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Non-Review Review: Luca

There’s an appealing low-stakes gentleness to Luca. In fact, Luca might be Pixar’s first hangout movie.

The film tells the story the eponymous sea monster. The young boy lives off the Italian Riviera, tending to the local fish and dreaming of the world above the surface. One day, following a chance encounter with a more adventurous boy named Alberto, Luca discovers that he can change form when dry. Outside the ocean, Luca and Alberto can pass as human children. Against his family’s better judgment and aware of what might happen if he is discovered, Luca decides to make the most of life above the waves.

“I wanna be where the people are…”

This description makes Luca sound like a retread of The Little Mermaid. That’s not an entirely unfair point of comparison. Both Luca and The Little Mermaid are stories about young characters who dare to dream of a life beyond the underwater world they know. However, Luca has a very distinct mood and ambiance. Luca is not really plot-driven. It lacks a central villain like Ursula or stakes as overt as the terms of Ursula’s spell. Instead, Luca is much more interested in the smaller details that mark a wonderful childhood summer.

Luca is undeniably minor Pixar, but that doesn’t mean it’s especially shallow.

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New Escapist Video! “Luca – Review”

I’m thrilled to be launching movie reviews on The Escapist. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute film review of Luca, which is released on Disney+ this weekend.

New Escapist Column! On The Complicated Legacy of “Shrek”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the twentieth anniversary of Shrek, it seems like a reasonable opportunity to take a look back at the film and its sizable pop culture legacy.

Shrek emerged at the turn of the millennium as a response to the kind of animation that had dominated American cinema during the nineties. In contrast to the calculated earnestness and sincerity of the Disney Renaissance, and its many imitators, Shrek‘s irony and cynicism felt like a breathe of fresh air. It was a film that didn’t take itself too seriously, indulging in knowing jokes and winking references. It was a bold counter-cultural statement that nobody expected to succeed. However, it did succeed, and ironically became one of the defining films of the twenty-first century.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Podcast! The Escapist Movie Podcast – “Paddington 2 is Objectively Better Than Citizen Kane”

The Escapist have launched a movie podcast, and I was thrilled to join Jack Packard for the fourteenth episode of the year, for a discussion that covered The Mitchells vs. The Machines, Paddington, Paddington 2, Citizen Kane and the entire point of criticism. So, you know, nothing too big or broad.

You can listen to back episodes of the podcast here, click the link below or even listen directly.

Non-Review Review: Soul

Soul is ambitious and well-crafted.

If Onward had been positioned as the populist Pixar film this year, then Soul is a counterproint. It is a prestige piece for the company, something similar to Inside Out or Wall-E. After all, Soul is the latest project from Pete Docter. Docter has been part of the Pixar brain trust since its earliest days, even working on the stories for Toy Story and Toy Story 2. However, Docter’s most recent high-profile work has been his scripting and directing duties on Up and Inside Out, two Pixar films to have been nominated for Best Picture and to win Best Animated Feature.

The afterlife and all that jazz.

The premise of Soul is suitably abstract. Joe Gardner is a music teacher who always dreamed of being a successful stage musician. One day, a former student gets in contact with him, offering a gig with jazz legend Dorethea Williams. Joe manages to land the gig, and is convinced that his fortunes are about to change for good. Naturally, dramatic irony strikes, and Joe finds himself sent to the afterlife. Refusing to accept that his life is over, Joe commits to doing whatever it takes to get back to Earth and live his dream. “I’m not dying today,” he vows. “Not when my life just started.”

Soul deals with very big ideas in a remarkably clever way. The film creates a compelling and fascinating imaginary world that recalls both Riley’s internal life from Inside Out and even the afterlife depicted in Coco. Docter also uses the story as a meditation on weighty subject matter like death, dreams and disillusionment. It’s bold and striking, and the film largely works as a showcase for the company’s imagination. However, Soul does stumble slightly in its final act, pulling its punches ever so slightly as the film reaches its denouement.

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New Escapist Column! On the Paradoxical Nostalgia of “Star Trek: Lower Decks”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Star Trek: Lower Decks launched last week, the latest entry in the larger Star Trek canon.

Lower Decks is an interesting phenomenon. It is perhaps the most overtly nostalgic Star Trek show of the new era, given how transparently it harks back to Star Trek: The Next Generation in both form and content. However, the show’s aesthetics – an animated series with a modern comedic sensibility – are likely to alienate those fans most obviously yearning for a nostalgic Star Trek hit. At the same time, the show’s reverence for the trappings of Star Trek prevents it from working in the mold of good comedy – even good Star Trek comedy.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On How Pixar Reinvented American Theatrical Animation…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. This weekend marked the tenth anniversary of the release of Toy Story 3 and the planned release date of Soul, so I thought it was a good time to take a look back at what made Pixar special.

Everybody talks about how emotive Pixar films are, how much they resonate with audiences on that level. However, what’s most striking and impressive – and perhaps most influential – about Pixar’s output is the way in which the studio draws consciously from a wide variety of influences to tell a wide variety of stories. There’s a lot of variety in the Pixar canon, they films playing with a large number of genres in interesting ways, repurposing classic formulae for a much younger audience than would have been the intended audience for the original films in question.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

182. Hauru no ugoku shiro (Howl’s Moving Castle) – Ani-May 2020 (#134)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and with special guests Graham Day and Bríd Martin, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This year, we are proud to continue the tradition of Anime May, a fortnight looking at two of the animated Japanese films on the list. This year, we watched a double feature of Hayao Miyazaki’s Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta and Hauru no ugoku shiro. We’ll also be covering a bonus on a recent entry on the list next week, Naoko Yamada’s Koe no katachi.

This week, the second part of the double bill, Hauru no ugoku shiro, Miyazaki’s first film after the breakout success of Spirited Away.

Chance encounters with both a mysterious young wizard and spiteful old witch find Sophie Hatter cursed. The eighteen-year-old young woman finds herself trapped in the body of a ninety-year-old crone. Never one to be defeated or outwitted, Sophie embarks on an adventure to lift the curse that takes her into the wilderness and to the heart of a majestic ambulatory castle inhabited by a fascinating bunch of misfits. As war simmers on the horizon, Sophie finds herself drawn to the temperamental but sensitive young magician Howl, but can they ever find peace?

At time of recording, it was ranked 134th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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166. Aladdin (#246)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, this week joined by special guest Graham Day, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, Ron Clements & John Musker’s Aladdin.

A thief in ancient Agrabah finds his fortunes changing for the better when he is recruited to recover a precious treasure. With fame and fortune at his fingertips, Aladdin sets about trying to seduce the beautiful Jasmine, but soon discovers that there’s more to love than power and wealth.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 246th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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163. Klaus – This Just In/Christmas 2020 (#176)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, a belated Christmas treat. Sergio Pablos and Carlos Martínez López’s Klaus.

Exiled to the remote island of Smeerensberg, postal employee Jesper comes up with an elaborate plan to inspire the locals to write the six thousand letters that he’ll need to earn back his life of luxury. However, Jesper doesn’t count on the ways in which he’ll change the lives of the island’s inhabitants, including a lonely and isolated woodsman named Klaus who makes children’s toys.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 176th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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