Monday, November 12, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It Ralph is Disney's highest-grossing (non-Pixar) animated opening in history -- and it deserves it.

Besides being a solid all-ages animated film, it is a great, great nod to all things video game history (and other than not laughing when other folks in the audience might be laughing, that's not a barrier to entry for the film).

I'm a big, big John C. Reilly fan (since meeting him during his Criminal project), and I love to see him consistently moving up in the entertainment world -- The guy is genuinely talented, and is working his tail off in the Biz.

Wreck-It Ralph is fun, visually impressive, and has neat messaging about being yourself, using your gifts, and "the core of being" is more about who you are, and less about what you do -- But what you do (and your attitude while doing it) says a lot about that.

My minor quibbles with the film include a lot of time spent in one single environment -- which is totally organic to the film, but the "I make this stuff and it kind of breaks the fourth wall" side of me wonders if this was done to constrain costs.

The other thing to be aware of is while this is a good family film, near the end, one bad guy gets very (and very unexpectedly) dark and a bit scary, so if you have younger, more impressionable kids, it's good to know that going in (kind of like taking kids of the same age into Cars 2 is not as "safe" as the original Cars).

And, yes, this has some neat moments of heroism and sacrifice that are the telltale elements of what makes a film resonate longer with me that bubblegum fare.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Secret of the Wings

My girls and I are fans of the Tinker Bell franchise.

For me, beyond just the IP level, I have a more than passing curiosity for how Disney is using franchises like this to answer a few specific questions:

  1. What is Disney doing to articulate "important" messages to young audiences?
  2. How does Disney change the expression of the franchise in different ways with each film, but stay true to the franchise?
  3. Where does Disney place its focus  -- "Quality"? "Commercial return"?
The eponymous first film was a solid, fun origin story for a lot of folks' favorite pixie. Good animation, diverse characterization, and strong technical execution.

The second film, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, is a far stronger film, and arguably the strongest in the franchise. Technically more complex and visually impressive, it expanded the franchise with fleshed-out male characters and animal companions, and very solid, explicit positive messaging about the lie of independence, our need for help from the community around us, and asking forgiveness for treating friends badly. Good stuff for growing girls.

The third film, Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, took a dramatic step backwards, with violation of the IP (people outside of the Peter Pan crew having knowledge of the Fairy world), sub-par fiction elements,  noticeable decline in visual and technical quality, and superficial content. Perhaps not coincidentally, it seems to have the largest outsourcing effort of the assets and animation of the first three films.

(Editorial: "Quality" and "Commercial Return" aren't exclusive -- I have a bias that says if you make a quality offering, you'll make more money --but a lot of good, large companies try to reduce cost to the point of impacting quality, and then the commercial return is less.)

Fortunately, Secret of the Wings is an improved fourth entry for the franchise. Overall, stronger visually and technically (with two noticeable aberrations in the form of a bobcat and breaking tree boughs), and positive  messaging that can be taken to be the importance of siblings, and a race relations (seriously).

There's also a decent bit of heroism (something in particular that resonates with me in media). I'm also a fan of films showing "sacrifice with cost", and Disney dances on the edge of that in the climax of the film -- though I feel they missed a big opportunity when they mulligan it (but maybe that would have been too Dark Knight for them).

Overall, a solid family film, engaging and enjoyable, with high art attributes and less "parental disrespect" moments than similar offerings. Totally recommended.