56. White Fang
Okay, so apparently the book that this film is based on is actually supposed to be a big deal? I’ll confess I’d never actually heard of it, so maybe it’s just an American thing, but seemingly it’s had a bunch of adaptations through the year, culminating in this recent Netflix animated movie which was… alright, I guess?
The story is about a wolf cub, the titular White Fang, and his journey from youth with his mother, to his adoption by humans, to relationship with his various masters, to his brutal experiences in dog fighting, to his eventual nursing back to health by a kindly deputy sheriff. From what I can tell, it’s fairly sanitized down from the original novel in a lot places, but it’s honestly not a bad story, even if some things don’t seem to fit together all that well. It also had probably one of the most punchable main villains I saw in a movie all year which, considering the competition, is fairly impressive.
However, what really made this movie interesting to me was that it simultaneously had some of the best animation I’ve seen all year… and some of the worst. Specifically, the lighting in this movie is absolutely gorgeous, with a beautiful mix of sunset colours that just look fantastic to behold on the CG background and animals. I was heavily reminded a lot of Long Way North (my favourite movie of 2016), which similarly managed to create a gorgeous-looking effect via its use of light with traditional animation. And the animals and background in this movie also look damn good too, which is fortunate considering the main character is a wolf and all. But the humans… the humans… well… they’re not great. It’s not the worst human animation I’ve seen in a movie, but it’s still somewhat jarring to go from this-
Now, to be fair, this character is supposed to be to some degree deliberately ugly. But there’s a difference between ‘intentionally ugly’ and… wrong. Not horrendously ‘what-the-fuck-were-you-thinking’ bad, just subtly… wrong. Like a video game sprite that had clear money put behind it, but you still expect to any minute start clipping through the background. Especially when it’s in motion. Honestly, it’s almost jarring how bad the humans look compare to how gorgeous all the other animation is. Like someone sculpting a gorgeous lifelike statue, but it turns out they can’t do feet without turning them into weird little lumps.
Still, the movie’s fairly decent. I wouldn’t call it outstanding or anything to really go out of your way to see out, but it’s entertaining enough. If you’re an animation fan and are looking for something a bit more obscure than the usual fare, you could do worse than this
55. Mary Poppins Returns
Did you know the original Mary Poppins is actually an old favourite of mine? Yeah, it wasn’t actually something I really watched all that much as a youth but when I saw it a few years ago, I was genuinely surprised at just how much it held up. It’s a quality movie with a lot of catchy tunes, an iconic performance from Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke doing… an accent, I guess? But either way it was charming, memorable and filled with joy and it’s easy to understand why it has such a treasure place in pop culture history. So in comparison does Mary Poppins Returns live up to the hype?
Well, it’s in the bottom half of the list, if that didn’t tip you off. Barely, I’ll admit, but still the bottom half.
Honestly, the thing about this movie is that, while it has a lot of fun musical numbers and great choreography/production design and a lot of good acting as well, especially with the always fantastic Emily Blunt bringing her own interpretation to the titular role, rather than attempting to copy Julie Walters, the movie itself… well, it feels kinda lacking in terms of actual heart. The original Mary Poppins had its indulgent musical numbers, yes, but it had a really solid story and pacing beneath the glamour and fun. And while this movie certainly attempts to replicate that… it doesn’t. Not really. Honestly, I’d go so far as to call it shallow beneath the glamour. The characters feels lackluster, much of the plot and messaging feels almost tone-deaf to modern audiences and all the showy musical numbers in the world aren’t going to mean much if I don’t care all that much about the people involved.
Still, as far as fun gratuitous musical numbers go, this certainly isn’t bad. And, like I said, Emily Blunt is great in the titular role, adding a uniqueness to her performance of the infamous nanny that leaves her different enough from Julie Andrews while still feeling like the same character. But in terms of recapturing the actual heart and strength of the original movie… it didn’t do quite so well. And all the spoonfuls of sugar in the world won’t fix that.
(Look, it was either this or trying to fit supercallifragilisticexpealidotious into a pun. Don’t @ me.
54. Mary and the Witch’s Flower
Yeah, I know, technically this is a 2017 movie, but I didn’t have a chance to watch until this year and there are like 5 movies in my 2017 list that technically count as 2018 movie because what even are years anyway? Still, I liked it decent enough, I guess. I wouldn’t say I loved it by any means and it’s very rough in a lot of places, but as far as Diet Ghibli goes, it’s alright I guess.
The movie is about the titular Mary, a redhead having trouble adjusting to her current house, who finds in position of the titular Witch’s Flower which gives her magic powers and lets her enter a school for magic with questionably sinister teachers. It’s a movie that’s definitely fairly rough around the edges, especially in regards to pacing and character motivations, but makes up for it with a lot of neat Ghibli-esque animation and creativity. It definitely feels like it’s trying to be something akin to Spirited Away and while it doesn’t really come all that close, it does at least capture a kernel of that kind of creativity, which I suppose is an accomplishment in and of itself.
Still, it does make me thing about a question I’ve been pondering for a while now. Ever since Hayao Miyazaki went into kinda-sorta retirement and Studio Ghibli shut its doors, I’ve been hearing article after article and comment after comment about which various Japanese director is going to be the ‘next Miyazaki’? To which I can’t help but wonder’ Do we really need a new Miyazaki?’ There are a lot of great Japanese animation directors currently working today whose work I really adore. Mamoru Hosoda, Masaaki Yuasa (who did my favourite movie of 2017 ‘Night is Short, Walk on Girl’), the guy who did Your Name and even a handful I only got introduced to this year. All of them have their own unique styles completely separate from Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli and are all the better for it. In comparison, a movie just trying to be Studio Ghibli but not quite really doesn’t seem to stand up in comparison. I’d be much more interesting if the infant Studio Chizu tried more to do its own thing rather than clung onto the coattails of its legendary predecessor.
In conclusion, this isn’t a bad movie by any means of the word. Indeed, there’s plenty to enjoy about it. But it does feel a touch like it’s coasting on the reputation of Studio Ghibli rather than working to be its own thing, which is disappointing. Especially when there are so many other great anime directors rising right now. Hopefully though they’ll find a better path forward in the future.
53. Ralph Breaks the Internet
You know, sometimes I feel I’m the only person in the world who thought the original Wreck-it Ralph was just… alright. Not great, not terrible, not all that memorable to be honest, just alright. It had an interesting premise that ended up getting hijacked by Vanellope’s less interesting hijinks and story and thus never really felt like a full execution of what it could’ve been. And honestly, I wasn’t amazingly looking forward to this either. Once again, the premise seemed interesting enough, but the trailers seemed bleh and I wasn’t nearly as enthused about the Disney Princesses scene as everyone else was. Then the rave reviews started to come through and I was reluctantly tempted into going to check it out.
My ultimate thoughts? It’s alright, I guess. Not great, not terrible, not all that memorable either to be honest. Just alright.
Honestly, I think a large part of my apathy comes from the fact that I’m really not all that fond of Vanellope and certainly not as much as the filmmakers clearly are. I tend to find her obnoxious and kind of annoying and with an irritating tendency to overshadow much more interesting plot threads and characters. Plus I’m not amazingly fond of meme humour either and this movie is freaking chock full of it. Along with typical kids movie humour that never really made me laugh all that much either.
Still, I do have to respect the imagination shown in bringing the internet to life in that way. And I suppose it deserves credit for a genuinely good message at the end, that you don’t usually see in kids movies (even if I really feel like it could’ve been worked in a lot better to the story). And both the animation and some of the action scenes are frenetic and fun. But otherwise, I just felt the same kind of underwhelmingness that I did watching the original.
Sorry, but I just don’t think this franchise is for me. Not to say that I don’t recognise the quality that went into it or even that I didn’t like it, but it just didn’t work for me like it seemed to for everyone else.
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