Tag Archives: Chris Buck

Lucky Star


by Hope Madden

Adorably subversive, that’s how I would label Disney’s new animated feature, Wish. Chris Buck’s latest, co-directed with Fawn Veerasunthorn, strings together in-jokes and homages to Disney’s past to camouflage its fight the power message. Unfortunately, the balance doesn’t emphasize storytelling and the result is middling.

Asha (Oscar winner Ariana DeBose) is interviewing to become apprentice to King Magnifico (Chris Pine). Magnifico is much beloved, and not just because he’s so very handsome. It’s also because he takes such good care of his people’s wishes, which they donate to him when they turn 18 and then forget all about. Once in a great while, he grants one. But mainly that’s to mollify the masses.

I smell a message, and it is one I can get behind. Hold your elected official accountable, people. Do it! You owe them nothing.

Your animated movie owes you some things, though, and Wish struggles a bit to provide those things. Obviously DeBose has a voice, and her songs are solid. Pine’s a charmer and spot-on as the aggrieved leader. Better still, Alan Tudyk voices the Disney-required sassy animal sidekick, Valentino. He’s unnecessary and adds nothing to the actual narrative, but he’s a bit of fun and Tudyk’s an impressive vocal talent.

Asha also has seven buddies. One’s smart and wears glasses. Another sneezes a lot. One’s bashful. Another one is always drowsy. Get it? Just one (or seven) needless winks, as if to say, “We love Disney! We just hate entitled men in power who refuse to share that power with the very people who’ve built their fortune.”

Bit of a mixed message.

Of course, none of that matters if the film itself is a fun, gorgeous, memorable time for the kids. Wish has its moments. It often looks quite lovely. Each performance delivers something bright and fun. While the songs are not especially memorable, they’re enjoyable enough while you’re watching.

In truth, Wish shares a lot in theme with last week’s The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. And though that film is no masterpiece, it digs into the idea that you cannot fight the power from within. This is where Wish misses the point. It’s trying to do something radical without upsetting anybody, and that’s just not possible.

Ice Ice Baby

Frozen II

by George Wolf

Four year-old Ruby, bouncing in her seat and making friends while sporting a sparkly tiara, is here for it.

“The fun part is watching Elsa!”

From Ruby’s lips to Mickey’s ears, because the perfectly acceptable Frozen II seems overly calculated to be just that: perfectly acceptable to anyone and everyone who’s even vaguely aware of the original from 2013.

Directors/co-writers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck are back for round two, along with songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and the starring voices from the first adventure.

This new one is set in motion by a siren song that attracts Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel), calling her north to a magical forest that is holding captives – and secrets. With sister Anna (Kristen Bell), Anna’s beau Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and goofy snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) close behind, Elsa sets off into the unknown to right wrongs and learn the origin of her magical powers.

“Into the Unknown,” get used to it. A soaring ballad delivered with customary power by Menzel, it’s served up not only as part 2’s “Let It Go,” but as just one of the many broadly-drawn themes the film leans on.

Don’t give up, take one step at a time and do the right thing. Nothing wrong with any of those messages, but largely thanks to Disney and Pixar, animated films of the last twenty odd years have shown us how many more layers of resonance are possible – for children and adults.

And while families – especially the younger members – will find a fine holiday time to be had, don’t expect the heights of Up, Inside Out, Zootopia, or even the original Frozen.

The songs are just a bit more bland this time, the laughs a little less frequent (although Gad does deliver some winners) and the animation not quite as rich or defined.

From start to finish, FII‘s journey seems interested only in the path of least resistance toward more of that Elsa/Anna feeling. And by that measure, it certainly succeeds.

“See you at the next Frozen! Are you gonna be here?”

Count on it, Ruby. Save me a seat.

Calling Mr. Plow!


by George Wolf


Though the animated landscape has become more crowded since the days of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, musicals remain solid Disney turf. Their newest is Frozen, and while not quite on par with the classics, it still offers plenty to delight the entire family.

Based on story elements from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, Frozen tells the tale of young Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) and her sister, Princess Anna (Kristen Bell). The Queen has mysterious powers she struggles to control, and they have caused her kingdom to suffer under the ice and snow of a permanent winter. In sad desperation, Elsa has isolated herself in a faraway ice castle, which leads Anna, along with her friend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and a goofy snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad) on a quest to find the Queen and save the kingdom.

With its big-eyed princesses in peril, dashing gentlemen, wise-cracking sidekicks, and soaring odes to empowerment, Frozen feels instantly familiar. Beyond those Disney benchmarks, though, there is some irony in the casting of Menzel, who won a Tony award for originating the role of Elphaba in the stage musical Wicked.

The similarity of the character names (Elsa, Elphaba), the unfair labeling of Elsa as “evil,” and the preeminence of a sisterly relationship over the search for Prince Charming all contribute toward a winning narrative assembled from some shrewdly familiar parts.

Of course, none of these elements are above rehashing, especially in the land of fairy tales. Disney veterans Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, sharing story and directing duties, weave them all into a fast-paced, funny adventure that will, if the audience at a recent preview screening was any indication, totally captivate the young ones.

The 3D animation is often gorgeous, as the chilly setting gives the animators ample opportunity to impressively explore drifting show or glistening ice. Inside, Anna dances past framed paintings, a clever reminder of the added dimension these artists are deftly employing.

Musically, the husband and wife team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez fill Frozen with original songs that are pleasing, if a bit unremarkable. While there’s no “Be Our Guest” or “Circle of Life” here, Menzel’s voice remains a wonder to behold no matter the material, and Bell, an accomplished singer in her own right, shows impressive versatility.

Though he’s no match melodically, Gad steals the film as the daffy Olaf. Putting his unique voice to good use with some inspired delivery, he makes a funny character even more fun, and Frozen steps more lively whenever he’s near.

Now, the big question:  how are they going to recreate this frozen tundra for the theme park tie-in in Orlando?

I’m sure those wicked minds will think of something…