Jumanji: The Next Level film might be the third film to include Jumanji in the title but it is actually the fourth film in the whole franchise. It’s easy to forget that Zathura: A Space Adventure is part of the same universe. Mostly because both the writer of the original books, Chris Van Allsburg, and director, Jon Favreau, wanted to distance it from the Robin Williams film. Favreau, in particular, didn’t like the film at all and wanted to make sure that people knew it. Yet, the studio was keen to show that both films were connected and Zathura is officially the second film in the Jumanji franchise. I’d never actually seen it, though, as I was 17 when it came out. It definitely wasn’t the kind of film the 17-year-old me would have been comfortable admitting to wanting to watch. So, I decided it was finally time. After all, it got a much better critical reaction than the first Jumanji film even if it didn’t do incredibly well at the box office. The opposite of Robin Williams’ film. Was the space adventure actually better or was this another time when the critics were way off in their assessment?
After watching the lovely but quite sad Ordinary Love for my Tuesday Review this week, I wanted to find something a bit sillier for my Throwback Thursday Review. After all, we’re living in quite a challenging time, so it’s important to find something to laugh about. I recently watched Horrible Histories: The Movie and it was pretty good. I know that I’m way too old for the television show at this point but I think it’s genius. I know that I read the books when I was younger but I’m not sure I ever truly appreciated them. If only the show had been around when I was a kid. I grew up loving history but I was always a little out of my depth academically. Although, if there’s one thing I do know, it’s literary history. So, of course, I appreciated the fact that the people behind Horrible Histories have also made a film about one of literature’s biggest figures. I never watched Bill when it came out. Maybe it was time?
Last year, Netflix proved that it had some great things to offer the world of animation. Both Klaus and I Lost My Body were worthy Oscar nominees at this year’s Oscars. It’s just a shame that Toy Story 4 knocked them out of the park. But it did go to show that Netflix was willing to push boundaries somewhere at least. Yes, the comedies weren’t exactly anything to write home about but they were clearly picking interesting animated projects. So, I was interested in their new animated film even before I knew anything about it. I didn’t know the book it had been adapted from or what to expect. It looked pretty interesting from the trailer so I decided that it would be worth a chance. It looked like Henry Selick but with added rainbows. At the very least, I figured that it would be a pretty film.
Imagine a world in which the Baudelaire orphans aren’t orphans but they’re parents were both as awful as Count Olaf. That’s the best way I can think of to describe the premise of this story. The four Willoughby children were born to two parents that had no interest in raising children. Mother and father Willoughby were so in love with each other that they had none left for anyone else. So, when their children come along, they just leave them to fend for themselves. Tim, the eldest child, always tries to live up to the Willoughby name. His family used to be full of great people with even greater moustaches. He tries to instil these traditions in his younger sister and twin brothers but they just want to get as far away from their family as possible.
Which is how the group come up with a plan to get rid of their parents once and for all. They send them off on a deadly adventure in an attempt to orphan themselves. They are left in the hands of Linda, a caring and happy nanny. The three younger siblings fall for Linda’s charms but Tim doesn’t trust her. To the extent that he calls Orphan Services and the children get taken away. All are sent to separate homes and are even more miserable than before. Can Tim come up with a plan to get the family back together? And just what does the orphan baby left on their doorstep have to do with it all?
The Willoughbys is a very original and exciting narrative. It might look sickly sweet on the outside but there is plenty of darkness here. The story has definite Neil Gaiman and Lemony Snicket vibes to it but it has enough rainbows and love to make it work. It is also pretty fast-paced. The narrative moves along at such a pace that you won’t have time to get bored. It’s constantly moving forwards and it is packed full of references. This is an energetic film that will keep younger viewers engaged and it has enough originality that parents won’t be too put-out having to sit with them.
Yet, compared to Netflix’s past animated offerings, it just feels a bit lacking. There is a sense that the darkness doesn’t quite work for the audience this film is aimed for. Or at least, that it could have gone further had it not been for the young audience. It brushes with death and darkness which is fine but it feels a bit childish still. The film opens by claiming that it won’t have a happy ending but there’s never a real sense of danger here. No matter how hard it tries to convince you otherwise. It would be interesting to see what could have been made had this film been pushed towards an older audience. It could have been more like A Series of Unfortunate Events instead of seeming like a pale imitation.
This is an interesting film but it feels a little fragmented. This is the main explanation for Ricky Gervais’ role as narrator. Playing a cat who oversees everything, the narrator is the thing that keeps all of these things together. Otherwise, the film would have the feel of a series of sketches instead of one complete narrative. I understand that, when adapting a book, having a narrator can feel natural but I’m not sure the cat added anything. It was Ricky Gervais playing Ricky Gervais again. It felt weird and out-of-place. I would have prefered the narrative to flow naturally without it.
Although, this is still an enjoyable film. The voice actors are all energetic and fantastic in their roles. The characters come to life on screen but its limited thanks to the pace of the storytelling. There’s plenty of fun and it is a visually great film. It’s just that there’s too much going on and it all happens too quickly. You can’t really sit back and enjoy the good bits because we’re skipping from bit to bit. It also means the overall emotional message gets lost a little. The film’s final act lacks the punch that it needed. It should have been a lovely moment but it’s just a bit flat. The Willoughbys isn’t the worst thing Netflix has ever created but, compared to some of their other animated films, it just can’t compare.
As I mentioned on Tuesday, Lady and the Tramp was never one of my favourite Disney movies. Sure the dogs are super cute and it’s a very adorable love story. It just never stuck with me. It lacked the silly humour of the other films, it didn’t have the catchy songs, and it didn’t have a larger than life villain. For a Disney film, it’s kind of grown-up and serious. And though it centres around talking dogs, it’s more of a real-world film rather than a fantasy one. Set in the real world and taking much inspiration from society. Let’s be honest, the thing most people remember most from this film is probably the thing that Disney is trying so hard to cover up. The thing that Disney+ warns is an “outdated cultural depiction”. Aside from the meatball nose push, it’s the most memorable thing about the film. It’s a huge shame.
To accompany my review of the latest Pixar film earlier this week, I was going to watch Coco. That would have meant buying a copy or renting it on Amazon. As I’m about to get a Disney+ subscription later this month, I decided that it was stupid to spend more money on it. So, I decided to go with something about fantasy creatures instead. I’d never seen Trolls but I bloody love that Justin Timberlake song. It’s the kind of irritating pop song that you know you shouldn’t like but you can’t help it. I just get swept away in it’s happy and upbeat melody. Plus, I do have a general love of Justin Timberlake. And I might like Anna Kendrick but I can’t really tell. She’s one of those irritatingly perfect human beings that I kind of love but am also incredibly jealous of. She’s kind of perfect and just reminds me of how imperfect I am.
Pixar has been responsible for some of the great family films that have ever been released but they have been pretty focused on sequels recently. They haven’t released an original film since 2017’s Coco and that was a massive hit with everyone. So, it’s safe to say that Onward had a lot to live up to. Pixar has never been afraid to experiment with styles and show children the harsh realities of life. Let’s not forget that Inside/Out offered a better analysis of mental health than anyone had before. Unlike Disney, Pixar is always trying to change the game and do something different. Well, they did before they decided to keep going back to the same old characters and do the same old things. Surely Onward was going to be something special. Plus, it stars Chris Pratt and Tom Holland fresh off of their Endgame high. At the very least, it was something to take notice of.
You may have noticed that I gave myself the task of writing a new film review every day leading up to the Oscars. Why did I do this? I can only imagine that my life was going far too well and I wanted to make things a bit more stressful. Especially as I decided that I still had to keep up with my books reviews as well. It’s meant that, so far, I’ve had to write 6 instead of 4 posts this week and I still have 4 more to go. I’ve got a few more films to watch as well. Plus, I’ve got plans on Friday evening and Saturday. I’m going to need a holiday with all of this going on. Luckily I’m having a half-day at work on the 14th but that feels like a lifetime away. Although, it is giving me the chance to see loads of films that I possibly wouldn’t have seen for a while. Or at all. I’m not sure that I’d ever have got round to this film had it not been nominated for Best Animated Feature Film. And, as I now know, that would have been a huge shame.
What happens when you take a book written by Ian Fleming, add a script co-written by Roald Dahl, and finish it off with Dick van Dyke? One of the greatest children’s films of all time that’s what. The film version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is an absolute classic that everyone will remember from their youth. The very concept is an exciting one. A flying car will always be an exciting creation but add the ghoulish child catcher into the mix and you have a great story. I do enjoy the film but I’ve never read the book before. I can’t say I’m the biggest Ian Fleming fan. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Bond films but I’ve never got on with the books. I’ve got a bit of a fascination with them but it’s hard to forget how inherently sexist and troubling they are. Still, I was sure that his children’s book wouldn’t suffer from quite the same issues as his spy novels.
Non-religious Christmas films tend to follow the same basic stories depending on what genre they are. Those based on A Christmas Carol are pretty self-explanatory. Then you have the romance: a young workaholic realises that love and happiness should come before their career thanks to the interference from an elderly relative/something magical. Or the family film: a workaholic parent realises that they should be putting their family first so runs out of the big presentation just in time to see their child perform in the Christmas show. Both of these will inevitably end with the whole cast standing near a piano with their arms around each other and singing ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’. Finally, you have the Santa Claus origin story: in which a kindly but childless man is chosen/decides to spread joy to other people by leaving presents under their tree at Christmas. We get it. We’ve seen it. So, I wasn’t sure what Netflix’s new animation Klaus was going to bring to the table besides a dreamy cast of voice actors. Still, I needed a break from all of the A Christmas Prince and Vanessa Hudgens nonsense.
Can we be honest for a second? Let It Go isn’t that great a song. It’s a repetitive song that gets stuck in your head. That doesn’t make it the best ever. That makes it unforgettable. Now, I’m not trashing the song. There is something good about it but you’d think it was the best composition to come out of Disney film. Yes, it sounds great and really evokes the film. But compare it to the stuff Disney was churning out in the 90s and you’ll realise it’s not all that. Now, I didn’t want to start this review off in a negative way. I’m trying to present a more positive attitude on the blog these days. But I read a review of this film the other day that annoyed me. It suggested that the big song from Frozen‘s sequel, Into The Unknown, wasn’t as good as the first film’s earworm because it repeated the title 3 times in a row. As if Let It Go wasn’t repetitive because it only repeated the title twice in a row. God almighty! What is the deal with that song? I know it’s got a really positive message but that’s not the reason it was played repeatedly. People see it through such rose-tinted glasses. It annoyed me so much that I almost didn’t want to see the sequel. But I owed my friend for making her see the godawful Joker earlier in the year.