Defining Game Of The Year In 2017

Defining Game Of The Year In 2017

In spite of its rich and storied history, video games are still a very young hobby, and the modern internet culture surrounding the hobby is even younger. Around this time every year, the gaming industry comes together to discuss what game best represents the hobby, otherwise known as the Game of the Year.

Whether it’s professional sites like IGN and GameSpot, industry influencers on Youtube, fans on message boards like Reddit, or even a humble blog like my own, every gamer on the internet has an opinion on this subject.

Horizon.jpg

But as gaming culture grows from year to year, so too does the meaning behind the title of Game of the Year. While determining Game of the Year was never an exact science to begin with, the sheer diversity in styles of gaming has really changed how these conversations are held, and the most recent example of this is the phenomenon known as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.

It’s impossible to have been someone who is invested in gaming culture to not have heard about PUBG this year. It has broken a few really impressive records on Steam, been an extremely popular title for Twitch streamers and been a hot topic of conversation when it comes to deciding whether or not it should be considered for Game of the Year.

Odyssey.jpg

There have been many people that don’t see the game as a contender for the title, with the biggest reason being that it is still in early access, meaning it technically isn’t finished. In spite of this, the game was still nominated for Game of the Year for Geoff Keighley’s Game Awards show, alongside Super Mario Odyssey, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Horizon: Zero Dawn and Persona 5.

At their core, video games are about gameplay, and Super Mario Odyssey is my personal pick for game of the year because it’s moment to moment gameplay is incredible. But video games in 2017 are much more than that.

Uncharted.jpg

Games like Uncharted and Bioshock have great gameplay, but it’s their incredible worlds, characters and narratives that have made them into some of the greatest games ever released. Going even further with narrative, games like Journey and Gone Home are almost entirely story based, and are also revered as some of the best games released in recent years.

There is also something to be said about a game’s impact. The argument could be made that there are games much more polished and technically sound than something like PUBG, but one thing that can’t be denied is that game’s impact, as it is easily the biggest game of the year in this respect.

Pokemon.jpg

In that same sense, could not an argument be made for Pokemon Go being 2016’s Game of the Year? It’s initial launch was littered with bugs, and it’s not the deepest gaming experience out there, but it was impossible to go anywhere without hearing or seeing something about Pokemon when that game was at its peak.

The nominees for Game of the Year would look completely different if we were basing the title on one criteria. For pure gameplay, Super Mario Odyssey would likely be accompanied by games like Sonic Mania and Cuphead, but none of those titles would stand a chance if the judging was based on narrative.

Cuphead.png

The great thing about Game of the Year discussions in 2017 is the fact that gameplay, narrative and impact all seem to get a fair chance at the title, as evidenced by the nominees for the Game Awards.

As weird as it may seem, games are no longer simply about raw mechanics and gameplay. Video games have the potential to tell stories that rival and even surpass those seen in theaters, and can have just as big an impact on mainstream culture as any popular song or television show.

Persona.png

As games evolve year after year, so too will the definition of Game of the Year. The conversation may seem pointless to some, but myself and many others get a lot of enjoyment from the various debates held across the internet (the civil ones, anyway).

Advertisements

2017 Wrap Up

2017 Wrap Up

As the year of 2017 begins its final month, I think now is an appropriate time to wrap things up for this blog. First and foremost, I’d like to give a huge thank you to each and every single person that has visited my blog throughout the year. I may not get tons of views, likes or comments, but I truly do appreciate the ones that come my way.

I had a ton of fun writing for this blog this year, and I hope to continue to improve my skills in 2018. I have a lot of things planned for the new year, and one major thing I’ve been looking at is my approach to writing reviews.

Cover Image.jpg

I expect my video game reviews to remain much the same. I find games much easier to review because there are specific game mechanics I can bring up, and discuss why they did or didn’t work. Movies and anime are a different beast in this regard. It’s easy for me to quantify why Sonic’s jump in Sonic Forces is bad, but it’s much harder to put into words why a particular scene in a movie has issues.

While I don’t plan on doing away with traditional reviews for films and anime entirely, I’ve already started looking into doing more editorial style pieces for them. I recently did essays for both Your Name and The Book of Life, and my goal with them was to discuss specific elements that made those films special, as opposed to giving them a more general review.

Bickering

Not only are these pieces way more fun for me to write, but I also feel like they are more enjoyable to read. Reviewing something like Your Name would’ve been kinda pointless, as it would’ve just been paragraph after paragraph of me gushing about the film. There’s a time and a place for gushing, but I really want to start putting more unique content on this blog.

Disney Animated Canon pieces will continue like normal, and my first one of the year will be over Lilo & Stitch, my favorite Disney film. In addition, I’d like to start discussing music on this blog, as it’s something that I’ve always been immensely passionate about.

Lilo and Stitch

2018 may be fast approaching, but I still have a few things planned to go up throughout December. Followed by this post will be one discussing what it means to be “Game of the Year” in 2017, and the rest of the month will feature pieces for the Made in Abyss anime series, as well as the Nintendo Switch game, Battle Chef Brigade.

In addition, I’ll be posting my final favorite games piece about Kingdom Hearts II, and updating my Kingdom Hearts Beginner’s Guide article that I wrote earlier this year. Afterwards, I’ll be ripe and ready to go for January, starting with an article detailing my favorite games of 2017.

Starry Sky.png

Once again, I wanna give a genuine thank you to all of the people that have read anything I’ve written this year. You may be small in number, but I appreciate you taking time out of your day to read something that I worked hard on. Thank you oh so much, and I’ll see all of you in 2018. From me to you and yours, Happy Holidays!

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Sonic Unleashed’

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Sonic Unleashed’

I’ll never forget how excited I was during the lead up to the November 2008 release of Sonic Unleashed, my all time favorite Sonic the Hedgehog game. The initial teaser trailer featuring the hedgehog whistling and twirling a gold ring around his finger caught my interest, but it’s the trailer that debuted at that year’s E3 convention that really sold me on the game.

Sonic was always known for being the fastest thing alive, and Sonic Unleashed is a game that truly lived up to that title. I had never seen Sonic move at such absurd speeds, and my little 8th grade mind would watch that trailer over and over again until I finally got the game for myself the following Christmas, along with a brand new Playstation 3.

Teaser.png

Sonic Unleashed is my favorite Sonic game for a multitude of reasons, many of which have to do with just how ambitious the game was. To this day, it is still the most visually impressive Sonic game ever released, as well as the best use of the innovative technology afforded to Sega and Sonic Team courtesy of the custom built Hedgehog Engine.

This also extends to the computer animation done by Marza Animation Planet. The opening that they did for Unleashed will likely always be my favorite Sonic the Hedgehog cutscene, and seeing it always makes me wish for a fully animated Sonic movie (it also gives me some serious Toy Story 2 opening vibes).

Windmill Isle.jpg

Speaking of which, Marza did actually get the opportunity to make an animated short film based on the game, aptly titled Night of the Werehog. It’s a cute little short, and I go back and watch it from time to time just to enjoy the animation.

The entire premise of Unleashed is Sonic and his new friend Chip embarking on a globe-trotting adventure to solve a planet sized jigsaw puzzle created by Eggman. Each level in the game is based on a real world location, and the music is appropriately composed to include instruments and sounds from each continent.

Eggman.png

Sonic Unleashed isn’t my absolute favorite Sonic soundtrack, but it’s definitely up there. The music is so catchy and varied, and every song goes a long way towards making each new place you visit feel unique.

Sonic Unleashed is the game that set a new standard for storytelling in Sonic games. It really feels like there was a lot of thought and effort put into the narrative, and tone wise, it feels very appropriate for the franchise. The game also featured one of Jason Griffith’s best performances as Sonic, and he remains my favorite voice for the hedgehog.

Super Sonic.jpg

Gameplay is what really makes or breaks a video game in most cases, and that is absolutely true of Sonic Unleashed. Just to get this out of the way, no, I’m not really bothered that much by the Werehog. While I do think it was a bad inclusion, his gameplay was largely inoffensive to me, outside of his stage length, and that’s about all I have to say on the matter.

The game’s biggest selling point is the new boost gameplay for 3d Sonic, which debuted in Sonic Rush three year prior. The two original Sonic Adventure games tried their best to bring Sonic and his friends into the third dimension, and in many ways, they succeeded. However, there were a few things that they never really nailed, and this held them back from being truly regarded as excellent 3d platformers.

Chip.jpg

Sonic Unleashed’s solution to this problem is to essentially strip Sonic of being a platformer almost entirely. The worst parts of even the classic Sonic games were when they tried to be more like traditional platformers, and this problem was present and even exacerbated for the 3d entries in the series.

The classic games were all about earning your speed. Mastering the game’s controls and mechanics, as well as the Sonic franchise’s unique momentum based pinball physics would reward the player with incredible moments of speed.

Dragon.jpg

Sonic Unleashed takes the concept of speed as a reward, and applies it in a brand new way. Sonic’s boost ability rockets him to top speed in an instant, but the challenge this time around is being able to keep that speed for the duration of the level.

Sonic Unleashed manifests itself like a racing game, and to borrow a term from TSSZ writer BlazeHedgehog, it feels like a “racing platformer”, right down to Sonic’s secondary abilities such as the drift and quick step.

Chip 2.png

 

Levels are littered with obstacles to stop Sonic dead in his tracks. Enemies, fire traps, spikes, springs that misdirect you, quick step challenges, having to drift around tight corners, all of these things and more keep the player engaged as they attempt to flawlessly dash through the beautiful locales the game has to offer.

The game perfectly nails the arcade-y feel that Sega is known for. I love chasing high scores and attempting to beat my own best times, and doing it in Sonic Unleashed feels so darn satisfying.

Empire City.jpg

I actually believe that Sonic Generations is, overall, a better game than Sonic Unleashed, as well as the right direction for the Modern Sonic boost gameplay style. It improves Sonic’s control, adds in platforming challenges that mesh well with the high speed gameplay and scales back on the difficulty present in Unleashed.

Having said that, Sonic Unleashed is my prefered game almost entirely because of the higher difficulty. It’s a game that forces you to master its mechanics if you want to have any real fun, and though this may be offputting to many players, it really appeals to someone like me.

Ready.jpg

I love that feeling of getting your teeth kicked in by a level on your first time playing, only to return to it later on with a better grasp on how to play. This makes Unleashed a deeply rewarding game to play, and is the main reason why I still enjoy it almost a decade later.

Sonic Unleashed is a flawed game, and of that there is no doubt, but the high points of the game are some of the most fun I’ve ever had in any video game. Every inch of this game feels like it was made by people who wanted to make it, who wanted to make a revolutionary Sonic the Hedgehog game, and I can’t commend Sonic Team enough for this.

Coconuts

No matter what bad times the series may go through, and even if I never get to play an amazing 3d Sonic game ever again, I’ll always be able to pick up Sonic Unleashed and have a great time. I’ve been playing it for nearly a decade, and I hope to play it for many more years to come.

Family, Animation And Music In ‘The Book Of Life’

Family, Animation And Music In ‘The Book Of Life’

I don’t particularly like using words like “underrated” or “underappreciated”, but I’m hard pressed to find terms more suitable for 2014’s criminally overlooked film, The Book of Life. Not only is it one of the most inventive and unique films released in years, but it is one of my favorite animated films of all time.

One of the more noteworthy facts about The Book of Life is that it wasn’t produced at any of the major animation production houses; no Disney, Pixar, Illumination or DreamWorks (though this seems to be a common misconception). The film was created by the Texas based company, Reel FX Creative Studios, who previously worked on 2013’s Free Birds.

Kids

 

Free Birds was a modest success at the box office, grossing roughly $110 million against a $55 million budget, but failed to impress critics. The Book of Life is a completely different case in this respect, as the combined directorial and producing prowess of Jorge R. Gutierrez and Guillermo del Toro, respectively, were able to craft a film that would go on to be a critical darling.

The Book of Life has all of the makings of a remarkable animated film, but there are a few aspects of it that I believe make it a truly outstanding experience, and one that rivals and at times surpasses its contemporaries. Innovative animation, fantastic use of music in the narrative and the prominent theme of family are elements that make The Book of Life stand out in the crowd, and I’d like to point an analytical eye at each one of them.

 

Family Matters

Mom.jpg

The friendship and eventual love triangle between the principal characters of Manolo, Joaquin and Maria is what drives the overarching narrative of The Book of Life, but one central theme that has a huge influence on the story and the characters is that of the importance of family.

Manolo is a member of the proud and charismatic Sanchez family. Every Sanchez man was a world renowned bull fighter, which more often than not led to an untimely death. Manolo, being the Sanchez that he is, has an innate talent for bullfighting, but his true passion lies with music.

Rememberance.jpg

From childhood to adolescence and adulthood, Manolo is always at odds with his father, Carlos, when it comes to bullfighting and music. Manolo doesn’t enjoy the sport, and thinks it wrong to kill the bull, and Carlos finds his son’s distaste to be shameful to the Sanchez name.

Carlos wants nothing but the best for his son, as he believes displaying his strength in the arena will make Manolo a strong and desirable man in the eyes of Maria.

Joaquin.jpg

The father-son relationship story also extends to the character of Joaquin. His father was a once great hero, but died while defending the town of San Angel. As such, Joaquin wishes to follow in his father’s footsteps, and become a man worthy of not only Maria’s love, but of the name Joaquin Mondragon Jr.

The theme of family really comes to a head when Manono visits the afterlife. The Book of Life’s entire story and aesthetic are based around the famous Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos, or, the Day of the Dead, an occasion whose purpose is to honor and celebrate the loved ones that are no longer with us.

Parents.png

The Book of Life visually conveys this message by having the afterlife separated into two distinct planes, the Land of the Remembered, and The Land of the Forgotten. So long as a living person carries you in their memories, you can live in the bright and colorful Land of the Remembered. But should you fade entirely from the memories of the living, you will be trapped in the dark and depressing Land of the Forgotten.

When Manolo visits the Land of the Remembered, not only is he reunited with his deceased mother, Carmen, but all of his Sanchez relatives. Each member of the Sanchez family is incredibly unique and memorable, and join Manolo on his journey to reclaim the life he was tricked out of, as well as to save his hometown without hesitation.

Sanchez Family.jpg

I’ve always been fascinated by Mexican culture and the importance it places on familial ties and togetherness, and The Book of Life’s representation of Dia de los Muertos does a phenomenal job of capturing this message.

The Aesthetic Of Mexico

Gods.jpg

The Book of Life is a pinnacle example of creative use of art direction and animation over pure visual fidelity. Most of the characters in the film all resemble cute and colorful little wooden dolls, and they are animated with so much charm and personality.

It’s hard to put into word what makes the film’s animation so special without overusing words like “unique” and “inventive”, but that’s really what it amounts to. The entire look of the film is so infinitely entrancing, and it only gets better as the story progresses.

La Muerte Castle.jpg

Every moment in the Land of the Remembered is a festival. There’s a near constant parade with a dizzying array of sights and attractions, and the dark backdrop serves as the perfect contrast for the light show that decorates the scenery.

Characters in the afterlife are designed to resemble the iconic Dia de los Muertos sugar skulls, and every single one of them has a style and charm all their own. I was really impressed by just how different each of the characters looked from one another, and it’s commendable just how much Reel FX was able to do with the central design theme of skulls.

Buds

 

I’ve never seen a film with the visual style of The Book of Life, and I can confidently say it will not only stand the test of time as more and more visually impressive films are released, but it puts the film shoulder to shoulder with giants like Disney and Pixar.

 

Music And Storytelling

Maria.jpg

Music is an incredibly important element to the aesthetic and story of The Book of Life. The expected musical stylings of Mariachi bands are always present in the film, and are largely represented by Manolo’s comic relief Mariachi friends.

But rather than have music be used as a background element, certain songs and pieces are intrinsically tied to the plot. I previously mentioned that Manolo dreams of being a musician, and that bit of information was much more than just flavor text.

Too Much.jpg

Early on in the film, Manolo’s guitar gets damaged in a scuffle with a pig. Before Maria is sent off to boarding school, she repairs Manolo’s guitar, and inscribes on it the words, “always play from the heart”, words which carry Manolo through the toughest of times.

Not only does Manolo play the guitar, but he sings, quite a few times in fact. The Book of Life features handful of covers, with the two most prominent examples being Radiohead’s Creep, which Manolo sings after feeling that he has lost his chance with Maria, and Elvis Presley’s I Can’t Help Falling In Love.

Apology.jpg

Two other standout songs are actually original pieces written for the film. The first of these is I Love You Too Much, a simple, yet sweet declaration of undying love by Manolo. The second is The Apology Song, which Manolo uses to calm a towering bull in the afterlife.

What makes these songs so impactful is the passion you can hear displayed by Manolo’s voice actor, Diego Luna. While a pretty good singer in his own right, it’s the raw emotion in his voice that makes the songs so endearing.

Manolo and Maria.png

 

When he pleads to Maria, you can really feel how much he loves her. And when he humbles the Sanchez family by apologizing to the numerous bulls they have defeated, there’s a strong sense of genuine regret and sadness.

Music really drives the plot and themes of The Book of Life, and as a person who loves music in all styles and genres, I applaud the production team for placing so much importance on it.

Always Play From The Heart

Afterlife.jpg

The Book of Life is a one of a kind film that not nearly enough people have gotten to experience. Every aspect of the film was so clearly made with so much care and attention to detail, and I’d be shocked if someone didn’t become totally infatuated with Manolo and the rest of the cast.

Though it may not be from a studio with a long and impressive track record, The Book of Life still manages to be one of the best animated films ever released. Unique visual appeal, fantastic music and the ever present theme of family all come together to create an unforgettable experience.

The Cultural Impact And Importance Of ‘Your Name’

The Cultural Impact And Importance Of ‘Your Name’

Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name was a worldwide phenomenon in 2016. It is currently the 4th highest grossing film in Japan, as well as the highest grossing anime film of all time, dethroning Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. It is also the 7th highest grossing traditionally animated film of all time, with most of the films above it coming from Walt Disney Animation.

Your Name has received countless accolades since its release, and I wholeheartedly believe that it deserves every single ounce of praise that comes its way. The film is an absolute masterclass in animation, cinematography, storytelling, character development and all of the little nuances that create great and memorable films.

Bickering

My gut reaction upon my first viewing of Your Name was that it is as perfect as a creative endeavor can conceivably be. But rather than gush about all of the qualities that make the film so special, I’d like to take a deeper look into what made it the global sensation that it has become, as well as what this means for the future of traditional animation, and the popularity of anime outside of Japan.

 

Resonance With International Audiences

Reaching Out

Anime films have seen varying degrees of success outside of their home country, though very few have been as revered as Your Name. But what is the reason for this? The film is a masterpiece to be sure, but other amazing anime films like Wolf Children haven’t managed to achieve Your Name’s level of success.

I believe that the major factor in Your Name’s resonance with international audiences has quite a bit to do with its simplicity and relatability. While the film does have plenty of fantasy elements to be sure, at its core, the narrative is one of two people who share a unique and special connection.

Wolf Children

The bonds between people has always been at the heart of many of Shinkai’s stories, and Your Name, with its body switching and communication via notes and digital diaries, is this thematic element taken about as far as it can go.

It also helps that Taki and Mitsuha, the film’s two leads, are incredibly likeable and endearing. They come from two infinitely different worlds, and seeing how they adapt and grow in their new environments surely captured the hearts of many viewers.

Mitsuha and sis

Animation doesn’t only exist to be enjoyed by children, and films like Your Name do a fantastic job of proving this. The film’s storytelling is very mature, and many people that wouldn’t otherwise spare a glance at the film have been willing to give it a try.

I’ve had conversations with people in my personal life about Your Name, and the results often surprised me. One such conversation was between myself and a good friend from work, and he informed me that his mother, who has no idea what anime really is, asked him to pick up a copy of the film from work after hearing great things about it from her friends.

Taki

This story both shocked me and made me extremely happy, and I’m sure this isn’t an uncommon occurrence. Aside from the film’s box office success, it’s also done really well for itself on home media. Copies of both the DVD and Blu-Ray release have been flying off the shelves at retailers like Walmart, and the collector’s edition has seen similar levels of demand.

Your Name is a sweet and charming film that respects the time and sensibilities of the older members of the audience. This notion, among many others, is why the film was such a hit with viewers the world over, not to mention just how lovely the film’s aesthetics are.

Anime, No Longer Niche

Waking Up

I’ve previously written about the history and decline of the traditionally animated feature, and I cited Your Name as an example of the medium’s future. Japan sees the release of many traditionally animated films every year, but offerings are pretty sparse outside of the country.

Before Your Name, there hadn’t been a traditionally animated film of major consequence since Disney’s 2009 film, The Princess and the Frog, nor had there been any hugely successful ones since Lilo & Stitch and Spirited Away during the early 2000’s.

Lilo and Stitch.jpeg

It is unrealistic to think that traditionally animated films will ever achieve the levels of market share that they enjoyed in the preceding decades, but the success of Your Name has demonstrated that their is room for both styles of film to coexist.

I don’t feel that it is too farfetched to think that we could receive a handful of traditionally animated films per year, amongst the numerous computer animated ones. The caveat to this statement however is that these select films will have to be award winning material.

Spirited Away.jpg

All of the marketing in the world wouldn’t have been able to make Your Name a success if it wasn’t a quality experience to begin with. For a film of the traditional ilk to succeed in modern day box offices, it will have to be firing on all cylinders.

One element that can’t be overlooked is the state of anime in pop culture in 2017. Anime has been steadily growing in popularity outside of Japan for decades now, but the 2010’s have seen an explosion of anime being talked about in the mainstream. Anime Youtuber Gigukk has actually done a great video on the topic, and I highly suggest giving it a watch.

Mitsuha friends.jpg

With every year that passes, anime becomes less and less niche. People are always looking for new shows to binge watch, and the widespread availability of anime on services like Funimation Now and Crunchyroll, as well as more popular and mainstream ones such as Netflix and Hulu have been an immense help to anime’s recent growth, a growth that the success of Your Name is both a product of, and contributes directly to.

Looking To The Future

Meeting.jpg

Animated or otherwise, Your Name is one of the best story experiences I’ve had in years. It has beautiful animation direction, top quality vocal performances and plenty of heartwarming moments that will stick with viewers for years to come.

With new projects in development from Shinkai, Mamoru Hosoda and even the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, the future of anime films is looking as bright as ever. But what excites me the most is the prospect of anime becoming more and more widely accepted, as well as the resurgence of traditionally animated films in the mainstream.

Watching.jpg

Anime and traditional animation are such wonderful mediums that not enough people respect, appreciate or even know about. The artistry of animation is the perfect vehicle for exploring worlds that were previously thought only to exist in our dreams, and there are so many great and talented people in the world with exciting stories to tell.

To speak of anime specifically, I can’t overstate how influential it has been in my personal life. There’s so much that I’ve learned about Japanese culture, society and mannerisms just from watching anime, and I can genuinely say that it has given me a deeper appreciation of the world beyond my own.

Shooting Star.jpg

Crisp and vivid animation, wonderfully developed characters and a rich story are praises that only scratch the surface when it comes to Your Name. It sets a new standard for what can be accomplished with traditional animation, and it is my hope that animation companies around the world are keeping an inquisitive eye on what made the film such an important work of art.

Disney Animated Canon: ‘The Rescuers Down Under’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘The Rescuers Down Under’

The Rescuers Down Under is the oft forgotten film of the historical Disney Renaissance era. A sequel to 1977’s The Rescuers, the film was released to theaters in 1990, and followed 1989’s The Little Mermaid as the second film in the Disney Renaissance, and is the 29th film produced by Walt Disney Animation overall.

The Rescuers Down Under is one of the few Disney theatrical sequels. While many famous Disney films have received sequels and spin-offs on television and home media, the majority of these were produced by Disney’s smaller production houses like DisneyToon Studios.

Dinner.jpg

Before Pixar became the animation juggernaut that they are today, they actually had a huge role to play in the production of The Rescuers Down Under. Most of the film’s post processing was done using Pixar’s Computer Animation Production System, or CAPS.

This makes The Rescuers Down Under the first film, animated or otherwise, to be pieced together primarily in a digital space. Pixar’s CAPS technology would also be used in 1991’s Beauty and the Beast for the ballroom dancing scene.

Wildlife.png

The original The Rescuers film was a sweet, heartwarming adventure about two heroic mice and a kidnapped orphan girl. In contrast, the film’s sequel is full blown action-adventure/comedy, and is devoid of even a single musical number.

The Rescuers Down Under may be tonally different than its predecessor, but the narrative actually follows many of the same beats. Bernard and Miss Bianca, two of the most esteemed members of the Rescue Aid Society, are tasked with rescuing a child who has been kidnapped by a greedy adult.

Boy.png

 

The original film’s villain was Miss Medusa, and she took sweet little Penny to a dark and swampy bayou to look for a fabled pirate treasure, the Devil’s Eye. This time around, the villain and message are much more politically driven, and they display themes not shown by Disney since Bambi back in the company’s Golden Age.

Percival C. McLeach is our antagonist for The Rescuers Down Under, and his favorite hobby is hunting down rare animals for financial gain, and just to have a good old time. Much like Medusa before him, he has a scaly pet with a knack for catching little kids.

Water.jpg

 

Our kid character for the film is a plucky and adventurous boy named Cody, and he spends his days making friends with the local wildlife of Australia. On one particular day, Cody discovers a large golden eagle named Marahute, who is ensnared in a poacher’s trap.

Cody doesn’t hesitate to free Marahute from her bindings, and the present he receives from her puts him on McLeach’s radar. The young boy is promptly kidnapped, and McLeach’s goal is to coerce him to reveal Marahute’s whereabouts. Naturally, Bernard and Miss Bianca don’t waste very much time before they hop on the first albatross flight to the land down under.

Wilbur.jpg

 

For The Rescuers Down Under, the humble and helpful Bernard has one more thing on his mind besides rescuing Cody, and that’s popping the question to Miss Bianca. But everytime he attempts to do so, at least a few inconvenient things get in his way, and one of those things is newcomer Jake, a cool and confident kangaroo mouse.

Although the story hits a lot of the same notes as The Rescuers before it, the comedy and characters do a great job of filling in what may otherwise be a by the numbers plot. Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor reprise their roles as Bernard and Miss Bianca respectively, and both actors do a phenomenal job.

Scared.jpg

The duo’s albatross friend, Orville, is unfortunately absent from this adventure. Jim Jordan, his voice actor, passed away before the film’s production. So instead of finding a new person to replace him, Disney instead opted to retire his character in the film’s story, and introduce his brother, Wilbur (a pretty deliberate reference to the famous flying Wright Brothers).

McLeach isn’t one of the strongest or most memorable villains that Disney has ever written, but he’s by no means bad. George C. Scott does a great job of making the character sound like he loves every minute of his job (bonus points for the southern drawl), and he perfectly fulfills his role in the story.

Jake and the snake.jpg

While I personally found Penny to be a more enjoyable character than Cody, he actually has a more prominent role in his film’s story. Penny could’ve been any other small child to accomplish Medusa’s task, but Cody actually has an established connection to the goal that his villain is seeking.

The creation of Cody’s character was actually the source of creative differences between the film’s storyboard artist, Joe Ranft, and other members of the team. Ranft wanted Cody to be a native, Aboriginal Australian, as opposed to the blonde haired white kid that he ended up as in the film’s final version.

Eggs.jpg

One major thing that sets this film apart from its predecessor is the animation. Compared to the 1977 film’s simple, but nice animation, The Rescuers Down Under is much grander in scale. The beginning of the film features a totally enthralling flight sequence with Cody and Marahute, and seeing the pair soar above the clouds and skate over the water was truly incredible.

Marahute was one of the trickier parts of the film’s animation process. In addition to being larger than life, the bird has more than 200 unique feathers, and this staggering amount of detail is the reason that she only appears for about seven minutes of the film.

Nest.jpg

As is customary for Disney, the company put quite a bit of work into presenting an authentic version of Australian landscapes and wildlife. In addition to studying the animals of the San Diego Zoo for reference, the animation team also went on a research trip to Australia to get a better grasp environment. Fun fact, the animation team also enlisted the help of Disney MGM Studios in order to finish the film.

The Rescuers Down Under has quite a bit going for it besides being apart of one of Disney’s most successful eras. Having said that, why is the film not as fondly remembered as its contemporaries?

Proposal.png

Well for starters, the film wasn’t nearly as financially successful as any of the other Disney Renaissance films, and didn’t have any songs for audiences to latch onto. It was also sandwiched between The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, two of the era’s most beloved films.

In spite of all this, The Rescuers Down Under is still a great adventure film. I think I prefer the story of the original film just a tiny bit more, but I had so much fun exploring the outback with Bernard and Miss Bianca, and it was great getting to spend more time with such lovable characters.

Film Review: ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

Film Review: ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

The golden haired, would be king of Asgard returns to the silver screen for another adventure in Thor: Ragnarok, one that is decidedly more comedic than his previous solo outings.

This time around, Thor is on a quest to save his kingdom from the coming threat of Ragnarok, an event that spells certain doom for Asgard. Thor begins the film doing battle against the fiery demon Surtur, and returns home thinking that his victory has saved his land from destruction.

Dropped In.png

Upon his arrival, Thor discovers that Loki has banished Odin to Earth, and has taken his place as king of Asgard. As such, the brothers take a trip to the little blue planet, only to learn some startling revelations from their father, the biggest of which is the fact that his death will usher in the revival of his first born, Hela, the goddess of death. 

After a sound defeat at the hands of his older sister, Thor becomes a prisoner on a distant planet known as Sakaar. The story that follows is one of Thor attempting to escape the garbage filled planet, and save his people from an almost assured demise.

Loki.jpg

When it comes to tone and comedy, Ragnarok has taken more than a few cues from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy films. The Asgardian spits out so many jokes and wisecracks that I almost wouldn’t be surprised if most of his lines were ones that didn’t make the cut for Star Lord.

This gives the character so much more personality in comparison to the previous films, and it helps that Ragnarok gives him such a great cast to play off of. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is just as great as he’s always been, as is Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk.

Valkyrie.jpeg

Cate Blanchett joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the villain Hela, and she does a fantastic job as well. But the real star of the show is Scrapper 142. Portrayed by actress Tessa Thompson, Scrapper is a resident of planet Sakaar that works for The Grandmaster (played by Jeff Goldblum), and is responsible for Thor’s imprisonment.

Scrapper is an awesome character. She’s witty, self sufficient and an incredible fighter, plus she’s always there to give Thor a good ribbing when necessary.

Hela.jpg

As a whole, Ragnarok has a really great sense of humor. The writing is genuinely funny, and the jokes are spaced out enough that the dramatic moments retain a gripping sense of tension.

Speaking of tension, Ragnarok continues the tradition of awesome fight scenes in the MCU. The film has a little bit of everything. Bouts involving Scrapper and Hela are very acrobatic and choreographed, while the ones with Thor and Hulk are more reminiscent of plain old fashioned slug fests.

Hulk.jpg

The visual designs of Asgard and Sakaar are pretty breathtaking in Ragnarok. I’m kind of a sucker for those sweeping overhead shots that show off the scenery, and the film has a few really cool ones on display.

Thor: Ragnarok was a fun time the whole way through. It added a welcome tonal shift for the Thor franchise, but also managed to maintain the character’s more serious personality traits so that he doesn’t become another Spider-Man or Star Lord.

Thor and Banner.jpg

It has everything that made the other Marvel movies great, and the new characters fit right in with the established cast. Seriously though, I absolutely adored Tessa Thompson’s performance in this film, and I really hope she sticks around for future MCU stories.