2016 Movie Review Part 3: Movies I Loved

These are movies that I would consider among my all time favorites, not just for 2016 but for my entire life. I hope to watch these movies many more times and continue to get enjoyment out of them. They’re bound to be classics in the future and everyone should check them out at some point.

  1. The Little Prince

I’ve written an extensive review about this movie and I still hold essentially the same opinion. To summarize, I think that what separates The Little Prince from other films is its universality and timelessness. The animation depicted the abstract symbolic imagery from the book while also applying it to a framing tale that gave its message tangible meaning. One of the aspects of animation I love the most is that it can appeal to both children and adults but on different levels. The children who watch this movie will identify with the little girl and prince while the adults will identify with the aviator and potentially sympathize with the mother. Jerry Seinfeld joked that “There’s no such thing as fun for the whole family,” but obviously hasn’t seen this movie. I think it will stand the test of time as the definitive adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book (sorry Gene Wilder).

  1. Moana

I almost feel obligated to approach this movie from a defensive perspective, as if I’m going to be criticized for placing it so high on this list (which is a moot point as anyone who reads this far into one of my blogs either has huge respect for my opinion or is just crazy). One of my favorite reviewers, Doug Walker, has labeled the movie as just “okay.” One of his main points is that Disney movies these days seem like they have a checklist formula that they use to create a hit. Other critics have called it derivative and list all the previous Disney movies that influence it. All I have to say about the criticisms is…

Have you watched any Disney movie for the past 80 years?

Sorry for going into rant mode for a little bit here, but I really don’t understand what it is about Moana that makes it so distinguishably derivative from the rest of Disney animated canon. Did people criticize Aladdin (1992) because it had princesses and music and slapstick comedy like The Little Mermaid (1989)? Is it that much of a crime that it’s the SAME DIRECTORS AS THOSE MOVIES THAT WERE BROUGHT ON TO DO MOANA? I’ve stressed how director’s style is critical to understanding the motivations behind a show or movie (see ERASED, The Anthem of the Heart, and The Garden of Words). Ron Clements and John Musker direct Moana with a distinctly different style than Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee directed Frozen (2013), despite both films being Disney musicals.

Perhaps that’s truly what irks people about Moana; they prefer the Buck/Lee style of Disney direction over the older Clements/Musker style, but they’re just similar enough that one has to directly compare one to the other. It’s certainly personal preference whether you like Frozen or Moana better; both films are certainly among Disney’s best. However, I’ve gone on the record saying that Frozen is a bit overhyped, so what did I think Moana did to improve on the formula?

  1. No dumb love triangles. This is the first movie by Walt Disney Animated Studios with a human female lead that does NOT have a romantic interest. This is incredibly liberating, not just in a feminist SJW way, but from a narrative perspective this allows the characters to focus on the quest, on different kinds of relationships (family, friendship, relationship to self), and on other thematic elements (the primary being the idea of why certain people are chosen and what to do with their gift). Obviously I’m not saying that these other themes are completely original either, but I think the movie does a good job of addressing these elements of adventure and questing without having to get muddled down with a love arc as well.
  2. The musical structure. Every single song served a purpose; even that stupid one with the giant crab. “How Far I’ll Go” is the showstopper that everyone is going to be humming out of the theater, but I’ve listened to the soundtrack several times and there isn’t a single weak track. Also as an improvement over Frozen, it has a proper finale track. If you’re going to go with the Broadway musical style of song structure, you better finish your movie with a finale and not Demi Lovato.

Moana I think will be unfortunately overlooked in the canon of Disney movies. It didn’t have the sudden surprise appeal like Frozen or The Lion King (1994). It’ll be like Mulan (1998) or The Great Mouse Detective (1986) from previous eras in Disney history, great movies in their own right overshadowed by the expectations of their time.

  1. Hacksaw Ridge

War movies aren’t my forte. I haven’t even seen Saving Private Ryan (1998). The few war movies that I’ve seen and enjoyed include Grave of the Fireflies (1988) (see my review), War Horse (2011), and Glory (1989). Hacksaw Ridge is Mel Gibson’s return to relevance, and boy does he deliver. Desmond Doss is an incredible human being, and his story is one that should have been featured long ago. I had particular interest in this war story because it didn’t follow a fighter, it followed a support. It showed that the results of war could be impacted beyond those who are leading combat, and it showed that those people who are non combatants should be treated with the same respect as the rest of the armed forces. It showed the positive impacts of faith without being too preachy or glossing over the realities of the consequences of following that faith.

Yes, Hacksaw Ridge is graphic (as you would expect from Mel Gibson). Yes it can be overdramatic at times, but overall all the parts come together to turn an already incredible story into something that the audience can share in. I’m hoping that it gets some recognition during awards season (probably just because I’m so biased towards the story), but it’s another movie that seems likely to be overlooked.

  1. Kubo and the Two Strings

“If you must blink, do it now.” Best movie opening line ever.

This is actually the first movie by studio Laika that I’ve seen, and it was like seeing Disney, Studio Ghibli, or CoMix Wave Films for the first time. It pushed the boundaries of what I thought was possible in animation. The combination of stop motion and CGI, while also featured in The Little Prince, was something that I’d never seen integrated so beautifully and consistently before. Computers have advanced to the point where digital enhancements can be nearly seamless and yet there is still a sense of wonder in the organic creativity of stop motion and practical effects. The battle sequences in particular were mind bogglingly stellar. Hopefully I’ll be able to watch a making of in the future because the animation in this movie was nothing short of magic.

The writing managed to utilize the fantastic visuals well. The story remained focused on a small cast of characters and relatively simple story arcs told like a classic fable which prevented the plot from becoming unnecessarily confusing. The script allowed the actors to draw more out of the characters through their acting rather than some complex motivations. The only thing that keeps this movie out of #1 for the year is the ending. I’m not one that believes that a bad ending can completely ruin a story (generally), but considering the quality of 90% of the movie, the fact that the ending seemed uninspired, less intense, and not nearly as creative as the other scenes was a bit of a letdown. To avoid spoilers, I’ll leave it at that.

Kubo and the Two Strings is Laika’s next step to taking over the animation world. For new studios each work will build upon the successes of it predecessor. When Laika releases another feature film, I’m sure it will smooth out the flaws in this one and make an even more amazing story for us to enjoy.

  1. Kimi no Na Wa (your name)

I will still hold off on details about this movie considering that most of North America hasn’t seen it yet, and I will defer to my review for my general opinions, but I just want to clarify just how much I love Kimi no Na Wa.

There are certain things that are said to come once in a generation. Depending on your definition of generation, generations can span from 10 to 40 years. Usually they’re used to group people and events together that share similarities. Movies go through generations, and while the lines are blurry, it’s generally agreed that movies these days have more in common with movies from 5 years ago than movies from 10 years ago. For a movie to be “once in a generation,” it needs to either revolutionize its genre or embody the greatest qualities of its peers. Kimi no Na Wa does both. It embodies the greatest qualities of all Makoto Shinkai’s anime movies while also introducing a whole new demographic to a new way of thinking about anime. At least, with all the records that it’s breaking, this is true in Asia. With its release in North America coming soon, I only hope that it’s able to see a shadow of the success that it’s had elsewhere in the world. I look forward to when I’ll finally be able to see it as the director intended, on the big screen with my closest friends.

That’s it for my year in review. I look forward to an even more productive and entertaining 2017!

Part 1

Part 2


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