Disney's 'Ralph,' plus Japanese anime

By Tom Von Malder | Mar 03, 2019
Photo by: Walt Disney Home Entertainment Ralph and Vanellope visit inside the Internet in "Ralph Breaks the Internet."

Owls Head — Ralph Breaks the Internet (Disney, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 112 min.). It took six years for Disney Animation to come up with this sequel to 2012's "Wreck- It Ralph," and one can see why, with the hundreds of characters and innumerable settings in the film, as Ralph and pal Vanellope explore the Internet.

At first, the pair, voiced by John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman, and their friends in the arcade believe Wi-Fi is a new game about to be plugged in. Meanwhile, Vanellope has been complaining about how predictable her game, Sugar Rush, has become for her. Ralph decides to surprise her by creating a new track for her racing car to follow, but that leads to the human playing the game to break the steering wheel. The arcade's owner decides he cannot afford a new wheel, after locating one on eBay,. which means all the characters from Sugar Rush have to find new games to work in. All but the kart racers find homes, until Calhoun and Felix (voiced by Jane Lynch and Jack McBrayer) decide to adopt them.

Ralph has his own idea. He decides to enter Wi-Fi and the Internet so he can obtain the steering wheel from eBay. Vanellope decides to go with him, but neither realizes they will need money, a need that gets worst when they bid against each other and drive the steering wheel's price up to $27,001.

This animated realization of what the Internet world might look like is terrific, full of depth, fun and Easter eggs. There is a KnowsMore search engine (wonderfully voiced by Alan Tudyk), who is a bit too eager in guessing what the requester is going to say. The filmmakers create a fun way to show how the Net Users move around the Internet, while those pop-ups etc. are represented by Netizens, one of whom directs Ralph and Vanellope to the Slaughter Race game, a racing game in a run-down, rough-and-tumble area, to steal Shank's car. Shank is voiced by Gal Gadot of "Wonder Woman" and her character ends up befriending Vanellope, who is entranced by the new fun of driving in Slaughter Race.

Another portion of the film takes place in an OhMyDisney site, filled with Marvel and Star Wars characters as well Disney ones from throughout history. Vanellope has a lengthy, fun encounter with about 10 of the Disney Princesses (using all the original voice cast that are still alive). She helps them dress more casually and they  tell her about the "I Want" type songs they sing, which leads to a song by Vanellope and a production number, with Shank joining in.

In what co-directors  Rich Moore ("Zootopia," "Wreck-It Ralph") and Phil Johnston (co-writer of "Zootopia" and "Wreck-It Ralph") say is an attempt to get children talking with their parents about the dangers of the Internet, the film also includes a visit to the Dark Web, the use of viruses (one of which replicates Ralph until there are thousands of him, some of whom come together to form a giant Ralph) and how Internet chat sites and comment boards can be hurtful. The latter happens after Ralph becomes an Internet video sensation in an attempt to earn millions of "hearts" that can be converted into money for the steering wheel.

The film centers on Ralph's insecurities and the idea that friendship can weather any change. The film was nominated for both an Oscar and Golden Globe as best animated feature film and won an Annie Award for best animated effects in an animated feature film, among its 10 Annie nominations.

After more than 13 minutes of closing credits, the extras include a look at some of the Easter eggs (3:56); a look at the music, including the score by Henry Jackson (strings and lots of woodwinds) and the songs "In This Place," by Alan Menken, and "Zero," by Imagine Dragons (10:18); a collection of BuzzzTube cat videos (1:47; very funny); a multi-part making-of feature (32:57); five deleted scenes with directors' introductions (about 19 min.); and the music videos "Zero" by Imagine Dragons (3:51; very clever and arcade game oriented) and "In This Place" by Julie Michaels (3:22). The DVD version has only the two music videos as extras. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl (Japan, Shout! Factory/GKIDS, Blu-ray + DVD, NR, 92 min.). This is the first of two films by director Masaaki Yuasa, the creator of TV anime including "Ping Pong," "Space Dandy" and "The Tatami Galaxy" and who recently formed his own animation studio, Science Saru. This film, Yuasa's first theatrical release in 13 years, is based on a novel by Tomihiko Morimi, as was "The Tetami Galaxy."

The film, which is often stylistically wild, is a freewheeling comedy about one night in Kyoto, when Otome, known only as "the girl with the black hair" to her shy admirer Senpai, who constantly arranges "coincidental" meetings with her, goes out for her first night out in the adult world. Otome, who apparently is a bottomless pit when it comes to drinking alcohol, first meets crude Todo at a bar. Todo collects exotic sex drawings. During the evening, she experiences pub crawls, book fairs, school festivals and guerilla theater, with her getting a singing role in "The Codger of Monte Cristo" musical.

The film is very colorful and full of visual wit and several anime styles. I found the visuals better than the story, although the musical theater bits were the best. By the ending, when nearly everybody comes down with a cold, the story was incomprehensible, but the film was visually impressive, recalling portions of the film version of Pink Floyd's "The Wall."

The only bonus is an interview with the director, also in Japanese, in which he says this was the third attempt to adapt the novel into a film (6:35). The film was winner of the 2018 Japan Academy Prize for Best Animated Feature. Grade: film 3 stars; extra 2 stars

Lu Over the Wall (Japan, Shout! Factory/GKIDS, Blu-ray + DVD, PG, 112 min.). A much more direct story is this animated film from director Masaaki Yuasa, who co-wrote the film with Reiko Yoshida. It is a twist on the classic fairy tale about a little mermaid who comes ashore and finds adventures. This time, it is not romance, but music that drives the transformation, as the beat turns her fin into feet. Mermaid Lu joins a middle school rock band that includes previously withdrawn Kai and his friends, Yuho and Kunio. The three human friends call their band Siren and soon it is the sensation of the small fishing village of Hinashi.

Hinashi is known for its legends of merfolk. In fact, one resident even built a merfolk-based amusement park on nearby Merfolk Island, only to have it close after an aquatic disaster. At its core, the film, with the English dubbed version co-written by Stephanie Sheh and Amanda Celine Miller, is about generational differences, specifically Kai's attempts to express himself through music despite the wet-blanket teachings and warnings of his crotchety grandfather and over-protective father (mother has left dad long before for a singing career in Tokyo; at one point, Kai discovers his father had been in a garage band).

The hyperactive Lu seems younger than she needs to be, but I guess that makes her more adorable. The animation is terrific -- again much better than the story it supports (see "The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl" above). The merfolk can travel by raising blocks of water. Under the water or dancing, the characters have rubber-like limbs. Lu's father becomes a huge shark-human when he ventures on land, only to be trapped by the humans. Finally, though, the merfolk have to help rescues the humans when the Curse of the Shadow Stone generates rising waters that flood the village. The animation styles combine hand-drawn and computer-generated images.

The film comes with both the original Japanese dialogue and the English-dubbed version. There also is audio commentary  by Yuasa in Japanese, with English subtitles, plus an interview with Yuasa (28:16). In the interview, Yuasa says Lu originally was going to be a wolf, but then he thought about Disney's "The Little Mermaid." Also discussed are the similarities to Studio Ghibli's "Ponyo," at least one of which was a deliberate homage. The film was an official selection of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and winner of the Cristal, the highest prize of the 2017 Annecy International Animation Festival. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 2.25 stars

The Little Mermaid Anniversary Edition (1989, Disney, Blu-ray + DVD, G, 83 min.). Disney, by the way, has issued a 30th anniversary edition of "The Little Mermaid" as the seventh title in its Walt Disney Signature Collection. The film won Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best original Song in "Under the Sea." The song, "Kiss the Girl," also was nominated for an Oscar. The songs were written by Alan Menken, who also wrote the score, and Howard Ashman.

The story, based on Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale, is of the mermaid Princess Ariel, who dreams of becoming human and comes ashore with sidekicks Sebastian and Flounder, followed by sea witch Ursula, an octopus villain who can disguise herself in different forms. Ursula eventually hijacks Ariel's beautiful voice. The reason for Ariel's land escapade is young, handsome prince Sebastian.

This edition includes a sing-along mode. New bonus features bring composer Menken and some of Disney's most recognizable leading ladies together around a piano to reminisce, sing and celebrate the film, plus a new installment of "Stories from Walt's Office" that compares Walt Disney and Ariel's love of collecting treasures. There also is a look at the cast in their original recording sessions, plus a look at hidden treasures and fun facts about the film. The a cappella singing group DCappella performs "Part of Your World." Carried over from the previous DVD release are four bonus features, including the deleted character of Harold the Merman and audio commentary by Menken and co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker.

The digital version includes more than three hours of additional previously-released bonus features, plus Menken and Jodi Benson, the acting and singing voice of Ariel, performing "Part of Your World" and discussing the song's impact. Grade: film and extras 4 stars

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (Japan, Shout! Factory/Eleven Arts, Blu-ray + DVD, NR, 114 min.). Directed by Toshiya Shinohara (vice) and Mari Okada, also the writer, the film tells the story of the people of Iolph, who have a lifespan of hundreds of years, yet maintain their teenage appearances for life. Their community, where they weave the Hibial cloth (kind of life stories in weave form or "the cloth of days"), is isolated, but shortly after the film starts, the Mezarte invade with their giant Renato flying creatures. The Mezarte want to capture some of the Iolph to see if they can discover the secret to their longevity.

Maquia, only 15, accidentally escapes when she is dragged off by a dying Renato. Wandering unfamiliar  woods, she finds an orphaned baby and decides to raise him, naming him Erial. This is despite her being previously warned by an elder Iorph to never fall in love because parting will bring sorrow. As Erial grows up, the difference in their lifespans is thrown into ever-sharper relief.

Shortly in their journey, Maquia and Erial come across a widow, Mido, and her two young sons, Lang and Deol, who take them in. Lang will be part of their lives in the future, as he becomes an officer in the Mezarte guard, where Erial enlists after a nasty argument with Maquia, who has moved several times and changed jobs to disguise the fact that she doesn't age. Meanwhile, Leilia, Maquia's Iorph friend, is forced to marry Prince Hazel of the Mezarte, and she has his daughter. Krim is another Iorph that comes back into Maquia's life a couple of times.

The film looks wonderful and the ending is very emotional. The only extra is a making-of feature, in Japanese, that follows Okada as she directs her first feature film. Okada is well known as an anime writer. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extra 2 stars

Liz and the Blue Bird (Japan, Shout! Factory/Eleven Arts, Blu-ray + DVD, NR, 90 min.). Directed by Naoko Yamada with a screenplay by Reiko Yoshida ("Lu Over the Wall"; see above), this is an adaptation of the novel "Sound! Euphonium" by Ayano Takeda. An anime series, based on the same source, ran for two seasons in 2015-16.

Mizore Yoroizuka and Nozomi Kasaki are a pair of best friends in their final year of high school. They are both in the school's brass band club, with Mizore on the oboe and Nozomi on the flute. When the club  begins to practice songs inspired by the fairy tale "Liz und ein Blauer Vogel ," that is "Liz and the Blue Bird," the girls' friendship begins to buckle under the pressure. Mizore and Nozomi begin to realize that there may be no such thing as being together forever.

Interspersed with the story of the two musician friends  is the fairy tale of Liz herself, drawn like a storybook, in contrast with the crisp realism of the school scenes. In the fairy tale, Liz realizes the Blue Bird will never be truly happy confined to the human world and allows it to fly free. Will Mizore be able to do the same?

While the film is very pretty, with lots of pastel colors, the story was unable to grab me. There are no bonus features. Both Yamada and Yoshida were involved in the creation of "A Silent Voice," which won a Japan Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. "Liz and the Blue Bird" was nominated for a Satellite Award for Best Animated Feature, and it recently was named best animated movie of 2018 by IGN.

Rampant (South Korea, Well Go USA, Blu-ray + DVD, NR, 121 min.). Zombies in ancient Korea? Yes. This is a surprisingly well done, action-filled zombie tale set among some palace intrigue as it appears the Japanese empire of Qing wants to take over the Korean kingdom of Joseon. In the film, the zombies are called Night Demons and possibly the result of a plague. They do like to bite and turn humans, but they also cannot stand the sun.

The film, directed by Kim Sung-Hoon ("Confidential Assignment"), opens with an attack on a ship (very piratey), during which it appears one man gets infected, which, of course, he passes on once back on land. When an uprising against the Joseon king fails, Crown Prince Lee Young takes the blame to save the lives of the conspirators. Before his death, Young has sent word to his younger brother (action star Hyun Bin of "Secret Garden," "The Fatal Encounter" as Ganglim) to come back to Joseon to collect his pregnant wife and take her safely back to the Qing Dynasty, where Ganglim has been held a political hostage for 10 years.

Prince Ganglim, who enjoys boozing, womanizing and partying, arrives at the port with his aide Hak-soo (Man-sik Jeong), who provides the film's comic relief. No one is there to greet them, until assassins show up, but during that dust-up, zombies also show up, as it appears the whole town has been turned. After the battle, the outlaws realize Ganglim is not their foe. They make their way to the capital, where, it turns out, a concubine turns and bites the king on the neck. That is just fine with Minister of War Kim Ja-joon (Dong-Gun Jang), who has been plotting to take over the throne anyway. In addition to worrying about the zombies, Ganglim has to watch out for Kim's men as well.

The film ends with two full-on zombie attacks on the palace, both excellent action sequences. The only extras are very brief: a making-of featurette (1:38); a behind-the-scenes peek (34 secs.); and a character-oriented trailer (1:48). Grade: film 3 stars; extras 1/2 star

The Guilty (Denmark, Magnolia, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 88 min.). The film, directed by Gustav Moller and co-written by Moller and Emil Nygaard Albertsen, centers on a policeman temporarily assigned to emergency dispatch in Copenhagen. There are only a few other, peripheral characters. Most of the action is the officer (Jakob Cedergren as Asger Holm) talking on the telephone. A call comes in from a woman who has been taken by force by her husband. The call is coming from his car and she is pretending to talk to her daughter rather than the police emergency line.

The idea behind the film -- real time and only one location -- is a hard one to pull off, but Moller succeeds. There are a couple of twists that one can see coming shortly before they happen, not because they are obvious but they are logical in how the film is going. Basically, what transpires that night is partially influenced by Asger's prejudices and assumptions. Asger is a flawed protagonist, as we see when he gets judgmental on a couple of earlier calls, blaming a drug user for making a bad decision and slowing the help response to a man robbed by a prostitute. We eventually learn why Asger has been assigned to this desk duty, as there is talk of a hearing the next day when he calls his police partner to help on this woman's case.

The first 10 minutes are slow, but then the film starts to build tension. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3.25 stars

Mary Queen of Scots (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 123 min.). This story of the conflict between Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland (Saoirse Ronan of "Lady Bird" in the juicier role) and her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England (Margot Robbie of "I, Tonya"), was a great disappointment, despite dobs of sex and brutality. If you are looking for armed conflict, there is only one battle scene.

Mary was born a Catholic and was sent to France as an infant for protection, as Protestants fought to control Scotland. At 15, she married the heir to the French throne, only to be widowed within three years. At age 18, she returns to Scotland, where her half-brother James, Earl of Moray (James McArdle), governs and the film begins, after a brief glimpse of the film's very end. Meanwhile, Elizabeth, a Protestant, rules England and, even though Mary has a stronger claim to the English throne than she, Elizabeth refuses to name Mary her successor. (Since Elizabeth outlives Mary by many years, the provision would have been moot anyway. Mary's son, James, eventually becomes ruler of a united England and Scotland.)

The film, though, does not dwell on the historical aspects, it is more about jealousy and sexual affairs. Directed by Josie Rourke, her feature debut, the film definitely brings a modern sensibility to the story, particularly when Mary is subject to marital rape and later, just plain rape. In Scotland, at least, it seems the men are still in control despite having a female queen.

Despite allowing religious freedom in Scotland, Mary is the target of verbal attacks by Pastor Knox (David Tennant of "Doctor Who"), founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Elizabeth tries to gain control of Mary by offering her favorite, Robert Dudley (Joe Alwyn of "The Favourite," "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk") as Mary's new husband. Instead, Mary falls for and marries Lord Henry Darnley (Jack Lowden of "England Is Mine," "Dunkirk"), who promptly seduces Mary's minstrel, David Rizzio (Ismael Cruz Cordova) on the wedding night. Not the great start for a marriage and a symptom of the fights between the couple that would follow. However, Darnley was a cousin of Elizabeth's and thus made Mary's claims to the English throne even stronger.

Before the film's ending with Mary's execution, there is an awkwardly filmed meeting between the two queens, which never actually took place, as the pair never did meet. For some reason, Rourke stages much of the meeting as the women walk between hanging pieces of cloth, never viewing each other directly until almost the last moment.

Extras include looks at the queens' meeting (3:58), feminism in Tudor times (3:35) and the four Marys who play Queen Mary's friends (2:24). There also is audio commentary by Rourke and composer Max Richter, whose score is one of the highlights of the film. The film was nominated for two Oscars: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hair Styling; and Best Achievement in Costume Design. Grade: film and extras 2 stars

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.