TOY STORY 4 – A Purpose-Driven Plaything

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There have been few movie series so perfectly ended as Pixar Animation Studios’ Toy Story Trilogy. The third entry tied up all the loose ends, pulled at our heartstrings almost to the breaking point (that furnace scene…), and left all our favorite characters in a great spot where they would be taken care of and happy.

But I suppose that, given how well Toy Story 3 fared at the box office, there was no way Pixar, and its parent company Disney, would leave that money-making potential alone. There would eventually be a fourth entry in this venerable series. And now, it’s here.

Toy Story 4 reunited us with all our favorite toy friends that we’ve grown to love in the past 25 years and took them on a new adventure that indeed had its moments that were genuine and heartfelt. But ultimately, this movie seemed unnecessary and even hindered the legacy of the previous films. Perhaps Pixar should have just left well enough alone.

Despite its superfluousness, Toy Story 4 had a strong, quality thematic core to it that made it one of the deepest Pixar films to date – containing questions about the very nature of existence and what we are here to accomplish. Thankfully, we have a Creator who gave each of us a reason for being.

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SHAZAM! – A Worthy Champion

MV5BMjIyNTkwODY1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTUyMTA5NjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has been playing catch-up to Marvel Studios pretty much since the DCEU’s inception. Man of Steel was a good, if somewhat flawed, first entry. What came next were half-baked films that had interesting concepts but poor execution (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), just plain stinkers (Suicide Squad), and stylistically schizophrenic messes (Justice League).

There have been enjoyable and fun films in the DCEU (Wonder Woman and Aquaman), but they still are in the minority. And now it seems that Warner Bros. and DC are attempting a new strategy to downplay the “shared universe” aspect of the franchise – which could be good or bad, but generally frustrating for a continuity nerd like myself.

Shazam!, the newest film in the DCEU, was definitely on par with the two enjoyable DCEU films. It’s a fun story full of youthful exuberance and wonders, with a charismatic lead, an intriguing concept, and some really entertaining set pieces.

One cannot help but compare Shazam! to the MCU’s latest entry, Captain Marvel. They were released within a month of each other and both titular characters have historically held the title “Captain Marvel” (Shazam was originally called Captain Marvel when the character debuted in 1939, but decades worth of legal challenges now prevent DC from using the name). But if there’s one hero truly worthy of that moniker, it is definitely Billy Batson – a more interesting character who actually changed, matured, took time to develop his powers, all of which made his journey interesting.

Can’t say the same thing about Carol Danvers.

Shazam! was also one of the most spiritually poignant DCEU movies, with lots of subtle and blatant theological references peppered throughout the narrative and the main character’s DNA. It made Billy Batson’s journey similar to that of many biblical heroes.

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CAPTAIN MARVEL – An Empty (Super) Suit

CM PosterMuch hay has been made about the new Marvel Studios film, Captain Marvel. “Finally,” they say, “A Marvel Studios film has a female lead.” It’s an “important” film, you must understand. As it will finally give women and girls someone to look up to and root for in the pop culture sphere. Never mind that there have been many other heroines over the decades.

The culture at large is giving this film and its star so much press and love simply because of what Captain Marvel supposedly represents. Whether the film is actually good or not appears to be a secondary concern.

Captain Marvel is not good. In fact, it is probably the worst film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. The film boasted impressive production value and honestly surprised me by containing very little openly feminist propaganda (though there are some eye-rolling zingers). However, the movie failed on a fundamental storytelling level and undermined the rock-solid footing of the MCU – a franchise that allegedly now rests on the shoulders of this thoroughly drab and unlikeable hero.

And so many women and girls will now see Captain Marvel as a halcyon of female empowerment, which, given how the character behaved in the film, is really sad. The film version of Wonder Woman is a much better candidate for that honor.

Still, as unlikeable as the title character was, Captain Marvel does delve into an interesting concept in Christian thought that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

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Reviewing the Classics – SLEEPING BEAUTY

410d4736de866b4214937bdcd45e54b9Animation has often been described as “the illusion of life” – a trick of the eye that seemingly gives sentience to a series of drawings (or computer data in later years). As the art form has evolved over a century, the illusion aspect has enabled animators to break the bonds of earthbound logic and truly conceive whatever their minds can imagine.

Such was the case with Walt Disney’s 16th animated feature, Sleeping Beauty. Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, this film remains a timeless classic in the Disney canon. But it’s also an important film to the animation art form – helping take the medium into the next phase of its existence with a bold, pioneering design coupled with fluid, believable animation. Its artistry, craftsmanship, and storytelling have yet to be rivaled by anything that has been released since – Disney or otherwise.

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BUMBLEBEE – A Helper Arrives

BB PosterI make no bones about my fascination with Michael Bay’s Transformers films. For over a decade, Bay and the crew at Industrial Light & Magic have brought these 1980s icons to stunning life with amazing detail and stunning action set pieces.

I will concede that some of these films have been better than others. The first film is still the best of the five, by far. But even I had to admit that the films gradually lost their soul and sense of wonder with each successive release. The fifth film, The Last Knight, was definitely one of the worst. While I do love Michael Bay’s frenetic action style, it was clear that the story was running on fumes and new creative blood was needed.

The new blood manifested itself in Travis Knight’s Bumblebee, the latest Transformers film, and the first not directed by Bay. Set as a prequel (or something) to the first film, this movie was a solid rejuvenation of this now-lumbering franchise. Part 1980s coming-of-age movie (that literally takes place in the 1980s), part sci-fi action-fest, the film has placed the heart and soul firmly back in within the franchise. It’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

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