiving a gift. Mirabel accuses Abuela of hurting the family and being the reason the magic is dying. It’s enough to completely destroy the Casita and extinguish the candle for good. Mirabel runs away, but she’s soon joined by Abuela who explains her entire tragic backstory and reason for holding on as much as she did. Despite the complex nature of family trauma, everything is resolved in only 15 minutes.

Abuela embraces Bruno, Bruno is embraced by his sisters, the community comes to rebuild their Casita, Dolores admits her feelings for Mariano, and Mirabel helps everyone work together without their gifts. It would’ve been a fine moral to end on, but the magic returns anyway. The only difference is Mirabel being the glue that holds her family together. Encanto was the most ambitious computer animated movie Disney made at the time. Despite the Pandemic, animators still managed to make research trips in order to get Colombian architecture and clothing right. There’s so much detail packed in every dress and pancho. Each member of the Madrigal family has an outfit that reflects their gift. Except for Mirabel who has pictures from everyone else’s gift. Character design is a bit stylized, but still recognizable to the Disney brand. Colors stand out the most with Mirabel’s side of the family dressed in cool tones like blue, indigo, and purple. Meanwhile, her cousins are dressed in warm tones like red, orange, and yellow. Bruno stands apart with his trademark green pancho.

As pleasant looking as the movie is, Encanto will mostly be remembered for its Lin-Manuel Miranda soundtrack. Like Hamilton, every song serves a purpose in moving the story along. I just wish they weren’t filled with so much slang. Despite taking place sometime in the early 1900’s, I expected Disney to once again incorporate modern slang into the movie. However, Miranda does respect Latin tradition by writing songs in English as well as Spanish. The spirited “Colombia, Mi Encanto” is the primary theme that was used in promotions of the movie. “The Family Madrigal” was deliberately written to introduce every member of the family. Though it’s an entertaining bit of exposition, it does become very rambling near the end. Similar to the final song “All of You” that incorporates every family member with several styles mashed together and characters practically talk singing the entire thing. They couldn’t resist a reference to “Let it Go,” but there are several attempts at an Oscar bait song. “Waiting on a Miracle” is Mirabel’s “I Want” song where she freezes her family to express her desire to belong. It’s very similar to Jasmine’s new solo in the live-action Aladdin.

Isabela’s song “What Else Can I Do?” is probably the most underrated. It’s a good way to show Isabela’s transition from perfect appearances to messy colors and mismatched flowers. Though it’s Louisa’s song “Surface Pressure” that ended up making a stronger impression. Louisa carrying her family is represented by action scenes that include Hercules, the Titanic, and dancing donkeys. The beat is infectious, but the “tick, tick” lyrics are suspiciously similar to Tick, Tick… Boom! The only song that truly deserved Oscar attention was “Dos Oruguitas.” A Spanish folk song that beautifully depicts Abuela escaping the war and losing the man she loves. An English version can be heard during the credits, but it’s better in Spanish. Yet every song pales in comparison to the impact of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” Bruno isn’t an antagonist, but the ominous lyrics and sinister imagery is as good as classic Disney villain songs.

Pepa and Félix talk about their hurricane wedding, Dolores mentions hearing Bruno in the walls, Camilo gives him an unflattering description, Isabela brings up her perfect life, and Mirabel pieces together the prophecy all before dinner. The song gets more catchy everytime I hear it, but I still don’t think it’s a perfect song. It’s another song that mashes together several styles and not every portion is easy to remember. There’s a difference between a popular song and songs that deserve a Best Original Song nomination. The Oscars made the mistake of performing the song anyway and disappointing countless viewers with a lame remix. “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” did receive unprecedented attention on the US Billboard Hot 100. “Surface Pressure” reached No. 8, but “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” managed to top the charts at No. 1. Encanto is like the Madrigal family, not perfect, but it means well.

96. Encanto

Mirabel and her family