Grim Grinning Ghosts

The Haunted Mansion is a Disney park attraction that actually deserved a movie adaptation. If only it wasn’t such a misfire. Unlike The Country Bears, I actually did see The Haunted Mansion when I was a kid. I watched it without knowing its history. My biggest draw was probably Eddie Murphy. Although he’s a big part of why the movie failed. Since his particular brand of humor doesn’t really suit an atmospheric horror tale. Even if the scares are mostly played safe. Not that there aren’t a few disturbing images and/or concepts. The Haunted Mansion opens with the suicide of the mansion’s owner (a Disney movie). Then in the present day a family of realtors is invited to the manor to sell it. Only to end up haunted by ghosts, skeletons, and marital troubles, Characters from the attraction are worked in wherever. Jennifer Tilly was a good choice to play crystal ball psychic Madame Leota. She sends them on a quest to find a key. They serve no purpose to the plot, but the singing busts are the most memorable part of the movie. As a barbershop quartet that sings their signature song “Grim Grinning Ghosts.” Along with a few other public domain songs. The villain is obvious, but I certainly wasn’t expecting Disney’s depiction of Hell. The Haunted Mansion may be the only park attraction in desperate need of tidying up.

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A haunted mystery

The Adventures of the Wishing Rock

Shorts is the first movie I went to the theater to see by myself. My brother did the same thing the previous month, so I scrambled to do the very same. Since Shorts was the next kid friendly Robert Rodriguez project I figured why not. Shorts is, as the title suggests, about a series of shorts. All of which are told completely out of order. With a magical wishing rock being the one thing that connects everything.

Episode Zero: The Blinkers – A quick short about a brother and sister that decide to have a blinking contest that ends up lasting all day. It’s random, but funny.

Episode Two: Alien8ed – The first short introduces everything. The town of Black Falls is run by a company that built a gadget called the Black Box. It can literally transform into any device you want. This short focuses on the unpopular braces wearing kid Toe. With the wishing rock, Toe wishes to have friends. They end up being tiny aliens. Putting him in direct conflict with his bullies Cole and Helvetica. This short proves there’s more randomness to come.

Episode One: The Wishing Rock – The second short tells the origin of the wishing rock. Lug, Laser, and Loogie are three brothers loosely based on Rodriguez own kids. They discover the rock on a boring day. They quickly realize that they can wish for whatever they want. Junkfood, superpowers, whatever. Until its power gets out of hand. This short is creative in a very juvenile way.

Episode Four: Big, Bad, Booger – The third short jumps to a kid named Nose. His father is trying to rid the world of germs, but Nose inadvertently creates a giant booger monster. This short is obviously the grossest and probably my least favorite.

Episode Three: The Miscommunicators – The fourth short follows the parents of Black Falls. Specifically Toe’s parents who work on opposing sides of their company. Toe and Helvetica go to their costume party in hopes of trying to find the rock. This short is the most over-the-top and its once again clear that the adults aren’t trying nearly as hard as the kids.

Episode Five: The End – The final short involves everyone trying to get their hands on the wishing rock. They wish for a bunch of crazy things until they randomly decide to get rid of the rock. This short is full of action, but its hard to say what the point was.

In conclusion, Shorts is a colorful distraction for kids. It’s certainly better than Sharkboy and Lavagirl, but nobody remembers it. Shorts is just a breezy hour and a half for anyone with a short attention span and fondness for kiddie thrills.

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Loogie (center), Laser (right), and Lug (left) make a wish

Anymore Bright Ideas?

Bright is the Netflix original movie that initially peaked my interest. Despite the easy access of the streaming service, most of their original movies just don’t interest me. Bright was one of the earliest examples of a Netflix original having a high budget and A list stars. It wound up being just as bad, if not worse than Suicide Squad. Since it was David Ayer’s next project and also starring Will Smith. The concept seemed interesting, but the director wasn’t much of an encouragement. Bright is a fantasy film filled with elves, fairies, orcs, and magic. It also happens to take place in modern day L.A. Featuring a human police officer partnered up with the first orc officer. The main conflict involves elves searching for a deadly magic wand that the two officers and a friendly she-elf have to protect. Unsurprisingly, a combination of the buddy cop and high fantasy genre just doesn’t work. Despite 2,000 years of shared history, the presence of fantasy creatures has barely effected our history at all. They try to make it into some kind of race relations movie, but awful dialogue and unlikeable characters couldn’t make it work. It doesn’t help that David Ayer’s tryhard edginess is always present. With constant swearing, gore, a brief trip to a strip club, and everyone (even orcs) dressing gangsta. The only good thing about Bright is that I didn’t have to go to a theater to see it.

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Officer Daryl Ward (human) fights crime with Officer Nick Jakoby (orc)

The Nasty

The NeverEnding Story III: Escape from Fantasia is an awful slap in the face to this once inspiring franchise. I sadly remember it as a kid a bit more than the others. Bastian and everyone else are once again recast with blander actors. Only this time, as they go, so does the quality of Fantasia’s residents. Like the gnomes who are now a bickering old couple or a pop culture spouting tree, but the worst offense is Falkor. Whose design couldn’t be more off and don’t get me started on his voice. Now he sounds like a blathering moron. But even worse than them is what they did to Rock Biter. Now a sitcom character with a wife and child (who watches TV!), but it’s incomparable to the biggest insult in the entire movie. Where Rock Biter rides a bicycle singing “Born to Be Wild!” I’ve never seen anything so stupid. But who cares about all that (or Atryeu), since The NeverEnding Story III cares way more about Bastian, his bratty step-sister, and life in high school. The world of Fantasia is now brought to the real world where a force that the Childlike Empress dubs “The Nasty” threatens them. Which is for some reason represented by a gang of bullies called The Nasties. Lead by yes that’s actually a young Jack Black. Who takes control of the book. The NeverEnding Story III is a never ending insult full of cringy jokes, an overabundance of 90’s cheese, and a complete disregard for all that came before.

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Bastian (human) and friends prepare to transport

Preceded by: The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter

The Emptiness

The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter just feels empty. Barely capturing the magic of the first adventure. I’m not even sure I ever saw it beforehand. Their primary mistake was giving more attention to chosen reader Bastian. After giving the Childlike Empress an inaudible name and saving Fantasia, Bastian choses to read the book again. Only this time, he finds the world to be far more immersive than before. Fantasia is now threatened by “The Emptiness.” An act being doing by villainess Xayide, that leaves people a hollow husk of their former self. An even less subtle metaphor for a lack of interest in story. So Bastian teams up with Atreyu and Falkor in the hopes of saving the world once again. The NeverEnding Story II does mange to recreate the scale and artistry from before (save for a few cheap looking creatures), but there are several problems that are hard to ignore. More attention is given to Bastian’s father and late mother. Along with the wish making AURYN that Bastian was given. It wouldn’t be so bad if the characters weren’t all recast. With none of them recapturing what once made them work. Bastian is now unlikable, manipulated by the villain, and never makes smart decisions. Despite literally being able to wish for whatever he wants. Atreyu may actually be the right race this time, but his heroic side almost never shows now. Falkor’s voice is too deep and his eyes are red for some reason. The NeverEnding Story II just plays things too safe.

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Bastian (right) revives Atreyu (left)

Preceded by: The NeverEnding Story & Followed by: The NeverEnding Story III

The Nothing

The NeverEnding Story is a story I will never forget. Even though its title is total false advertisement. Only an hour and a half long, what a rip-off! Anyway, The NeverEnding Story is another modern classic to come out of 1984. It’s engaging fantasy world captured the hearts of many children at the time. Although I have a difficult time remembering if I saw it as a kid or not. I think I did, but I do know that the last time I saw it was in 8th Grade. My teacher showed it in class and everybody loved it. The NeverEnding Story is a book within a book made into a movie. Bastian is just an unassuming kid with a love for reading. Until he reads a book that changes his life forever. The titular NeverEnding Story of Fantasia. A world full of giant rock biters, racing snails, riding bats, killer wolves, ancient turtles, gnomes, and the beloved Luckdragon Falkor. A white doglike dragon that helps the hero. In the story, Fantasia is in great danger from “The Nothing.” A force that will slowly take over the land unless its ruler the Childlike Empress gets a new name. So it’s up to the child warrior Atreyu to fulfill this quest. The NeverEnding Story may seem like just another fantasy, but it’s actually a lot deeper than it looks. With many dark moments that scared kids for life. Like the sinking of Atreyu’s horse Artax. The meaning of “The Nothing” is actually meant to represent the death of imagination. As the book is a lot more real then Bastian realizes. The NeverEnding Story is a friendly reminder to never stop imagining.

1. TheNeverendingStory

Bastian rides Falkor

Followed by: The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter

A Bleeping Rom-Com

Isn’t it Romantic flips the romantic comedy genre on its head. Like the director’s previous effort, The Final Girls, it humorously picks apart a certain genre. While also leaving room for story. Being a hopeless romantic myself, I’ve seen many iconic love stories. Although I’ve never gone to the theater to see one, Isn’t it Romantic looked hilarious the second I happened upon the trailer. Some people claimed it looked too similar to I Feel Pretty, but I like Rebel Wilson (and her Pitch Perfect co-star Adam DeVine) way more than Amy Schumer. Natalie is a plus-size architect who’s grown to resent how unrealistic romantic movies are. After getting knocked out, she finds that her life has been transformed into one. Isn’t it Romantic pokes fun at just about every rom-com cliché and character. A flower filled New York setting, a lead with fabulous outfits, a nice apartment, a flamboyant gay sidekick, a rival co-worker, a philosophically charming love interest, an obvious true love best friend who’s dating an insanely hot woman, out of nowhere musical numbers for catchy pop songs, and stopping a wedding. The fact that it’s PG-13 is also mocked. What I like most is how they embrace the clichés as much as they mock them. Isn’t it Romantic is a rom-com that’s fun to laugh at, but easy to love.

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Natalie (center) interrupts Josh (left) and Isabella’s (right) meet-cute

The Legendary Legend of Legend

Legend is weird. Whenever I see lists of character actor Tim Curry’s best performances, Legend always came up. In Legend he plays a red devil-like creature with humongous horns named Darkness. It’s an image I recalled seeing long before I even knew what movie it was from. Now that I do know, I kinda wish it was in a better movie. Legend is the kind of fantasy that exists purely in its creators own imagination. With barely any explanation given to the viewer. The title doesn’t even explain what it’s about. Legend is Ridley Scott’s follow up to to Alien and Blade Runner. You can tell by how visual it is with its dark interiors and complex makeup. Specifically Tim Curry’s makeup. There’s also a directors cut and a few alternate endings. Plus the plot has to do with unicorns (Ridley Scott’s weird fascination). Sloane herself Mia Sara stars as the princess and so does Tom Cruise as the hero. Though this was long before he really made a name for himself as an action hero. Darkness is really the big stand out in the movie. And he doesn’t appear until the third act. Legend is really only worth it for it’s imaginative visuals.

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Darkness

Practically Perfect in Every Way

Mary Poppins Returns is a sequel 54 years in the making. One of the longest gaps for any film sequel. I definitely didn’t know how to feel about it the first time I heard about it and I was even more confused when Emily Blunt was cast as Mary Poppins herself. In an age where Disney does mostly live-action remakes, I thought that’s what they were doing. Mary Poppins Returns actually takes place a mere 20 years after the original. Michael is a widower with three kids and Jane stays with him to help out. Since Mary Poppins is a magic nanny, it’s not hard to believe she doesn’t age. Mary Poppins returns when the Banks family is at their lowest point. Just like before, she introduces the children to a world of magic. They enter an underwater bathtub, an animated china bowl, and fly with balloons. So it’s not a complete retread. The children are more like miniature adults who need to learn how to have fun. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Bertlike character is a lamplighter. Even Emily Blunt’s Mary Poppins feels different, but familiar (and very well performed). Which nicely describes the sequel. It feels like the closest thing to a classic Disney movie in a long time. It’s the small touches like using traditional animation or seeing that a 93 year old Dick Van Dyke can still dance (Julie Andrews didn’t want to be a distraction). The new songs are okay, but not too memorable. The climax is also a bit too suspenseful. That being said, nothing could wipe the smile off my face that Mary Poppins Returns gave me. I’m glad to see it get just as much awards attention as the original.

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Mary Poppins takes flight

Preceded by: Mary Poppins

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

Mary Poppins is the most beloved live-action Disney movie made in Walt Disney’s lifetime. It’s not hard to see why, since Mary Poppins is one of the most beloved British characters ever created. With her kind but firm cheery disposition. As well as her iconic appearance consisting of an umbrella, carpet bag, and hat with flowers. Mary Poppins was created by P.L. Travers in 1934. In a series of books spanning six decades. I’ll get into more detail in a later post, but long story short, it was a very long road for Walt Disney to get a Mary Poppins movie made. When he finally did get Mary Poppins made, it was met with critical acclaim and multiple Academy Award nominations including Best Picture. A rarity for Disney. Despite all the love its received, I actually haven’t seen the movie too many times (I might have even seen the Simpsons parody more). I’ve definitely seen Mary Poppins a few times as a child, but I never owned it on VHS. Not that I don’t love it every time I do see it. There are just certain scenes that I’m more nostalgic for than others. That being said, Mary Poppins is still practically perfect in every way…

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Mary Poppins flies in

Mary Poppins takes place in jolly old London, England, 1910. We meet Bert, a kindly cockney man who shows up everywhere holding a variety of different jobs. Whether its a one-man band, chalk artist, or chimney sweep. He introduces us to the people who live on Cherry Tree Lane. Like the mad Admiral who fires off canons from his house, but most importantly there’s the Banks family. Strict father/banker Mr. Banks, feminist mother/suffragette Mrs. Banks, and their two “unruly” children Jane and Michael Banks. They’re in desperate need of a nanny and Mary Poppins is the one who answers the call. So she flies in with her umbrella introducing the children to a world of magic. Mary Poppins does a variety of memorable things all while singing songs. She slides up the banister, pulls large objects out of her carpet bag, makes a game out of cleaning a room, takes the children into a chalk drawing, has a tea party on the ceiling, and so much more. Although the real person in need of help is Mr. Banks himself. He’s the one who Mary Poppins truly helps. Mary Poppins is loaded with many classic songs. Like “A Spoonful of Sugar,” Jolly Holiday,” “I Love to Laugh,” “Feed the Birds” (Walt Disney’s personal favorite), “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” and one of my all time favorite Disney songs “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” It’s just so infectious. There are also plenty of amazing dance numbers. Specifically the high energy “Step in Time” number by chimney sweeps. Another positive is there use of animation in the chalk sequence. Dancing penguin waiters and racing merry-go-round horses are just classic Disney. Along with Best Picture, Mary Poppins was nominated for Best Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Sound, and Adaptation or Treatment Score. Winning for Best Film Editing, Visual Effects, and Original Song “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” Its biggest win however would be the Oscar Julie Andrews won for Best Actress. Can you believe this was her very first movie. She brought a sweet if not feisty charm to Mary. David Tomlinson and Dick Van Dyke gave memorable performances as well. Although some people aren’t fond of DVan Dyke’s attempt at an English accent, but it pales in comparison to the beloved classic the movie turned out to be. There’s really only one word to describe Mary Poppins. It’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

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Mary (right) and Bert (left) dance in the drawing

Followed by: Mary Poppins Returns