Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Category: Animated (page 1 of 2)

‘Lego Batman’ and the Importance of Family

Lego Batman movie poster“You can’t be a hero if you’re only thinking about yourself.” -Barbara Gordon

The team behind the 2014 surprise box office hit, The Lego Movie, had produced a fun, kid-friendly comic book movie in The Lego Batman Movie.  Will Arnett, who returns as the voice of Batman/Bruce Wayne, is the perfect humorless, brooding Dark Knight.

The film is full of fast-moving bricks that successfully draws on decades of Batman lore. From the 1960’s television series to Batman v. Superman, references to the Dark Knight’s multifaceted phases are made . . . . and they are brilliant! The references include the “na-na-na-na” theme song and the classic “POWS.”

The pop references do not stop there. The Joker unleashes a myriad of Warner Bros. villains onto Gotham city, who have all been chilling out in the Phantom Zone. Villains such as Voldemort, King Kong, Gremlins, Eye of Sauron, the Wicked Witch and her flying monkeys, and Godzilla. These references are clearly placed for the benefit of the parents. And, so, on behalf of all parents, I say, “Thank you.”

Continue reading

Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

Mickeys_Christmas_CarolMickey’s Christmas Carol is one of my favorite Christmas specials for a number of years. It is the retelling of the Charles Dickens’ classic short novel, “A Christmas Carol.” It has a large number of cameos from various Disney characters. It is one of those rare animation specials where all these characters from different Disney-Verses show up in the same place. And, the animation is incredible. It is one of the last great animation specials with hand-drawn animation. It feels like a lost art today.

Obviously, Scrooge McDuck as Ebenezer Scrooge, is the main character. McDuck was actually based on Dickens’ Scrooge. Scrooge’s home was in the comics, but was in an animated film once prior to this one: 1967’s Scrooge McDuck and Money. Scrooge is a grouchy, old man who is more concerned about his money than he is the welfare of others.

Continue reading

Lost Dino!

In anticipation for their new film, The Good Dinosaur, Disney invites you and your kids to look for Arlo. When you do, there is an exclusive clip from the film, which opens November 25.

Arlo is missing

Click here to find Arlo. 

Up (2009)

UpUp reminds us just how brilliant Pixar is and why the studio has been leading the way in modern animation. Not to mention some the church’s greatest theologians. Up is the story of Carol Fredricksen (Ed Asner) who grieves the death of his wife, Ellie, as well as the death of life as he knows it. A major company has bought up most of the land around his house building parking lots and skyscrapers. Mr. Fredricksen does not what to change. Due to some unfortunate events, Mr. Fredricksen has to leave his house. However, he does not go quietly. Using a large number of helium-filled balloons to move his house to the beloved Paradise Falls.

What makes Up a summer blockbuster isn’t just the adventure, it is the amazing story that goes along with it. Which is what Pixar does well. The images alone are so beautiful it welcomes you into the story. The beginning of the film is itself a short film telling the story of how Carol and Ellie met as children, fell in love, got married, dealt with the unexpectedness of life, and eventually Ellie’s death. Most of this is told without a single word being spoken. The images are so powerful they communicate exactly what needs to be communicated, leaving you laughing or crying.

What follows is the story of Mr. Fredricksen refusing to move from the home that he and Ellie built together. The man who once loved adventure, has become a grumpy old man. He is not only grieving the lost of his wife, but also all of the dreams they had of great explorations. When he is forced to leave and join a retirement home, he decides to take matters into his own hands, and move his home to Paradise Falls. Russell, a Wilderness Explorer Scout, ends up on this helium filled adventure with Mr. Fredricksen as he tried to earn a “helping a senior citizen” badge.

Mr. Fredricksen comes to realize that even though he is older, it does not mean that adventure and following your dreams is over. He still has much to give to the world. This is the gift that he gives to Russell. His knowledge, his experience, his care, his mentoring, are all things that Russell benefits from. It is a strong reminder to the Church for the necessity of intergenerational ministries where young and old come together.

In the film, Russell opens up about his absent father. Mr. Fredricksen becomes a father figure to Russell. One of the warmest moments of the film is when Mr. Fredricksen is present when Russell receives his badge, standing on stage with the other proud fathers. More importantly, the two discover that they have a few things in common. They are both lonely, and they both need each other.

No matter our age, we have something to offer, and we need each other. Let us not forget what a grand adventure a community can go on when it embraces all the generations.

An American Tail (1986)

an_american_tailAn American Tail is the second animated film from director Don Bluth after he left the Disney studio. The first was The Secret of NIMH. Both of these “mouse” films try to recapture the magic of the classic Disney films like Snow White and Pinocchio. Yet, it struggles to compare. The music and lip-singing is distracting. The animation is detailed and full. It makes use of computer animation in a way that was unique at the time. But, it is clear, that the vision comes from the early Disney films.

The hero of the film is the second child, Fievel. His and his family undergo hardships being ruined by an oppressive government of cats in 19th century Russia. Homes are destroyed and burned. The cats chase the mice away, and the mice decide to migrate to America, where there are no cats.

Continue reading

The Tigger Movie (2000)

The_Tigger_Movie_filmSince 1961 when Walt Disney bought the rights to A. A. Milne’s children’s book Winnie the Pooh, Disney has had a steady line of featurettes and television films. The Tigger Movie is the first feature film bringing to another generation Winnie-the-Pooh, Tigger, Rabbit, and Piglet too.

The film is the story of Tigger wanting to do what Tiggers do best: bounce. But no one wants to bounce with him, because they are all preparing for the coming winter. Tigger begins to wonder what it would be like to have a family of Tiggers just like him. Roo tries his best to cheer Tigger up, but to no avail. The group of stuffed friends decide to craft a letter to Tigger from his family. Upon receiving the letter, Tigger is overwhelmed with joy, which makes Roo very happy. But then Tigger starts talking about his family coming to visit, and the group gets nervous.

They design costumes and dress up to look like Tigger and pretend to be Tigger’s family. But when Tigger finds out that they are all wearing masks and costumes, he becomes disappointed again. And so, he sets out, once more, looking for his family tree.

The film’s main downfall is that it tries to be like Aladdin, with the songs and Tigger morphing into various pop culture icons. But the Pooh stories are Aladdin-like. What the movie lacks is an appeal to charm children.

Even so, the theme of family is a strong and rich one in this film. While Tigger is lonely because there are no other Tiggers in the Hundred Acre Wood, he does learn by the movie’s end that his stuffed friends make a family, even Rabbit. We don’t have to look or act alike to be family. Especially when it comes to the family of God. Diversity, in the many forms that it takes, is a rich addition to any family. Throughout the Old Testament, we see evidence of God teaching the Israelites to be welcoming to aliens, those who are different from them. Ruth, for example, was welcomed into the family of God even though she was a Moabite, and would become a major part of Jesus’ family tree (see Matthew 1).

Our diversity unites us. And we are all family.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

who_framed_roger_rabbit_movie_poster_by_expofever-d7tk5akIt’s hard to believe that Who Framed Roger Rabbit is twenty-five years old! The film hit the big screen in 1988. I was eight when I saw the film. Three of my cousins and I along with our Papa went to see the film. An amazing thing to see at the time on the big screen. These actors and animated characters sharing real space with one another.

The film is set in 1947 Hollywood, where Marvin Acme, the gag-gift king of town and owner of Toon Town, is murdered. The police come after animation film star Roger Rabbit as their main suspect. Private Investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) gets caught up in the middle of it, and eventually figures out that Roger is being framed. But by whom? And why?

Everything about this film – the plot, the dialogue, the look, the feel—is a 1940’s crime film. Everything, that is, except the Toons. Roger Rabbit is the first film that flawlessly combined real actors and animated cartoon characters. Walt Disney studios collaborated with Steven Spielberg (a known lover of animation) to make this flawless presentation possible. With direction by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) and animation by Richard Williams, we get a film that presents the animation in such a convincing way that it doesn’t distract from the plot. And that is the brilliance of this film. On the surface, it has a pretty seamless plot, but combined with new technology, it is nothing short of a masterpiece. The cartoon characters appear on screen occupying real space, just as the human actors do. And we are not talking about computer animated cartoon characters, these are hand drawn cartoon characters. The real deal.

Toon Town is a ghetto. When Eddie visits a club, where is going to snap some pictures of Acme and Roger’s wife, Jessica. There is sense that the toons who are working there are doing so for the humans. In fact, Toons are not allowed to patronize the club, though they serve drinks and provide the entertainment. R. K. Maroon tells Eddie at one point that Dumbo is working for him, on loan from Disney, and he works for peanuts, as he throws peanuts out the window. There is a certain level of prejudice and injustice directed towards the Toons. In fact, Acme is the one who owns Toon Town.

Eddie has had a strong dislike for Toon Town and its residents, holding on to his own bit of prejudice. It all stems from his brother being killed by a toon. You can see Eddie’s discomfort in the mere fact of Roger’s presence, not to mention working with him. But as the film continues, Roger grows on Eddie. Eddie learns that he cannot continue to hold a grudge against a whole population of “people” because of the act of one. Where grief had left him bitter and angry, his developing friendship with Roger helps Eddie learn to smile again, to enjoy life, and to see individuals—human or toon—for who they really are. In the course of it all, Eddie is finally able to make peace with his brother’s death.

It is through spending time and getting to know a Toon, that Eddie’s prejudice is curbed. Eddie’s own perspective of Roger and Toon Town changes, and he helps them assure the rights to Toon Town. Eddie is a lot like Jesus. Jesus spent a lot of time in his earthly ministry with sinners, outcasts, and the poor. Jesus spent time with and got to know the people that nobody cared about. Jesus saw past the social labels of individuals and saw the person. Eddie’s journey with Roger Rabbit empowers him to do the same.

Who have we restricted to a ghetto? Who do we need to spend more time with and get to know?

The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012)

Pirates reminds us why we love British comedies. The film, one of the best stop-action animation films I’ve seen, is absurd in all the best ways. Just imagine the best of Monty Python in a stop-action animated film minus the dirty jokes.

The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) sets out to win the Pirate of the Year Award. All he wants is some recognition from his peers that he is good at what he does. This sets him out to find the largest booty (insert PG jokes here), but always landing on the wrong ships; a ghost ship, a ship of school children on a field trip, a ship of lepers, and a ship of nudist. Finally, he attacks the ship carrying Charles Darwin (David Tennant), yep you read that correctly. Charles Darwin.

Darwin is journalling about his ship-filled scientific discoveries. Upon meeting Pirate Captain and his Polly, which is really the only surviving dodo bird, Darwin (whom Pirate Captain starts calling Chuck) convinces the pirate to go to London to present the bird at a scientific gathering to win the prize money. Darwin is seeking not so much recognition by his peers, but recognition by Queen Victoria. Pirate Captain is blinded by the deceit because of his own ambition to receive recognition from his peers.

Continue reading

The Lorax (2012)

The Lorax is one of Dr. Seuss’ lesser know, yet deeply powerful, parables.  In the film adaptation of the 1971 book, Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) has a huge crush on Audrey (voiced by Taylor Swift).  In order to impress her and win her over, he sets out to find her a tree.  You see, trees no longer exist in the town.  Grammy (voiced by Betty White) tells Ted about a mysterious figure who lives on the edge of town.  He will know how to get a tree.  The mysterious figure is the Once-ler (voiced by Ed Helms) who begins to tell Ted about his journey and his encounter with the Lorax (voiced by Danny DeVito).

In case you missed it in 1971, The Lorax is about saving trees.  Whether you call it being green or being good stewards of God’s creation, there’s no way around it.  It’s about saving trees.

But it’s about more than that.  It’s about making decisions – good or bad – and the consequences of those decisions.  And about how those decisions affect other people.

The Lorax is the voice of the trees.  The Lorax provides voice for those who are voiceless.   The Lorax is a Christ-figure in the film (he ascends and descends to the forest via a bright beam of light originating in the sky).  Ted, having heard the story has a calling to be a voice for the trees.  And, as the film ends, we too are challenged to discern our call and respond to it.  As the Lorax says: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

The film isn’t great, but it’s not bad either.  It’s an entertaining film from the creators of Despicable Me.  Some of the more entertaining moments were from the dialogue-free forest creatures.  Oh, yeah, and it’s a musical.  You didn’t really get that from the trailer.  Ed Helms as the Once-ler is great.  Imagine an animated Ed Helms a la The Hangover with a guitar in hand singing songs that could have been easily adlipped and still great.  There are a few awkard large ensemble pieces and are laughable (whether they were meant to be or not).  The closing number, “Let It Grow,” is a gospeleque number that’s about letting the last Truffula seed grow into a tree.  This number alone could viewed from a faith perspective as many more than just a tree seed.  Ed Helms and Danny DeVito are great casting choices.  Betty White was great as Grammy, but there just wasn’t enough Betty White. But, is there ever?

The Lion King (1994)

The theater lights slowly dim and the dark screen slowly comes to life with rich, brilliant colors. The African landscape spreads out before us on the big screen, and we are reminded that this is how we are supposed to view The Lion King. Walt Disney’s 1994 animated film is currently in theaters (only one week left!) in 2D and 3D.

As the tribes of African animals migrate to Pride Rock to witness the baptism of young Simba, we are filled with peace. There is order in the land. As Simba grows up, his innocence deteriorates. After a lively musical number (“I Just Can’t Wait to be King”), Simba and Nala roll playfully into the elephant graveyard. The bright colors have suddenly left us, and we are filled with the darkness of the graveyard.

The graveyard is the place Simba is not supposed to be. Yet it was the elegant temptation by Uncle Scar that raised Simba’s curiosity that seeks this place out. And no matter how brave Simba attempts to be, this dark place is too much for him to handle. Cornered by the hyenas, there seems to be no hope. Refuge from the graveyard is only found when Mufasa shows up and scares off the hyenas.

It is during Simba’s walk of shame home that he experiences grace. For as much as Mufasa is upset and disappointed, he is loving and gracious. And it is in this moment of grace that Mufasa tells Simba to look up at the stars. In an Abrahamic kind of way, Mufasa reminds Simba of all the kings who have gone before them. Mufasa tells Simba, “Whenever you feel alone, just remember that those kings will always be there to guide you. And so will I.”

As the film progresses Simba is tricked into believing that he was the cause of his father’s death. Not able to handle what his mother would think, he runs away from home. His journey crosses the path of Timon and Pumbaa who share with him their philosophy of “Hakuna Matata.” Eventually Simba is discovered by Nala (cue Elton John love songs), and is challenged to answer his call as King of Pride Land. After receiving a few bumps on his head from the priestly prophet Rafiki he accepts that calling. And Simba returns home to challenge Scar.

Returning home to face Scar means Simba has to face the past he left behind, including his mother. We can see in his animated face all the guilt and shame returning to Simba as he meets his mother again for the first time. It’s a bittersweet reunion. But it is this reunion where Simba finally learns that the truth he has carried with him for some long was a lie crafted by Scar. Scar is the one who is responsible for Mufasa’s death, not Simba.

As the rain begins to fall on the barren and broken Pride Land, new life is bound to arise. And we are reminded that we are Simba. We are tempted into the elephant graveyard where life does not exist. We are cornered until there seems to be no hope. We are recipients of grace: a grace that reminds us who we are and whose we are. We abandon our callings in life for “Hakuna Matata.” And we find ourselves returning home to new beginnings.

The Lion King is one of the best epic films of our time because it is the story of all of us. Prodigal, but welcomed. Wayward, but returning. And so, let us all take our place in the circle of life.

This post was written for hollywoodjesus.com and can also be found by clicking here.

Older posts

© 2018 Jason C. Stanley

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑