A Mystical, Action, Adventure, Comedy, Kung Fu, Monster, Ghost Story!

Big Trouble in Little China is like every genre mixed together in one weird package. If there’s any 80’s action movie that always left me puzzled it was this. Yet I never made the leap to watch it at any point when I was younger. Until its cult status grew. John Carpenter puts his signature stamp on Big Trouble in Little China with unpredictable action, creative music, and the always cool Kurt Russell. Influencing plenty of media in the process. Though its initial failure left Carpenter disillusioned.

Russell is chatty truck driving San Francisco outsider Jack Burton. The guy that seems like the lead, but he’s only in it for his truck. Yet Jack is still willing to help his friend Wang Chi through the increasingly weird underbelly of Chinatown. One that hides ancient Chinese mysticism, setting off a crazy action/adventure packed with absurd comedy, exciting kung fu battles, unexpectedly fearsome monsters, and one bizzare ghost story. Big Trouble in Little China is the kind of 80’s flick that asks you to accept the world you’re in no matter how strange it gets.

Jack and Wang search for Wang’s green eyed fiance Miao Yin when she’s kidnapped by a dangerous street gang. Then things get complicated when magic is introduced in the form of three lightning throwing warriors with giant straw hats. James Hong effectively plays Lo Pan, an evil Fu Manchu-like sorcerer with plans for using a green eyed girl to make himself mortal. Jack and Wang team up with equally green eyed Gracie Law played by Kim Cattrall. Together with friend Eddie, reporter Margo, and mystic bus driver Egg, they make a daring rescue. Monsters float around, people explode, and Jack bumbles his way to victory. Big Trouble in Little China is B movie fun that can last for generations.

Big Trouble in Little China

Jack and Wang rescue Gracie and Miao

They Tried Stoning Me My Dear

Dark Shadows suffers from an unclear audience. Since it’s based on a soap opera from the late 60’s to early 70’s. Despite its apparent popularity, I hadn’t heard of Dark Shadows before the 2012 movie came out. Turns out my mom was a big fan who used to rush home just to catch the latest exploits of charismatic vampire Barnabas Collins. The main reason the gothic soap opera lasted as long as it did. Really it was only a matter of time before Tim Burton did a vampire flick. Although it was actually Johnny Depp’s idea to make the film.

The problem is most older audiences probably won’t care to see a tongue in cheek retelling. While younger fans of Tim Burton like myself aren’t gonna appreciate the jokes. Not that Johnny Depp as pale vampire Barnabas Collins wasn’t plenty entertaining. Even if most of his material amounts to reacting to the modern 70’s. From what I understand about the show, all the major characters are represented. With Barnabas cursed to be a vampire by seductive witch Angelique. Then waking centuries later to reclaim his family fortune at Collinwood.

A cast of names like Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloe Grace Moretz, Helena Bonham Carter in her final Burton role, and Christopher Lee in his 200th film role deserve credit too. Along with a 70’s appropriate Alice Cooper cameo. Occasionally it works, but the plot mostly meanders with Barnabas’ efforts to fix the dysfunctional family, restore their business, and face his lost love. While at the same time dealing with ghosts, witches, and werewolves. Dark Shadows is as pale, quirky, and stylish as the rest of Burton’s work, but I’m really not sure who its for.

Dark-Shadows

Barnabas Collins awakens

This is My Boomstick!

Army of Darkness went full comedy. You’d almost forget it was connected to The Evil Dead with how vastly different it is. Sam Raimi actually had the idea for a Medieval Dead sequel when pitching Evil Dead II. The studio just wanted another cabin in the woods movie. So Army of Darkness became the third installment after Darkman was a hit. The ending of the previous movie is retconned yet again. This time with another Linda played by Bridget Fonda and a far less gory hand sawing sequence. In fact, Army of Darkness is very Hollywood with a PG-13 feel. It’s still R rated, but it is the easiest Evil Dead to stomach.

Army of Darkness also changes the ending by having Ash Williams not hailed on arrival. Instead he’s imprisoned and force fed to a deadite. Until he shows off his chainsaw skills and fancy boomstick. Bruce Campbell is now impossibly cool as Ash. Delivering several quotable one-liners. The bigger budget also meant exploring his past as an S-Mart employee. When the knights and peasants do hail Ash, he’s lavished, and even gets a fair maiden girlfriend. It’s just the deadites and original Necronomicon that are the problem. So he soups-up his missing hand with a groovy mechanical one.

In order to get home, Ash must recite the familiar words, “Klaatu barada nikto.” Which he totally flubs. The deadites raised are still menacing with more impressive stop-motion. The slapstick just goes a little too far with the mostly funny tiny Ash’s, evil Ash, and comical skeleton army. When he defeats the army of darkness, Ash returns to S-Mart a king (“Hail to the king, baby”). Although he was very nearly screwed over again. Army of Darkness stands on its own as a horror adjacent adventure for the ages.

3. Army of Darkness

Ash presents his boomstick

Preceded by: Evil Dead II

Into the Unknown

Frozen II was bound to happen eventually. Since the Frozen franchise never truly ended after the first movie. There seemed to be something Frozen related every year until the sequel came out. There was the passable Cinderella released spring short Frozen Fever and misguided Coco released winter short Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. There was an endless barrage of merchandise, dolls, LEGO, video games, and an entire half season of Once Upon a Time dedicated to Frozen. Plus children continuing to sing Frozen songs non-stop for 6 years. Sure other Walt Disney animated movies distracted them, but Frozen was always there. Since Ralph Breaks the Internet was also an unconventional theatrical sequel, I’m more convinced that it starts what I’ll temporarily call the sequel era.

Frozen II is the fifty-eighth animated Disney movie and the first to officially phase out computer animation pioneer John Lasseter. Replacing him with Frozen writer/director Jennifer Lee. Only time will tell if later projects can benefit from her input. Frozen II seems like it was only made to cash in on the massive success of Frozen, but Disney once again gave the “We only make sequels when the story is good” response. Now Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen is practically irrelevant. Since the furthest they go is working in a very heavy amount of Scandinavian folklore. A lot of the production can actually be seen in the Disney+ documentary Into the Unknown: Making Frozen 2. While Frozen II was obviously another billion dollar success, the lack of Best Animated Feature nomination is pretty telling of how the sequel is in comparison…

FROZEN 2

Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf travel into the unknown

Frozen II was a definite viewing experience regardless of how tired I might of been with Frozen. My brother and I never got tired of the first movie, but everyone should’ve let it go. Then I saw the stunning teaser trailer and was immediately sold on the idea of a Frozen II. The silent, serious tone definitely made it seem more grown up and sophisticated. In keeping with the seasonal change tradition, Frozen II now takes place during the fall. Snow isn’t seen half as much as falling leaves, pumpkins, and other parts of nature. The main goal for Frozen II was to answer questions left open in Frozen. Effectively taking away the mystery of the fairy tale. While at the same time having an obvious checklist of callbacks to keep fans happy. Once upon a time, Anna & Elsa’s parents told them all about their kingdom’s past. With a whole lot of exposition that’s bound to confuse kids.

Water, Earth, Fire, Air. Long ago, the Enchanted Forest was in harmony. Then, everything changed when Arendelle and the Northuldra tribe attacked each other. Only the fifth spirit, master of uniting all four spirits, could make things right, but when the forest needed it most, it placed itself under a curse. Several years passed as King Agnarr and Queen Iduna ruled after the King’s father perished in battle. And although the dam given by Arendelle remains in tact, it’s only a matter of time before the past catches up to them. But Anna & Elsa believe there’s more to the story than their parents are telling them. Since the King & Queen didn’t have names or A-list voice actors in their brief first appearance, Alfred Molina and Evan Rachel Wood serve as replacements. Their mother continues the story by mentioning a place of answers called Ahtohallan. All this before the title is even shown.

I have no problem with Scandinavian folklore, but it’s just not necessary to get this deep in Norwegian culture. That’s not why people keep going back to Frozen. It’s characters like Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven. All of whom return with Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad never seeming to get a break from their roles. Alan Tudyk is a bit harder to spot. 3 years after Elsa’s coronation, she starts to hear a voice call out to her. Meanwhile, Anna enjoys the changes made to the kingdom and Olaf now has a whole existential bit about growing old. If there’s one thing Disney sequels always have to deal with, it’s having their wacky comic relief present for the entire movie. Olaf is tolerable, but his random educational facts and contemplations aren’t always funny. Once again a modern Disney (and/or Pixar) movie favors emotion over comedy. There’s way too much somber quiet moments, talking, and overall exposition.

Along with characters that they likely needed an excuse to keep relevant in the story. Kristoff has more to do sure, but his arc is just comically trying to propose to Anna and feeling bad when she keeps misreading everything. After a game of charades that acknowledges Frozen one of many times, Elsa gets distracted by the voice again. Anna tries to comfort Elsa, but she can’t shake the call to go into the unknown. With the four elements out of control in Arendelle, Grand Pappie rock troll returns to direct them to their next adventure. Righting the wrongs of the past and doing the next right thing to save the Enchanted Forest. Despite Elsa being the only one who should go on the journey, Anna wants to protect Elsa, Kristoff wants to protect Anna, and Olaf wants to tag along. Sven takes their sled to a magical barrier that engulfs the entire forest. As they enter, Olaf mentions water having memory. Which somehow reveals the past through Elsa’s ice powers. Call it magic or conventiant storytelling.

They also discover each elemental spirit has a physical form. Each one being hostile before it softens up. First they encounter the air spirit tornado that’s really just a leafy wind Olaf names Gale. Then they meet the Northuldra people who have been imprisoned for years with feuding Arendelle guards. So Olaf comically recaps all of the events of Frozen that we already know. Yelena leads the Sámi inspired Northuldra and Lieutenant Matthias leads the small Arendelle group. With Sterling K. Brown cast, Matthias becomes the only black man in Scandinavia. While other new characters like Ryder and his sister Honeymaren aren’t fleshed out nearly enough to get invested in them. Really it’s the fire spirit of pink flames that’s really an adorable salamander named Burni that’s worth talking about. Even if his only purpose is to be Elsa’s animal companion.

SPOILER ALERT! It’s then revealed that the Queen was really Northuldra and the one who saved the King’s life. Making that the reason why Elsa has powers. Kristoff is left with his reindeer as Anna, Elsa, and Olaf then discover the truth about where their parents were heading when their ship sank. The destination was Ahtohallan. Since it was the only place they could find answers about maintaining Elsa’s magic. So Elsa sends Anna & Olaf away as she intends to find it herself. Anna & Olaf encounter earth spirit rock giants and they find themselves lost in a cave. Meanwhile, Elsa is determined to cross the sea with the full force of her ice powers. Then she encounters the final water spirit known as Nøkk. A mythological water horse that Elsa tames in order to reach Ahtohallan. A glacier that reveals the mysterious voice to be the memory of her mother revealing Elsa to be the fifth spirit. She also finds more ice memories that showcase Frozen references yet again.

Despite the many references to Hans, Frozen II doesn’t have a villain since Disney keeps settling on complex themes that make everyone look bad. In this case, it’s Anna & Elsa’s grandfather who attacked the Northuldra out of fear of their magic and used the dam to cut off their resources. Elsa freezes, but not before getting the truth to Anna. Who watches as Olaf fades away in her arms. All alone, Anna realizes destroying the dam (and Arendelle with it) will right the wrong. Kristoff rides in to help as Anna leads the rock giants to the dam. Although it seems like Arendelle will face the consequences of the past, Elsa swoops in last minute to stop the flood. I’m definitely not the kind of person who thinks tearing things down fixes the past, but Frozen II is almost meaningless without it. Olaf doesn’t even stay melted since it’s enough just to traumatize kids with the possibility. Anna & Elsa find that they’re equally important and Kristoff finally proposes. In the end, it’s satisfying to see Anna crowned queen of Arendelle, Elsa free with the Northuldra, and everyone living happily ever after.

Frozen II has such breathtaking animation that they had to stylize things a bit just to keep it from being too realistic. Water just gets more and more lifelike with every passing Disney movie. The spectacle of ice and snow may be smaller, but the Enchanted Forest is still very impressive. Characters remain the same, but now they have plenty of toy friendly costume changes. Anna & Elsa both let their hair down with more fall appropriate outfits. Elsa’s new signature is her all white dress that she creates after discovering herself. With Elsa continuing to not have a love interest and Anna as queen, they feel even less like official Disney Princesses. Maybe that’s why they still haven’t been inducted. Well the musical tradition continues at least. With 2 time Oscar winning married duo Robert & Kristen Anderson-Lopez forced to live up to their incredible Frozen soundtrack. Although the songs are high caliber with a Broadway feel, they ended up being seriously overproduced. The Frozen songs are extremely catchy and easy to learn. So much so that they incorporated the “hey-ya” choir into the sequel.

I literally forgot almost every Frozen II song after leaving the theater. They’re all either too long, complex, rambling, or frequent. “All is Found” is a fine Norwegian lullaby that doesn’t feel like opening song material. “Some Things Never Change” is catchy, if longer than it needs to be. “When I’m Older” is about as necessary as Olaf’s previous solo. Kristoff finally gets his own love solo with “Lost in the Woods.” A completely out of nowhere 80’s power ballad. Anna has a solo too with “The Next Right Thing.” A very slow, sad number that’s clearly trying to get awards attention. Just like Elsa’s second empowering solo “Show Yourself.” The only song to gain awards attention ended up being “Into the Unknown.” An obvious “Let it Go” clone that’s still the most catchy song in the movie. The notes leave you gasping for breath and the AURORA call makes it more memorable. Frozen II is a fine addition to the flurry of Frozen media, but nothing could possible live up to the impossible hype of the first movie.

92. Frozen II

Elsa meets the Nøkk

Preceded by: Frozen

Remember Me

Coco is muy grandioso. Winning 2 Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. Much like Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur in 2015, there was no competition between Cars 3 and Coco in 2017. The idea for Coco came from Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich. He was fascinated by Mexican culture and the holiday Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos. Coco asks the question, what if a human was lost in the land of the dead? Unkrich and Pixar made an effort to respect Mexican culture as much as possible. Apart from Disney’s attempt to trademark the holiday. Coco was the first movie with an entirely latino cast to have a big budget.

The moment I heard about Coco, I had a feeling it would make an impact since it was based around a culture with a lot of influence. I thought the first trailer was interesting and bared a strong resemble to The Book of Life. Another computer animated movie about Day of the Dead, a musician, and a magical realm of the dead. At 22 years old, my brother and I saw Coco in a theater almost exclusively packed with hispanic families. Coco is definitely one of Pixar’s best films, but I couldn’t relate to much. I’m not hispanic, but you don’t have to be to understand the universal language of music and family. Coco is another human focused Pixar movie with music as the central theme and the dead being the one’s given emotion…

38. Coco

Miguel strums Ernesto de la Cruz’s guitar

Coco was foolishly paired up with the 21 minute Disney “short” Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. A woefully misguided decision that forced audiences to endure another piece of Frozen media against their will. The short was obviously removed after many complaints. Coco itself was worth the endless wait. Like with any culture focused Disney movie, Pixar artists researched Mexican traditions and architecture with trips to the country. The fictional city Santa Cecilia is a fine representation with sparing uses of color. Coco has a respectable latino cast that consisted of Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía, and child actor Anthony Gonzalez. With the exception of smaller parts for Cheech Marin, Gabriel Iglesias, and Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Benjamin Bratt was the only major performer I recognized.

After having no clue what the title meant, I learned while watching the movie that Coco referred to Mamá Coco. The emotional core of the story. Coco is the great-grandmother of Miguel and the daughter of his great-great grandmother Mamá Imelda. A woman who banned all music from her house after her husband left to pursue the career and never came back. Sure the anti-music element has the same problems as Footloose, but it is handled well enough to be different. The large Riviera family stick to shoemaking and their Abuelita keeps all forms of music out of their house. One of which comes from a Pizza Planet truck radio. The ban is particularly tough on 12 year old Miguel. Your standard precocious child with a deep love for music. Despite the more Disney-like focus on culture, characters still retained the traditional Pixar look. With even greater attention to detail that rendered more natural looking skin. Coco actually looks like a woman in her late 90’s. Miguel spends a lot of time with her, but she slowly starts to lose her memory.

Miguel keeps his musical talent from his family, along with his admiration for the musician Ernesto de la Cruz. A Mexican Frank Sinatra famous for his musical movies and songs like “Remember Me,” before he was crushed by a bell. Miguel has more interest in a talent show than Day of the Dead. Outside of its basic honoring the dead message, I knew practically nothing else about Día de los Muertos. So I at least learned what the ofrenda display of portraits and offerings meant. I don’t believe in the ritualistic side, but I do agree that remembering loved ones is the best way to keep their spirit alive. A portrait accidentally falls off the ofrenda and Miguel discovers his great-great grandfather might be Ernesto de la Cruz when he folds back the torn photo to reveal his guitar. Miguel takes it as a sign to pursue music, but his Abuelita smashes his guitar in defiance. When Miguel runs away from his family, he attempts to take Ernesto’s guitar.

A single strum of his guitar sends Miguel into the spirit world à la Spirited Away. Where he’s invisible to all except the dead and his hairless stray dog pal with a floppy tongue Dante. Pixar had a hard time animating skeletons, but they’re rife with comedic possibility. They just have eyeballs since proper Day of the Dead skeletons would have been too creepy. Miguel runs into his many deceased family members who take him to the Land of the Dead to sort the mess out. The computer animation is most impressive in the crisp, vibrant, and extra colorful Land of the Dead. Petals create a bridge to the world with buildings stacked on top of eachother. The gateway between the Land of the Living is like a train station where the dead can only pass if their picture is on an ofrenda. One of the dead passers by is voiced by John Ratzenberger. He only says one word so as to not call attention to the fact that he’s not hispanic.

Although Miguel’s deceased family is pretty nondescript, his Mamá Imelda has all the personality. She’s unable to cross since Miguel took her photo and Miguel is stuck due to his stealing from the dead. If he’s not returned by sunrise, he’ll become a skeleton and be stuck forever. Only a petal blessed by a relative can send him back. Imelda sends him back at first, but he returns when he breaks her condition to never play music. Miguel runs off and bumps into Héctor. A trickster who desperately wants to crossover into the Land of the Living. Miguel agrees to take Héctor’s picture to an ofrenda in exchange for getting him to his only remaining relative Ernesto. Miguel & Héctor are an unlikely Pixar duo getting to know each other as they travel. Héctor disguises him with makeup and he reveals small details about his death, musical background, and connection to de la Cruz. They also meet famous hispanic figures like painter Frida Kahlo.

Meanwhile, Imelda has her families alebrije track down Miguel. Alebrije are colorful fantastical creatures that supposedly look over the dead. Héctor gets the idea to enter Miguel in a talent competition where the winner meets Ernesto. He gets a guitar from an old friend at a forgotten part of town and we learn that being completely forgot by the living results in a final death. Héctor convinces Miguel to play something other than “Remember Me” and he also teaches him to loosen up. Their singing is a hit, but they separate when Miguel’s family tracks him down. Imelda reveals her secret singing talent, only it’s not enough to convince him that she only wants what’s best for him. When Miguel sneaks into Ernesto’s lavish mansion, an impromptu performance washes away his makeup. Ernesto accepts him as the great-great-grandson he never knew he had and they bond over music and his career. Just as Ernesto is prepared to give his blessing, Héctor confronts his ex-partner.

SPOILER ALERT! Twist villains weren’t exclusive to Disney, since Pixar has a major plot twist that reveals the celebrated musician to be responsible for Héctor’s death. Ernesto is a really evil villain since he’s a murderer who poisoned his partner and stole all his songs. He throws Héctor out and does the same to Miguel when he questions his actions. It’s only in a pit that we discover a second more unexpected twist that Coco is Héctor’s daughter. Making Héctor, Miguel’s real great-great-grandfather. Imelda finally catches up to Miguel and has an awkward reunion with her husband. It’s also revealed that Dante was an alebrije all along. In order to retrieve Héctor’s stolen picture from Ernesto, his family devises a plan to sneak into his Sunrise Spectacular performance. They fight off guards and Imelda ends up singing on stage after retrieving the photo. Just as she has a change of heart about music, Ernesto admits to his crimes in front of a hidden camera and throws Miguel off a building. The crowd rejects Ernesto and a bell crushes him once again.

With the photo lost, Miguel reluctantly returns to the living with the goal to help Coco remember her Papá. Although the entire movie is understandably emotional, the central tear worthy moment is when Miguel plays “Remember Me” for Coco and she slowly starts to remember. I came very close, but I didn’t manage to cry. Really it’s the heartfelt musical conclusion where Coco joins her parents and everyone comes together to celebrate Día de los Muertos that pulls on my heartstrings the most. Coco isn’t technically a musical, but it did come closest to being Pixar’s first. The music in Coco was very necessary and captures authentic Mexican music beautifully. After their success with Frozen, Robert & Kristen Anderson-Lopez provide many songs with the help of other writers. Every song has latin charm, but the Oscar winning “Remember Me” sums up the message the best. Coco goes to shows us that a loved one is never truly gone as long as we remember them.

39. Coco

Miguel performs with Héctor

The Bear and the Bow

Brave is the first fairy tale from Pixar. Making it the closest thing to a Disney style movie the studio had done up to that point. Something I had very mixed feelings about. Since Pixar has always been more modern while Disney is usually more traditional. That being said, Brave at least deviates from Disney tradition in a way that feels more like Pixar. Brave asks the question, how far would a Princess be willing to go to change her fate? At least I think that’s the question being asked. Unless you count Scots, Brave is like The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Up in how it mostly stars humans. Brave became Pixar’s first feature with a female lead and first directed by a woman. Brenda Chapman developed the idea under the much better title The Bear and the Bow with Brothers Grimm and her daughter in mind.

Despite her maintaining story credit, Mark Andrews replaced her as director after a dispute with John Lasseter. Although Brave is entirely original, it is very derivative. If it wasn’t already Scottish with blue war paint and themes of freedom, then the title change was more obviously Braveheart. With a dash of Brother Bear and a bow & arrow that seemed to pop up in every 2012 production. Still, the awesome looking trailers peaked my interest and 17 is never too old to keep seeing Princess movies. Then it turned out the trailers were very misleading, but I still enjoyed the story I did get. Just not enough to think it should have won Pixar their 7th Best Animated Feature Oscar. Better than Cars 2, but not a major return to form…

26. Brave

Merida shoots her arrows

Brave returns to tradition with the original short La Luna. A surreal starlit fantasy where an Italian boy sweeps the moon with his father and grandfather. Brave continues the fantasy theme with a story entirely driven by magic. Magic, a specific culture, a fictional kingdom, and a Princess are about the only things similar to Disney. Everything else feels more like Pixar in the emotional unlikely pairing sense. The computer animation was almost entirely rewritten with complex Scottish landscapes in mind. Visuals are breathtaking and characters keep their stylized Pixar look. A look that continues to separate Disney from Pixar. DunBroch is an impressive kingdom with many Scottish trademarks. The kilt tartan patterns were created from scratch as another layer of authenticity.

Brave features a respectable cast of either Scottish or British actors. So it’s strange to learn Reese Witherspoon was originally cast as the lead. Witherspoon screams Disney Princess, but it’s better they went with a genuine Scot. Merida is the first human Pixar Princess. Suitably voiced by Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald. I know being owned by Disney qualifies Merida as an official Disney Princess, but it’s still weird that she was made part of the line up. Especially since Merida was the first to break many Princess conventions. Merida doesn’t want the responsibility that comes with it. All she wants is to be free and shoot her arrows. Merida is still pretty, but her round face and slightly exaggerated features call less attention to it. She’s definitely a tomboy with wild fiery red locks. She wears many dresses, but her deep green dress is her signature look.

Brave is not a musical. So her signature freedom song “Touch the Sky” isn’t sung by her. The rest of the music is spontaneous with a lot of Scottish influence. Brave is also unique in how it puts greater emphasis on what it really means to be a princess. I guess I just never expect that in Disney Princess movies. Once upon a time, Merida learns many lessons from her mother about how to be a proper lady. Although trailers made Brave look like an action packed adventure, it’s really a mother-daughter story. One with an uncharacteristic amount of focus on the royal family. Merida has her boisterous father King Fergus, straight laced mother Queen Elinor, and three mischievous brothers Harris, Hubert, and Hamish. Billy Connolly voices a fun king with a personal grudge against bears. Since the monstrous bear Mor’du took his leg when Merida was just a wee lass. You can learn more in the short The Legend of Mor’du. Her brothers are mostly just there to be troublemakers and don’t even talk.

Emma Thompson brings a lot of motherly complexity to the queen. Merida and her mother were once very close, but they’ve grown apart in her adolescence. Although it is clear that Merida loves and looks up to her mother. While Elinor wants what’s best for her daughter and the kingdom. They just differ on the matter of her betrothal. Merida is the first Disney Princess without a Prince. Something I was willing to accept since it’s such a big part of the story. Three different clans journey to the Highlands. The war painted Clan Macintosh, burly Clan MacGuffin, and diminutive Clan Dingwall. John Ratzenberger briefly voices a guard who presents the lords. Each lord brings their sons who each fight for Merida’s hand. Young MacGuffin is incomprehensible, Young Macintosh is full of himself, and Young Dingwall is an embarrassment. Most of the comedy comes from their childish fighting, but it is a little all over the place.

Elinor calms the crowd and her husband, announcing a competition to decide who Merida will marry. Merida chooses archery with the intention of shooting for herself. Everyone but Young Dingwall misses the shot and Lord Dingwall gloats by mooning. Brave is actually surprisingly risque. Featuring more nudity than any other computer animated kids movie. One scene has every male character without a kilt on. That and the action are mainly responsible for the PG rating. Merida’s most defining moment is her making every shot in the competition in front for everyone. Her mother denounces the embarrassing act and it starts an argument that ends in her tapestry being slashed. Elinor burns Merida’s bow in anger and she storms off with her horse Angus. Magic kicks in when Merida follows the legendary will-o’-the-wisp to a witch’s cottage.

Although appearing to be a humble bear themed wood carver, the Witch decides to hear Merida out when she buys all her carvings. It’s really the only place to see a Pizza Planet truck and a certain blue monster. The Witch and her chatty crow give Merida a spell that will change her fate. The same spell she once gave to a Prince. She just leaves out the part where the enchanted pastry will turn Elinor into a bear. A major plot point absent from most of the trailers. But it’s the unlikely pairing of Merida and her bear mother that drives the rest of the movie. Bear Elinor tries to remain proper, but Merida teaches her to loosen up a bit. The Witch is nowhere to be found. Only leaving a message about mending a bond before second sunrise. While fishing with her bear mother, Merida realizes how much she misses her and is rightfully frightened when her bear half takes over. Will-o’-the-wisp take them to a ruined kingdom and they discover something very familiar.

It turns out the monstrous bear Mor’du is both the Prince from her mother’s story and cursed just like Elinor. Mor’du is a fine mindless villain for them to face. They return to DunBroch when Merida realizes mending the bond means to literally sew back the tapestry she split. Which is more than a little specific for a magical spell. More so when it turns out the pastry can turn her brothers into bears too. Merida finally decides to face responsibility through diplomacy rather than fighting. Uniting the clans and having her mother accept her decision to break betrothing tradition. The only problem is King Fergus catching Merida with what he assumes is a dangerous bear.

The misunderstanding leaves Merida locked up and Fergus leading a charge against bear Elinor. Her bear brothers retrieve the key from their Maid’s bust and Merida finishes sewing by the time she catches up. Merida defends her mother at the Menhir and Elinor faces Mor’du in a vicious bear fight. Resulting in Mor’du’s spirit being freed and the tapestry being laid over Elinor. Leading to a tear worthy reunion between mother and daughter. Merida gains her freedom, Elinor lets her hair down, and all of Scotland lived happily ever after. Merida is different, but she’s a decent role model and a fine brave addition to the Disney Princess line up. Which I feel is the main reason the movie is remembered today. The rest of Brave is just underwhelming when compared to the rest of Pixar’s original classics.

27. Brave

Merida goes fishing with her mother

Titans Unleashed

Wrath of the Titans unleashed a great evil on the franchise. If I wasn’t interested in Clash of the Titans at the time, then I was less impressed by its sequel. The difference being the lack of a sequel for the original. Although Wrath of the Titans comics were made for the 1981 film. Wrath of the Titans suffers from having no existing story to adapt. Outside of basic Greek mythology. They continued to use the 3D gimmick, but this time the sequel was so derided that Sam Worthington himself denounced the movie. Effectively ending his career as a major star (until Avatar 2 comes out).

Wrath of the Titans continues to make the gods more interesting. Zeus reconciling with Hades should have been the focus. Zeus is taken to the Underworld where Hades captures him. Ares, god of war turns on his father and Poseidon barely makes it to Perseus before dying. Since a lack of prayers is draining the gods of their power, the Titans are being unleashed. Despite Io being so important, she’s randomly killed off screen. Now Andromeda actually gets to go on the adventure, but she’s replaced by Rosamund Pike. Who looks nothing like Alexa Davalos.

Perseus & Andromeda have a romance that’s only shown with an out of nowhere kiss. Zeus calls his son to action and Poseidon gives him his trident. Which belongs to his failure son Agenor. They search for passage into Tartarus with the help of Hephaestus who somehow has Bubo the owl. They fight Cyclopes, a Minotaur, a Chimera, and Kronos himself. It’s even more deadly dull since they’re mostly there to distract from the weak story. Wrath of the Titans is great at inflicting wrath upon the viewers.

Wrath of the Titans

Perseus draws his sword

Preceded by: Clash of the Titans (2010)

Release the Kraken!

Clash of the Titans (2010) is the overblown CGI heavy remake that more people are familiar with. Instead of stop-motion, there’s the 3D gimmick every blockbuster after Avatar had to have. Speaking of which, this was back when Sam Worthington was still a thing. Appearing in 3 major movies in a row. Clash of the Titans (2010) didn’t go unnoticed by me, but I just had no interest. It’s a good thing I saw the original first, because the changes make all the difference. Like Bubo the owl being just a cameo. The conflict instead stems from humanity turning their backs on the gods.

Mount Olympus has an even more pleasing ethereal quality. While Liam Neeson makes for a commanding Zeus. Since no one knows who Thetis is, the more recognizable Hades is the antagonistic god. Ralph Fiennes brings the dark ruler of the Underworld to life. So basically Aslan and Voldemort fight over what to do about the humans. Hades attacks and kills Perseus’ family in the process. Sam Worthington can handle the action, but his Perseus is kind of annoying. Complaining about only wanting to do things like a man. Rejecting his father’s weapons even when they could’ve saved lives.

Andromeda is barely around, so the much more interesting immortal goddess Io replaces her as love interest. Played by the lovely Gemma Arterton. She, along with Mads Mikkelsen’s character were the only characters who made sense. Pegasus just shows up without Perseus having to earn it, Calibos is more of an obstacle, the scorpions are intimidating, but lose their menace when ridden, and the witches are a bit creepier. Medusa has hidden beauty and is much faster. Her dwelling is just too bright. When Zeus finally says “Release the Kraken!,” it’s a spectacle that works. Clash of the Titans (2010) has the fast paced thrills director Louis Leterrier is known for, but a less than mythological execution.

Clash of the Titans 2010

Perseus hunts Medusa

Remake of: Clash of the Titans (1981) & Followed by: Wrath of the Titans

Let Loose the Kraken

Clash of the Titans is the last great old fashioned sword & sandal movie. I was surprised to know it came out in 1981, because the look is very reminiscent of classic adventure. Thanks to it being famed stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen’s final film before retiring. I know my Greek mythology pretty well, but I never watched a definitive take on Perseus, slayer of Medusa. Clash of the Titans definitely recaptures the spirited feel of such larger than life figures. Plus it was the good old days when PG movies could get away with nudity.

Actors as big as Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith play mighty Zeus and the lesser known Thetis respectively. Mount Olympus is glowing white with gods and goddesses overlooking mankind with clay figurines. Thetis is technically responsible for most of the conflict Perseus faces. As Zeus fathers Perseus with the destiny to rule Joppa and marry the beautiful Andromeda. Forsaking Thetis’ own son Calibos to life as a hideous Satyr. The Olympian politics are confusing, but everything clicks when the adventure takes off. Perseus is gifted a magical sword, shield, helmet of invisibility, and an out of place mechanical owl named Bubo.

The task is to free Andromeda from her marital curse, track down the blind Stygian witches, and find the answer to kill the prophesied Kraken before Poseidon releases it. Mythical creatures like the majestic Pegasus, deadly giant scorpions, and enormous Kraken are all beautifully animated, but Medusa is the main attraction. As is the nail biting confrontation Perseus has with the snake haired Gorgon. Chopping off her head and using it to turn the Kraken to stone is a triumph that makes Clash of the Titans a fun epic clash.

Clash of the Titans

Perseus searches for Medusa

Which Witch is Which?

The Witches of Eastwick is a spellbinding tale of self-discovery. Out of all the movies about a trio of witches (of which there are many), this one intrigued me the most. With directing by George Miller and a magical score from John Williams. I never heard of the John Updike novel, but how could I say no to Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer. Each actress was born to play a part like this. They play three women who all deal with being single and repressed.

Raven-haired Alexandra is a sculpture with a dead husband, red-haired Jane is a music instructor with a divorced husband, and blonde-haired Sukie is a writer with an absentee husband. Little do they know, they’re witches who can conjure up anything they want. So they inadvertently wish for the perfect man. This may very well be the most over-the-top Jack Nicholson performance I’ve ever seen. He’s great at comedy when he wants to be. Daryl Van Horne is a very direct, sex obsessed, misogynist who just might be the devil.

He manages to charm all three women into liberating themselves and joining his unnatural family in the mysterious mansion he’s just moved into. The only person in all of Eastwick who thinks something evil is going on seems like a crazy lady. Daryl uses the girl’s power to his benefit, but they leave when he goes a step too far. The most well known scene is of Alex, Jane, and Sukie using their power to punish him. Making a wax doll that they poke, prod, and throw around. Which is satisfying to see from a jerk like this. The Witches of Eastwick is just weird enough to work.

The Witches of Eastwick

Jane, Alex, and Sukie prepare to poke Daryl