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Courtney's Top 3 Disney Films of 2017

Courtney’s Top 3 Disney Films of 2017

It seems like just yesterday I was listening to the 2017 Disney Movie Preview episode and choosing my own most anticipated films of the year. If you had asked me then, my top three would have been Thor: Ragnarok, Beauty and the Beast, and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2. Well, 2017 has flown by and I can honestly say that I was surprised and delighted by the majority of Disney’s offerings this year, but my final list turned out to be quite different. Without further ado, here are my top 3 Disney films of 2017.

3. Spiderman: Homecoming

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To be blunt, I had just about zero interest in this film coming into 2017. I am 30 years old and I have lived through Tobey Maguire (worst), Andrew Garfield (better), and now Tom Holland (best). I wasn’t sure that I could stomach another origin story and I had no desire whatsoever to see yet another failed attempt at bringing Spider-Man to life. I was so averse to this reboot that I avoided seeing this in the theater altogether only seeing it last week in preparation for this week’s episode. I am so glad that I was wrong about this one. To my great satisfaction, NO ORIGIN STORY! The only mention of a spider bite occurs in a cute exchange between Peter and his best friend, Ned. It is the briefest of exchanges that leaves you feeling warmth for their friendship as Ned gets excited at the possibility of also being bitten, but absolutely no worry that we might launch into a full explanation of radioactivity. I was also quite grateful to avoid the whole Uncle Ben thing. This was a movie made for the fans and Disney wisely chose not to pander to us by hashing out both of these issues again. There were two performances in this film that really made it all work for me; Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes/Vulture. Tom Holland was an utter breath of fresh air. He played the role/s with a naiveté and playfulness that has been sorely lacking in previous interpretations. You truly feel that he is just a kid trying to figure it all out. Michael Keaton, as always, is the model of spectacular acting. Adrian Toomes would do anything for his family and we feel that in his ruthless portrayal of the character. I am glad that Vulture was not a one-and-done villain; the MCU could use more strong villains like him to balance our strong heroes. Finally, while I enjoy a film that challenges me on some level, sometimes I just need to sit down and watch something fun. Spider-Man: Homecoming fits the bill and set us up beautifully for a potentially great series of films in the future.

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2. Thor: Ragnarok

Like Melyssa and Peter, this was also my most anticipated film of the year. I have always been a massive fan of Thor and of all things Chris Hemsworth, to be perfectly honest. In addition, I am a great admirer of Ragnarok director Taika Waititi. I have enjoyed his work for years and was anxious to see how his quirky directing style would influence my favorite of the Marvel superheroes. This combination took something I already loved and elevated it to a whole new level creating one of the most fun films of the year. I have always felt comedy to be one of Chris Hemsworth’s greatest strengths as an actor and Taika Waititi took that strength and gave it a real voice in Thor: Ragnarok. From the opening scene, I knew that the tone of this film was going to fit with much of what I’d seen from Taika previously. Quirky, dry humor pervaded much of the film and is seen mostly in the relationship between Thor and Hulk. It also carried through with the introduction of Jeff Goldblum as Grandmaster. This comedic style was balanced by the introduction of my new favorite villain, Cate Blanchett’s Hela. The presence of a truly sinister female villain could not have been more welcome. Cate was nothing if not strong and sexy, but her character did not rely on feminine wiles to get stuff done. Do I believe Hela is gone? Not for one second. And I am 100% here for that. I need more Hela in my life. For all the positive that this film brought, there were a couple characters that fell flat for me; Valkyrie and Skurge. It seems a real shame that they chose the name Valkyrie, the generic Norse name for a female warrior and chooser of fate, rather than giving her a real name of her own. This resulted in a lack of identity which subsequently resulted in a lack of investment in the character. In addition, she should have come to heads with Hela in battle. Knowing that Hela murdered all her friends, she absolutely should have. I also felt that Skurge was, simply put, a very boring character. He had no real character arc of any kind – good guy turns bad, realizes the error of his ways, turns good again. This just seemed like a real waste of Karl Urban and a misstep on the part of the writers. That being said, Ragnarok was a step in the right direction after The Dark World and I am greatly looking forward to more from Thor, and hopefully Hela, in the future.

1. Coco

I went into Coco with fairly low expectations. To me, this film seemed like it would simply be a retelling of the popular Disney/PIXAR theme of the importance of family. That paired with the fact that its release coincided with Thanksgiving was, in my mind, a recipe for a schmaltzy story meant only to induce tears. This film certainly did induce tears, but what it did aside from this was remarkable. At face value, Coco is visually stunning. The vivid colors and detail seen throughout, from the flower bridges to the alebrijes, are the greatest visual accomplishment we’ve seen from PIXAR to date. While I loved every second of this, I wasn’t at all surprised by it; PIXAR has always set the bar for detailed, colorful, and immersive visual worlds. Though this is expected from PIXAR, it deserves recognition nonetheless. One unexpected star of this film, a star we haven’t seen showcased by PIXAR in the past, is the music. I am not sure that they could have done justice to this story and to this culture without incorporating music. The theme of this film, Dia de los Muertos, focuses on the importance of family and honoring and remembering those who have come before you. The song “Remember Me” is used in this film to drive this point home and it does so beautifully. In addition, “Proud Corazón” is a practically perfect song that does exactly what it intended; it makes your heart want to burst with joy. If PIXAR is capable of using music in this way, I am eager to see what a proper PIXAR musical might look like. The final point I want to touch on is the biggest reason why I chose this as my favorite Disney film of the year. So often on the screen we see the “traditional”, white American family. When we do see “non-traditional” families, they are often stereotyped or grossly misrepresented to the point of being offensive. Simply choosing to have your subjects be non-white is not impressive to me. What is impressive is the manner in which Coco represented a culture that is often ignored or poorly handled in the mainstream media. Unlike many offerings before it, the feedback I have heard regarding Coco from people of Mexican descent is overwhelmingly positive. While I personally cannot attest to its authenticity, I am so pleased to hear such positive feedback from those who can. It warms my heart to know that there are children seeing a positive representation of someone who looks like them and beyond that, someone who is proud to be a part of the culture they come from. I fully expected some backlash on this film as we have seen with films like Moana, but I am so pleased this wasn’t the case. I hope this is a trend we will continue to see with Disney/PIXAR films in the future. For this reason, and the others listed above, Coco is my pick for Disney’s best film of the year.

Ryan's Top 3 Disney Films of 2017

2017 featured a wealth of films from Disney that ran the gauntlet from family drama to superheroes and musicals to flights of fantasy. The films offered a lot to get excited about, across a broad range of viewer tastes, at the top of the box office, while only a few truly struggled to get traction with audiences. Picking a top three Disney films, much less a top film, of the year is a daunting enterprise, but throwing caution to the wind, here we go!

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Number 3: Born in China

Dating back to the days of Walt Disney’s True Life Adventures the idea of utilizing footage of animals and their families to craft a compelling narrative has captivated hearts and minds of the viewing public. When Disneynature brought the concept back in 2007 with Earth those of us who grew up on VHS tapes of The Vanishing Prairie, The Living Desert, and Seal Island dreamed of what could be for the further of the series. There have been high and low points over the past decade, and even a slight pause in Disneynature’s annual release, but Born in China brought us one of their best to date.

The cinematography of Born in China alone is worth the price of a ticket or a picking up a copy of it for your home cinema. There are corners of China we’ve never seen captured on film in this feature as we follow red crowned cranes, chiru (antelope), pandas, golden snub-nosed monkeys, and snow leopards through more than a year in each of their lives. Director Chaun Lu deftly moves between each story, finding parallels and stark contrasts between each family group, as he builds a stirring portrait of parents and children, life and death. Meanwhile, John Krasinski’s narration does an excellent job of relaying these themes with humor and humanity.

Born in China had a short theatrical release and very little marketing for its home release, but knowing the material they had on hand didn’t stop Disneynature from creating two separate secondary and behind the scene releases, Ghosts of the Mountain and Expedition China. Overall, Born in China is a fantastic entry into the Disney’s catalog of nature documentaries.

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Number 2: Coco

For only the second time in Pixar’s history, 2017 featured two releases from the studio: Cars 3 and Coco. Both take leaps in terms of what digital animation could do. One was a love letter to Paul Newman and downtrodden racetracks in the southeast. The other brought audiences to a world of family, memories, and music that most of us aren’t familiar with, but that resonates with us so clearly.

I’m not sure what I can say about Coco that hasn’t already been stated, but this is a fantastic family film. The film wasn’t dubbed into Spanish, but rather featured a Mexican edition. It utilized music as not only a storytelling device, but placed it at the heart of our characters’ conflict. The production brought in many animators and designers of Mexican heritage to ensure that the story, cultural representations, and settings were authentic. The depth of field and layers upon layers of world building that occurred on the screen were breathtaking in their beauty, imagination, and faithfulness. The portrayal of an aging family member with a memory affliction and the ability to hold a grudge through generations were familiar to many viewers. Yet, every emotion audiences feel in Coco feels genuine and not the concoction of Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina designed to hold us emotionally hostage.

Coco is a masterpiece with only a few brush strokes that seem out of place, and even those are only visible if you are truly trying to dig out a flaw. Not only does this film speak to families with a story many of us can relate to, but it also elevates the beauty and culture of Mexico in a way we haven’t seen on screen in a very long time, and never in a Disney feature.

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Number 1: Star Wars – The Last Jedi

I want to start with a quote from director Rian Johnson that sums up precisely where The Last Jedi was seeking to venture, “As kids we opened up that Star Wars action figure and it became part of our creative play. In one way, we are looking to the past and trying to capture that it is that Lucas and McQuarrie and all those designers created that inspired us. On the other hand, we know what inspired us, because we were inspired by it when we were six years old. At the end of the day, it’s not the documents in the archives. It’s not the old drawings. It’s not the old treatments. It’s not old interviews. It’s not research. The only research that really matters is reaching back to when you were six and thinking, ‘What were the things that made Star Wars feel real then – that inspired me personally?’ And the following your heart with those things.”

No Star Wars film is without its critics and detractors. Each is designed with the knowledge that no one is ever going to agree on what should happen in a galaxy far, far away, and that the massive expanse is wide for all of our ideas and fan fictions, but at the end of the day there is a single story that the creators are trying to tell. For me, personally, The Last Jedi gave me chills in just the right way. It was nothing that I expected, which we were told time and again throughout the film that we should expect the unexpected, and everything that I wanted. Arguably, it features one of the greatest explosions in the history of Star Wars, cleans up some very one-note characters, and does something no one expected: changes what we all believed was the foregone conclusion we’ve been racing towards for over forty years.

I don’t want to spoil this film for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but as I told a dear friend after seeing it for the first time, The Last Jedi was a rich story that broke the mold, gave the audience new characters and ideas to consider, let many characters grow in a more natural progression than we’ve previously seen, and developed an entirely different perspective on a mythology than any we’ve seen before. The Force is strong with this one, and it was definitely the most incredible Disney entry of the year in my book.

Pete's Top 3 Disney Films of 2017

Another year gone, another year of film has passed.  2017 offered up a little bit of everything from the House of Mouse but what really got me excited were the new takes on old formulas that were offered up.  A thunder God getting to smile, an old Jedi learning new lessons and a land of the dead being given life, here are my Top 3 Disney Films of 2017.

Number 3. COCO

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PIXAR is a studio of renown but the last several years have been more of a mixed affair starting with CARS 2 back in 2011.  Since then we have seem some cracks in the studios run.  In the seven films put forth since and including CARS 2, only one really stands out in 2015's INSIDE OUT.  While I found CARS 3 and FINDING DORY enjoyable, it's nothing impactful as PIXAR has come to be known for.  Then along came COCO.  The reveal to the art style for COCO definitely caught my attention but following that were uninspired trailer spots that then receded my excitement.  

To my delight though as I sat in the theater and the film began, all of my concerns were set aside rather quickly and what followed was PIXAR's best film since TOY STORY 3.  The tale of Miguel and his family is one for the ages presented in jaw dropping artwork depicting the Land of the Dead combined with beautiful music that makes COCO a semi-musical.  It's not a musical by the popular definition but music sung by characters on screen is new for PIXAR and makes that part of the formula extremely vital to the film as a whole.  If the music does not hit, the film falls apart as just another "family strong" storyline.  The music and setting though do more than enough to offer up a different experience from the folks at PIXAR. I have minor issues with plot reveals in one specific spot but nothing to throw off the enjoyment and pleasure that was COCO.  A much welcomed high entry to the PIXAR library.  

Number 2. THOR : Ragnarok

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THOR : Ragnarok was the most fun I had in a movie theater this year.  It was my most anticipated film of 2017 and did not disappoint.  

Director Taika Waititi took the featured Avenger who was having the most trouble finding a solo audience, flipped the whole thing upside-down and let us laugh at gods and monsters for a change.  Chris Hemsworth has had the chance here and there in previous Marvel films to crack wise but never before has the Aussie actor seemed so comfortable in the role as the God of Thunder.  Villains are a soft spot for Marvel films with rare exceptions but Cate Blanchett's Hela is just the right mix of dangerous, mart, snark and sexy.  Expanded roles for Idris Elba's Heimdall is a welcome upgrade as well.  Combine that all with The Hulk making this a near buddy cop film with Ruffalo tapping into the child like demeanor of the big green machine, Jeff Goldblum stealing every scene he is present for, Loki being Loki, capping it off with director Waititi voicing rock creature Korg and you have a rollicking space adventure with the sense of humor that Marvel needed.  A silly sense of humor.  That is not enough though so it's good that the action is sharp and entertaining.  

For my money it's the best entry since CAPTAIN AMERICA : WINTER SOLDIER and the fact that the tone of these two films could not be further apart is what makes me happy to state so.  

Number 1. STAR WARS THE LAST JEDI

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What Rian Johnson has done to pave new roads in a 40 year old franchise is the ballsiest move that anyone could have done to help the future of a galaxy far, far away.  In that, he crafted the best film in the series since EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and my favorite Disney release of 2017.

Deconstructing previous beliefs is incredibly difficult and more so when the history of such is so embedded.  We were always told the Jedi were on the side of right.  And they are but maybe the way those beliefs have been executed were not the best path.  Through 7 previous films we have seen the way of the Jedi lead to some horrible outcomes of evil rising, conquering and then falling only to rise to higher power the next time.  It's all there in the films, even a share of hypocrisy.  Remember when Obi-Wan told Anakin that "only a Sith deals in absolutes".  That is an absolute statement itself.  Palpatine was right next to them the entire time he built an Empire while corrupting the most powerful young Jedi in the galaxy.  Yoda abandoned the fight after being disarmed.  They were all taken surprise by Order 66 and mostly died because of it.  Something there is wrong and Rian Johnson takes steps to assess the errors of the past and carve a new Jedi Order with Luke Skywalker being the spark to reignite not only the Jedi itself but the Rebellion as a whole. 

At the center of this conflict are two young, powerful individuals still trying to find their own way and putting too much dependence of outside figures of authority.  Kylo Ren and Rey are starting to become their own people and in it find a connection between themselves.  The scenes where they communicate through the force as the films best.  It's really all quite fascinating in a film following THE FORCE AWAKENS that was criticized for being "too safe" and doing nothing new.  

Beyond all of that we have Poe learning to be a leader and not just a hero, Finn no longer running and becoming a Rebel, and General Leia guiding a new generation of leadership into what appears to be a situation with no good outcome.  Johnson takes beats from John Ford's STAGECOACH in the long chase, and visual cues from Kurosawa's THE HIDDEN FORTRESS while Rey is practicing with a light saber while making the most visually arresting entry since EMPIRE.  There are some off moments of humor but a few seconds of unaffecting humor does not make a dent that matters.  Honestly, I can go on for a while about this film but will spare you my rambling.  Suffice to say that THE LAST JEDI came and changed the game when it comes to STAR WARS.  It tells us we need to move forward to keep growing and shows us a new hope that now exists.  It is my favorite Disney release of 2017.  

Here is hoping 2018 is even better. 

 

 

 

Disney Magic Hour Episode #73 - 2017 Movie Preview

HUGE episode this week as Pete, Mel, Bryan, and Ryan preview all the Disney films coming to theaters in 2017.  From space operas to gladiator Hulks and the Day of the Dead, it's a varied platter of goods.  Not all projects are equally appealing though and we go though which ones get us the most excited and which ones need to prove their mettle. Following that we have details for 2 major trips planned for 2017 that we invite all of you to join us on AND answer all your questions from the facebook group.  Lot's to discuss! Let's go! It's showtime!

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Head over to YouTube and check out POGO's page HERE to view all his music videos.  You can also reach Pogo on Twitter @NickBertke

You can also listen to him over at https://soundcloud.com/pogomix and iTunes HERE.  In addition you can check his full site at http://pogomix.net/

This week's track was THERE YOU ARE!!