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Toy Story 4 (2019)

rating: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆

This is a spoiler free review

Synopsis: Set after the events of Toy Story 3, Toy Story 4 (dir. by Josh Cooley and written by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom) picks up with Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) going off to kindergarden. After creating a new friend at school named Forky (Tony Hale), he inexplicably becomes the most important toy in Bonnie’s life. When the gang goes on a road trip with Bonnie and her family, it’s up to Woody (Tom Hanks) to keep Forky safe. However, when Forky gets kidnapped by a doll named Gaby Gaby (Christina Hendricks) in the antique store of a carnival, it’s up to Woody and Buzz (Tim Allen) to get him back. Along the way, Woody reunites with Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who, in the time since she was separated from Woody, has developed a far different view on what it means to be a toy.

When I first sat down to write this review, I was conflicted. I wasn’t sure whether to let my love of the franchise as a whole dictate this review, or my critical perspective of this one movie, regardless of the previous three. I don’t think I’m the only one on the internet who wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of a fourth Toy Story. The third ended the franchise so perfectly, why continue it? Can they really justify a need to continue this story? The short answer is no.

I was debating what to rate this film, and the reason I gave it three rather than two in a half stars is because I do recommend it. While I would have preferred the franchise ended with the third movie, I was never bored. The story had a nice flow to it, the characters (both new and old) are all very likable, the animation is spectacular, and there are plenty of laugh out loud moments.

So let’s start with the characters. I’m sure from the promotional material (and merchandise- at least if you went to Disney World these past few weeks), you can tell there are a lot of new characters. I think for the most part, I enjoyed these character. Keanu Reeves as Canadian daredevil Duke Caboom is a notable highlight and has a lot of fun moments. Gaby Gaby serves as the film’s antagonist, and actually subverted my expectations a bit by being a lot more sympathetic than a lot of the other Toy Story villains, while also serving as an intimidating threat, no thanks to her minions who are all Ventriloquist dummies. The two characters I liked the least were Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key). While I think that both actors are great comedic voice talents, the characters didn’t serve much purpose outside of being “comedic relief,” and that wouldn’t be a huge problem if I actually found them to be funny. However, most of the jokes (except for this running gag) weren’t that funny, and they didn’t justify their purpose through the plot, so they didn’t really have a reason to be there. The final new character who I’m sure you’ve seen advertised is Forky (Tony Hale). I thought that the character was very cute, had some good lines, and I like the bond that he and Woody formed. While he was essentially the center of the main plot, which got me worried that Forky would take up most of the film, most of the story is luckily still told from Woody and Buzz’s perspective.

Woody and Forky bond while stranded on the side of the road during a road-trip in Toy Story 4.

Bo Peep makes her return, and I thought her character and her relationship with Woody was handled really well. It was interesting to see how her perspective on being a toy has changed since she left. While there were plenty of new characters, it was a shame that a lot of the old characters were sidelined and didn’t really have much to do. While, yes, the voice actor who played Mr. Potato-head died and they had to rely on archived recordings, it really was a shame because, especially in the last film, it really felt like a conclusion. Not just because of the grand stakes of the film, but with how all the characters contributed to the main story. The character whom I also think was wasted in this story was Buzz. He had this running gag throughout the movie which I didn’t think was all that funny, nor did it contribute to any character growth. So if I had any main issues with the film, it’s the fact that the story really didn’t know what to do with any of the characters that weren’t Woody, Bo Peep, or any of the new toys, which- as a conclusion to this franchise- I think is a real shame.

As I mentioned before, the animation really is excellent, however, there aren’t a lot of actual set pieces. We mostly stay in the carnival, and while that does provide for a lot of fun scenarios, it makes the movie feel a lot less in scale than say, the toys almost burning alive in a landfill. I don’t know how they could have topped the stakes of the last film, so I guess it was a good idea to have the stakes feel intentionally more intimate. As a finale, I would have liked to have a few more set pieces, but I think for this story it worked out okay. The final thing I was to briefly touch upon is the ending. Whether you’ve seen the film or not, I’m sure you’ve heard mixed things about the way the film ended. While I think the ending works for the message this particular was going for, I think that as a conclusion to the series, it rather undermines the rest of the franchise. It’s more bittersweet than the previous film, but for me at least, it feels rather inconclusive to what the other films aimed for in their endings, though it definitely works here and feels like a good conclusion to the themes of this film.

Woody ad Bo Peep reunite after having lived two totally different lives. They both reminisce about the time they’ve spent together as well discover how being a toy, for them, means different things.

So does this film really ever justify it’s existence? Not really. That being said, there are a decent amount of heartfelt moments, action, laughs, and good characters to justify it as a decent flick. While it doesn’t meet the emotional climax of the third film, I didn’t think it ever could. So if your looking for another chance to see Woody and the gang go on little adventure, I think you’ll be satisfied.

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Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Rating: ⭐⭐ ½  

Yes, I understand how late this review is, and I completely apologize! I’ve been awfully busy this month, between school, starting a new job, rehearsing and then performing in a musical at a local theatre, and then such. By this point, everyone’s pretty much moved past the sequel to the beloved Disney classic, but I still wanted to get my thoughts out. So on with the review.

While Walt Disney Picture’s Mary Poppins Returns may not be “Practically Perfect in Every Way,” the film, directed by Rob Marshall, does deliver enough good songs, characters, performances, set pieces, and moments that I could say that I’m definitely glad I at least saw it.

The sequel to 1964’s Mary Poppins is set 25 years after the events of the original film, again in London, as we find an adult Michael (played by Ben Whishaw) and Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer), who lives with him, struggling to make ends meet. Ever since his wife died, Michael’s desire to support his three children and keep his childhood home has to lead him to repress his inner child and sense of wonder. After failing to repay a loan he took out to cover the expenses of the home, he is threatened by William Weatherall Wilkins (Colin Firth) and his accomplices that they will repossess the house by the end of Friday if he does not repay the loan. While Michael’s children (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, and Joel Dawson) are out for a walk in the park, a great wind blows their kite up into the sky, where a certain nanny gets caught in its path. Upon landing, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) agrees to watch and take care of the children while Jane and Michael race to prove ownership over the shares. Along the way, Mary Poppins introduces the Banks family to a colorful cast of characters, exotic new locations, and a new found belief in wonder, faith, and childhood imagination.

So before I get on with what I think of this film, I think I should mention how I feel about the original. While I don’t deny that it’s a classic and one of Walt Disney’s best projects, I also haven’t seen the whole thing in a long time. So while I certainly do respect the film and find it undeniably charming with a great cast, great music, great moments, and a great story, I can’t say that I’m a die-hard fan of the original. With that being said, I think that because I’m not as devoted to the original film as, say, Beauty and the Beast, my thoughts on this movie are a little more forgiving and lenient. I can definitely see fans not liking this movie, as opinions on the film are relatively split; however, I do think this movie is a little more forgiving because it presents itself as a sequel (that really doesn’t honestly need to exist) rather than a straight remake of a beloved classic.

Emily Blunt stars as the titular nanny alongside a (new) cast of familiar faces.

Taking out the nostalgic value of this film, there is a lot in it that’s to be admired. For one thing, I thought the cast was phenomenal especially with our two leads. Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins is very captivating as Mary Poppins and a great casting choice. I don’t feel like anyone today could recapture Julie Andrew’s Academy Award-winning performance; however, I think Emily Blunt was a very effective replacement. She definitely understood what made the character so special and I could tell that she was trying to be Mary Poppins and not Julie Andrews playing Mary Poppins. She was charming, witty, stern, demanding, and of course, had the vocal chops to breathe life into all of the new songs. I thought Lin Manuel Miranda as Jack, a lamplighter, was also a performance highlight. He brought a lot of charm to the role and you could tell he was having a lot of fun singing and dancing. I thought that Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw were also really good as the matured Jane and Michael Banks. Mortimer really captured that youthful innocence and excitement that Jane still held on to, while Whishaw did a great job showing how Micheal has tried to distance himself from youth and imagination as well as how he is trying to deal with his loss.

I also really liked the songs and song sequences. My personal favorite is “Cover is Not the Book.” It has a very snappy rhythm and a catchy tune with some cool visual stuff around the characters who are submerged in the 2D world of this movie. Speaking of: THIS MOVIE HAS A 2D SEQUENCE! That alone tickled my nostalgia bone as I realized how long it’s been since I’ve seen some good old fashioned 2D animation. I also really like “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” even though I felt the dance did go on quite long, it was quite enjoyable and you weren’t sitting there wishing it would just end. “The Place Where The Lost Things Go” is also a really sweet ballad with a nice message. The final thing I would like to comment on is the technical aspects. I really liked the costumes and thought the alterations they made with Mary Poppin’s wardrobe fit perfectly with character and still made her stand out as Marry Poppins. The costumes in the 2D world were also very vibrant and colorful, as well as the ones they wear at the end. The set and production design, though it doesn’t do much new or different from the original, still looks good.

Lin Manuel Miranda co-stars as Jack, the kindhearted lamplighter who helps Mary Poppins watch over the Banks children.

And that leads me to one of my main problems with the film. While the songs are good and do fit into the world of Mary Poppins, you can’t help but draw parallels to songs done in similar circumstances in the original film. For example, while “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” is a catchy song with some good choreography, it’s clearly trying to be the “Step in Time” sequence of the film. While “Turning Turtle” is a nice tongue twister of a song featuring one of Mary’s peculiar family members (played by Meryl Streep) who experiences some odd living conditions, one can’t help see the resemblance to “Love to Laugh,” which features one of Mary’s odd family members living under some odd conditions. Pretty much every song/song sequence is like this. While I do appreciate how well done the majority of songs and dance sequences are, it does really take me out of the movie a lot of the time, thinking of those classic songs and dances.

Same could be said for the characters. I mentioned the odd family member, Jack in this film is also pretty much Bert, just if he was a lamplighter, and even Jane and Michael go through a similar arc as their parents. Jane is a women’s activists, and Michael needs to learn to reconnect to his inner child (although I should mention there is the added conflict of Michael having lost his wife). I should say the actual children in this movie are a little different from the Banks children in the last one. While in the original, they were more spoiled brats at the start of the film, here they’re all very mature and don’t want to enjoy being children while they still can. I should also mention that there’s a villain in this film (played by Colin Firth) and while he is pretty one dimensional and has no real (at least that I caught on) motivation for doing what he did, it did provide some new conflict (and a very delightful cameo, who I think you all already know).

Overall, I didn’t think this film was that bad. In fact, I think it leaps over the majority of Disney Live-Action Reboots (yes I know it’s technically a sequel, but considering the era of Disney films we live in now, I think we could kind of categorize this film in a similar vein). I think it’s just ok. I am glad that I saw it even if I won’t be rushing to see it again anytime soon. I’m not ashamed to admit, however, that I’ve already listed to a couple of the songs again.