The Movie that Told Us to Just Keep Swimming: Finding Nemo 20th Anniversary Retrospective

This movie turns twenty this year. Holy crap, we are so OLD. I still remember watching this religiously when I was a kid. However, I haven’t actually watched it since my teen years. This seems like the perfect time to re-experience one of Pixar’s most enduring classics!

In Finding Nemo, we have the classic case of one Disney parent dying, and the survivor becoming unrealistically overprotective of the kid. In this instance, a clownfish named Marlin manages to save one of his deceased wife’s eggs: Nemo. He’s worried that Nemo’s first day of school will end in a gruesome death, but in his defense, Nemo gets pretty close. As a result of his own hubris, Nemo accepts a triple dog dare from his classmates and tries to touch a butt, only to be kidnapped by a human and taken to Australia. Marlin’s only hope is to—well—find Nemo, and with the help of a reckless, forgetful female named Dory.

First off, how the hell does the movie still look so good? Sure, I watched it in HD, but seriously, it’s beautiful. I religiously watched the behind-the-scenes of Finding Nemo, and I recall an interview where someone said that they actually dialed down the photorealism; it would’ve been too scary to keep it. That was a great call, and it’s probably why this movie aged so well twenty years later (a lesson that The Polar Express people failed to learn).

Second off, FINDING NEMO GOES FOR THE THROAT! Sure, Disney parents always die, but it has never been alongside HUNDREDS OF UNBORN CHILDREN. Marlin is rightfully traumatized, but more on his complex hero’s journey later, because I need to really iterate how visceral this thing is. Where to even begin?! The barracuda and the fishnapping are the tip of the iceberg. Marlin survives a minefield explosion, a nightmarish angler fish encounter, eating thousands of volts of electricity from jellyfish, being thrown through a rip current, getting eaten alive… and that’s just what happens to Marlin. Nemo almost gets ripped to shreds by a fan in a claustrophobic space, has his body shaken violently, gets flushed down a toilet, and almost gets fished with a bunch of other losers we don’t care about. How the hell did any of us watch this thing all the way through as kids?!

Otherwise, it’s a standard Pixar movie. I remembered WAY more dialogue than I thought, despite it being over a decade since my last watch, and that just shows how rock solid the dialogue is. It’s not too tryhard, but still has that great Pixar charm. From vegan sharks to covetous seagulls that only speak the word “mine”, Finding Nemo still oozes personality to this day. Sidebar: one of the lines I just noticed as an adult was when one of the sharks says “humans think they own everything” and the hammerhead remarks “probably American.” How apropos.

The characters are pretty simple for the most part, but Marlin is probably one of the most nuanced Pixar characters, and I only just realized it as an adult. His trauma is real, and his devotion as a dad is truly tested. However, it’s his Freudian slip late in the movie, when he accidentally calls Dory Nemo, that really says a lot about him. It shows that, despite how much he dunked on her, that he really cared about her and saw his own son in her. It’s pretty obvious to pick up on this, but as a kid, I was like “Herpaderp are they gonna find Nemo yet I gotta go poopy now.” The scene when other fish talk about Marlin’s exploits is one of my favorites for some reason. I dunno… it just really shows how far Marlin goes to be a dad.

Also… uh… how do I discuss Dory? Is her voice actor still a controversial figure? Well, regardless, her role as Dory is—to this day—a stellar performance. Dory is a spaz, with some of the most memorable lines in Pixar, and her memory issues are actually pretty thoughtfully used instead of making it a shock value thing. Of course, her legacy will be immortalized in the iconic, nonsensical whale song she sings. It’s better than most of today’s pop songs, that’s for sure.

Nemo is… well, kind of a brat. I mean, the situation was kind of both their faults… look, I’m just trying to have a witty sense of dry humor in this thing. Anyway, he is raised with the idea that he can’t do anything to save his life, and—lo and behold—turns out that Marlin was wrong in that regard. Of course, they reconcile, and it makes you wanna play the chorus of ‘Cats in the Cradle’ (yes, I know that song is about a son who ultimately abandons his father but it’s still the definitive anthem of dads).

The supporting cast mostly consists of the fish in the tank that Nemo ends up with. Gill is the only plot-relevant one, being the guy who actually comes up with the convoluted plan to get them all out. However, the real charm comes from everyone else, with unique, quirky personalities. Also, Robert from Everybody Loves Raymond voice acts as one of them; what’s not to love?

Of course, our favorite supporting character is none other than Crush, a sea turtle going strong even at one-fifty. He’s basically the guy who teaches Marlin his lesson regarding when his metaphorical bird is old enough to leave the metaphorical nest. It’s also a brilliant move to make the character who teaches Marlin this lesson a sea turtle; the species known to abandon their offspring at birth. Crush’s easy-going personality and Californian accent makes him a righteous dude. Also, the A.I. that has gotten closest to reaching sentience is built in his image, so there’s that. Hopefully it doesn’t get any more advanced.

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After All These Years: 9.7/10

As much as I love the show-stopping spectacle and ingenuity of many foreign animated features that only exist to be stepped on at the Oscars, I still love Disney and Pixar. Finding Nemo remains one of the all-around best films by this team of visionaries. It’s not existential like Soul, or action-packed and deceptively complex like The Incredibles, but it does what it needs to do without being half-baked nor excessive. It goes without saying that every dad must watch this movie… and listen to ‘Cats in the Cradle’ one more time.

Inu-Oh: A Japanese History Musical

Man, I really hate seeing adaptations of stuff before reading the source material. The phrase “the book is better than the film” cannot be truer in the anime world, a medium notorious for cutting corners and taking creative liberties that ruin the heart of the thing. However, I had no choice with Inu-Oh, based on one of the stories in a book called Tales of the Heike; a book not licensed for legal Western use to my knowledge. Thing is, though, that it’s by Science Saru, and they have a vision for it that’s only possible in the Twenty-First Century. 

In Inu-Oh, a blind biwa player named Tomona meets the titular Inu-Oh, a person who was disfigured because of a curse. It turns out that the latter’s curse can be lifted if he performs the stories of the fallen Heike soldiers from important battles throughout Japanese history (or, in the context of the movie, relatively recent news). Nothing left to do but to form a traveling theater troupe and become famous!

Science Saru really is an excellent animation studio. This is the third movie of theirs I have seen, and all three of them are drastically different visually. Ride Your Wave looked aggressively generic, while The Night is Short, Walk on Girl looked all weird and liquidy. Inu-Oh is like Ghibli’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya on steroids. It combines traditional ink-brush-y art styles with modern anime visuals to make a stunning visual experience. The mouths of characters might look off-putting to some, but that’s just manga legend Taiyo Matsumoto for you. Yes, the creator of Tekkonkinkreet did the character designs.

Speaking of characters, they are no doubt the weakest parts of the movie. The only real characters are the two protagonists, and they’re pretty simple for the most part. Honestly, there really isn’t much to say about them. However, that’s okay this time around, since the whole point of the movie is the music. 

By the way, Inu-Oh is a rock opera. It doesn’t take long for Tomona—hence known as Tomoari—to don garish makeup and glamorous clothes like someone who didn’t know whether or not they wanted to cosplay as Gene Simmons or a Buddhist priest. Inu-Oh’s dancing rivals that of Michael Jackson, while the troupe somehow manages to create show-stopping stage effects that match that of this century despite it being a thousand years before. Although there are only three musical numbers, they are long, intricate, and utterly moving. 

However, all of that is shallow compared to Inu-Oh’s voice actor… at least his Japanese voice actor. Inu-Oh is voiced by none other than Avu-chan, vocalist of Japan’s famous glam rock band, Queen Bee. I have spoken of them once or twice, and sadly, I ended up falling out of their music despite how much I wanted to enjoy it. Despite how little I care for Queen Bee to this day, I’ve dearly missed Avu-chan’s utterly amazing vocalwork. It was bittersweet and nostalgic to hear them again for the first time in years, and boy, they REAAAAALLY go ham in this movie. Inu-Oh is one of the reasons to never watch dubs. There is no way in hell anyone can replace Avu-chan in their role, and I feel sorry for whoever did in the dub.

If there is any real flaw with the movie, it’s that there isn’t much closure. To be as vague as possible, the main protagonists do find closure in a way, but for the most part, that’s it. I really can’t elaborate further than this. It has a bittersweet and anti-climactic end, but it’s thankfully not on the level of abrupt nonsense of Ghibli movies. 

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Final Verdict: 9.75/10

Inu-Oh is a truly spectacular movie. It is an example of the creativity of animation and why animation is better than anything in Hollywood. It also shows the power and passion of a nation that actually cares about animation in the first place. I could pretty much recommend it to anyone… except for those who are triggered by gore. There are only a couple of scenes, but they’re still there.

Pompo the Cinephile: A 2D Movie About a 3D Movie

I always have to specify when I’m reviewing an adaptation of something without consulting the source material… mainly so I don’t look like some normie who just watches movies without knowing where they come from. According to MyAnimeList, Pompo the Cinephile is an adaptation of a two-volume webmanga from several years ago. It sure-as-hell doesn’t seem available over in the West, and honestly, something that short could probably be adapted with most of its soul intact. Hopefully. 

In Pompo the Cinephile, movie magic is made in Nyallywood. A classic underdog named Gene Fini works with the titular loli producer herself, Pompo, who specializes in skimpy B-movies. She’s young, but really talented, being the granddaughter of one of the most famous producers in the world. Anyway, despite the movie being named after her, it’s really about Gene’s spiritual journey through the world of film when given the opportunity to shoot a contemporary drama as its director.

Like in actual filmmaking, there’s a LOT to go over, i.e. the actual process of making a film. However…

We can’t talk about that yet! This is an ANIME feature film, so we need to discuss the visuals. As expected with the better budget and less time to fill, Pompo the Cinephile is gorgeous. The movie does all kinds of clever edits that fit with the filmmaking motif it conveys. Every minute of it is full of life and color. 

Anyway, as I said before I was so rudely interrupted by myself, this movie REALLY shows how hard it is to make a movie. You have to book all kinds of things, arrange for flights to the filming location, make sets (or use CG if you’re Hollywood), get sponsors to fund the movie, and… a LOT of editing. Gene’s movie, Meister, ends up clocking in at ninety minutes, but there was SEVENTY-TWO HOURS of raw footage to go through! Is that… realistic?! For the sake of whatever Earth’s resources are used in filming, I hope that’s a gross exaggeration.

With Pompo the Cinephile itself also being ninety minutes, you can expect the story to be simple, approachable, and concise; none of that mundane stuff that boomers get dopamine over. It goes through the whole Murphy’s Law laundry list of hiccups, and they really end up getting down to the wire with this one. Furthermore, it has layers in that Meister has parallels to Gene’s life.

Oops, I talked about Gene’s character arc, which means it’s time to discuss the cast! Pompo is great, in case it wasn’t obvious enough. She’s short, spunky, and eccentric, and is basically the Roy Disney to Gene’s Walt… or something (you know what I mean). We’ve already talked about Gene, but there are more characters than just him and Pompo Natalie is a young girl who seems wholly inadequate to act, yet her existence inspires Pompo to write the screenplay for Meister. She learns the ups and downs of acting, and gets a little spiritual journey of her own. We also have a sad banker named Alan, who ends up compelled to invest in Meister, and learn what it means to run a bank. Wait… then wouldn’t that make HIM the Roy Disney to Gene’s Walt? Crap… my analogies suck.

There are plenty of supporting characters with a lot of charm, like the sleazy other director who works in the B-movies. We also have the famous actors, Mystia and Martin Braddock, the latter of which is the lead role in Meister. The cherry on top with all these characters is that there is NO ROMANCE on set whatsoever. That’s my kind of movie.

We all know how hard it is to make a film, but Pompo the Cinephile never fails to be light-hearted at its core. There’s plenty of good humor while still hitting us in the feels. It also gets pretty psychological and philosophical when the characters dissect what a “movie” really is. I, of course, humbly disagree—at least where live action is concerned—but they do a good job with the dialogue when viewed in a vacuum. What’s important is that it gives a shout-out to introverts by claiming that they are inherently more creative than people who fit in.

Speaking of humbly disagreeing, I feel like the movie would start some interesting debates. Walking out of it, I interpreted that—due to the nature of some later scenes—it was trying to endorse that notion that there is no cost too great for living your dreams. Not even cutting away all of your loved ones, and having disregard for your own life. It’s ironic coming from a place like Japan, where that self-sacrificial lifestyle is leading it to its demise. Maybe there was something I didn’t get; I’m not exactly good at this subtext thing.

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

Pompo the Cinephile was an excellent movie, even if it didn’t make me appreciate live action cinema any better than I already do (or lack thereof). It does just about everything right, and I’d daresay it was one of the best anime of 2021 (which sure holds water considering how little anime I watch anymore). Do you like anime? Do you like movies? Do you like anime movies? If yes, then watch this one.

Wolfwalkers: An Example of Peak Animated Cinema

Is COVID STILL ongoing right now? Holy crap… that thing is immortal. Anyway, I’m bringing it up because today’s review is of a 2020 film: Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers, the final installment of their hit Irish Folklore Trilogy. It never got to see the big screen. GKids is a great license holder, but they make… decisions… when it comes to distribution of the products (either that or the original rights holder restricts them?). Wolfwalkers was an Apple TV+ exclusive! I say “was” because the only other way to watch it is on the trilogy Blu-Ray boxset, and that’s how I watched it for the first time!

In Wolfwalkers, a British girl named Robin and her dad move to Ireland (where no one likes them) to help take out a pack of wolves living in the nearby forest. Naturally, she’s not allowed to help even though she really wants to. Also naturally, she goes into the forest anyway. Still quite naturally, she meets a titular wolfwalker named Mave, and they hit it off. VERY naturally, this won’t exactly fly with the humans back in town!

Where do I start with this movie? Well, probably how it looks, since that’s the first thing you see. Like the Cartoon Saloon movies before it, Wolfwalkers is gorgeous. Also like the Cartoon Saloon movies before it, they don’t stick with the exact same look. For this movie, they use a more pencil-sketchy look—to the point where you can actually see some of the skeleton shapes for people’s bodies—that feels very much inspired by Disney’s xerox era films. However, while those Disney movies clearly scream budget cuts, this technique somehow makes Wolfwalkers Cartoon Saloon’s most breathtaking movie. They do some seriously crazy stuff in this one, and they already pushed the envelope before. 

“But how’s the story?” you ask. Well, it’s a Cartoon Saloon movie, so it’s not exactly avant-garde. Wolkfwalkers is a pretty typical story of friendship, self-discovery, the piousness of early Christians, their inability to understand nature, and the subtle nods to how our society is now. Okay, it’s not exactly the latter, and I—once again—appreciate that from Cartoon Saloon (clearly, they ran out of gut-crushers after The Breadwinner). For a 2020 film, I was dead certain that this would be about racism, and you can argue that it is with how humans’ fear of wolves is explored. However, it really isn’t (other than literally one scene with these Irish bullies), so you can just enjoy it for the Celtic escapism that it is and stop trying to take away the childlike wonder from the few people who still cling to it (looking at you, art critics).

Speaking of childlike wonder, that—like the other two films—is just how the movie feels. While visuals can just be used as sensory-assaulting fluff for the blockbuster-savvy, Cartoon Saloon always knows how to do the most without excession. Wolfwalkers never skipped a beat, advancing at a tight pace while having time for the details that matter. Most notably, this one is not only the longest (by about ten minutes); it also has the shortest resolution, coming down to the wire about as much as any Disney movie.

Oh, and speaking of “down to the wire”, Wolfwalkers hits the hardest of the Irish Folklore Trilogy movies (obviously, The Breadwinner will break your heart and subsequently annihilate the pieces at the subatomic level, so we don’t compare it to that). With multiple layers of conflict, from Robin’s dense dad to the mean Law Protector, there’s plenty of butt-clenching to be had throughout the movie. Though it’s rated PG, you might want to be cautious if you have young’uns. 

The characters, however, are kind of the weakest link in the movie. They aren’t bad per sé, but Cartoon Saloon is already showing its own brand of tropes. Robin—like Brandon and Ben—is a troublemaker, who learns valuable lessons of friendship and acceptance when she meets the aforementioned wolfwalker. Said wolfwalker, Mave, is—like Ashley and Cirsha—the unquestionably Best Girl, full of expressiveness and snark, who you want to root for but ends up suffering the most. Robin’s father, Mr. Goodfellow—like Uncle Abbot and Ben’s dad—is insufferably dense because of past trauma related to loss, and is just trying to keep his kid alive and healthy, but needs to have the truth of the matter drilled into his thick skull. There are also the usual several unnamed NPCs who serve as occasional comic relief. The similarities end, however, with the aforementioned Law Protector. Large, angular, and a devout Christian, he’s the only true villain in the Irish Folklore Trilogy. Unlike the complex, insecure parents of the main protagonists, he is just evil.

Small aside, though. Wolfwalkers was the only movie in this trilogy where the Blu-Ray Disc experienced hiccups. Honestly… it would’ve been better to rent the first two movies and do a free trial period with Apple TV+. I really don’t like Blu-Rays, or DVDs for that matter, at all. Fortunately, I discovered that GKids seem to have some contract with Apple, for a lot of anime movies I otherwise can’t watch are available for rent without having to also subscribe to Apple TV+. So… expect some more anime movie reviews on occasion.

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Final Verdict: 9.85/10

I thought Wolfwalkers would be the worst of these movies for very obvious reasons. However, it was actually the best. Thanks, COVID. I hope Cartoon Saloon makes more movies… because The Breadwinner is the only one left and I am too sensitive to watch it right now (or ever). In any case, I highly recommend this amazing company’s films to anyone. They’re that good (and better than live action).

Strange World: Disney’s Most Family-Savvy Movie

Here we go again, time to see another Disney movie on opening day (well, I know this post isn’t coming out on opening day… but you know what I mean). I’m gonna admit that I was worried about this one. Lightyear ended up being one of my biggest disappointments with Pixar in YEARS, and while Turning Red was great, it wasn’t meant to be better than Lightyear. Strange World also has something that always, ALWAYS sets the Internet on fire, even though it’s pretty commonplace nowadays. That’s why I try to watch movies I care about on opening day… even though I would prefer them to be on Disney+ as well (at least that’s something they did right with Disenchanted).

In Strange World, the famous explorer Jaeger Clade is ready to make the discovery of a lifetime on the other side of the unconquerable mountain range that looms over his hometown of Avalonea. He drags his son Searcher (and some other people) on this journey. Searcher discovers a radioactive green corn, dubbed Pando, that has enough power to jumpstart Avalonea to a new age. Jaeger, sadly, doesn’t take kindly to this and abandons his son. Twenty-five years later, Searcher starts his own life as a farmer, but must take on the explorer mantle again when Pando mysteriously starts dying off.

So, Strange World is a lot for a Disney movie. I can almost guarantee that kids will have no idea what’s going on until they’re eighteen. On the flipside, this is perhaps the most catered to adults that a Disney animated feature has ever been. As strange as the world in Strange World is, the real strange world is the strange world of family relationships. The entire plot revolves around Searcher, his son Ethan, and Jaeger, who is of course still alive in the titular strange world beneath the mountains.

Before continuing on, I might as well fan-gush over this strange world. Who needs Avatar, which just looks exactly like Earth but plants glow sometimes, when you have the surrealistic wonders put forth by Disney visionaries? The movie explodes with beautiful colors, odd creatures, and epic landscape shots. Too bad Avatar‘s going to eat this movie nonetheless…

Anyway, complaints about Hollywood being jury-rigged against animation aside, the story of the Clades is the heart of the movie. When the three generations of Clade meet for the first time, the drama goes through the roof. Ethan thinks Jaeger is cool, Searcher doesn’t like Jaeger, Searcher doesn’t want Ethan to be like Jaeger (and holds Ethan back in the process of protecting him from his grandpa), and Ethan just wants to be… Ethan. To be blunt, if you’re a seasoned veteran of fiction, Disney movies, and life in general, then you already know all three men’s character arcs from start to finish. Fortunately, this age-old theme is still relevant, as there are certainly plenty of Dead Poet Society-esque parents out there who need a wake-up call. Also, Strange World executes on it really well, not getting too manufactured in favor of shock value while managing to hit home all the same.

Oh, right, there is still the whole dying green corn thing… Well, that debacle ends up having a legitimately clever twist. I won’t spoil what it is, but it’s definitely not human machinations this time. The idea of humans not being a vile plague is always a novelty these days.

Based on how aggressively I talked about the three Clade men up to this point, it sure sounds like they’re the only real characters. Well, they’re the most fleshed out, that’s for sure. Jaeger might be a jerk, but he has some funny moments of being a real grandpa. Searcher is a classic dad character, wanting to protect Ethan and his home. Ethan is just a cool kid caught between a rock (Searcher) and a hard place (Jaeger).

Everyone else is still quite likable, regardless of screentime. This includes that one guy with glasses whose name I don’t know at all; he’s funny. However, he’s not the comic relief supporting character; that would go to Splat, a native of the strange world. Splat is your usual mute, marketable character, who speaks in its own sign language and is very bouncy all the time. Ethan’s mom, Meridian, is perhaps the best. She can do anything and everything, all while being a mom. 

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Final Verdict: 9.25/10

Strange World has got to be one of the most intricate movies that Disney has put out (even though that’s not saying much). It deals with family… er… family… and… Actually, the entire thing is just one big commentary on families. Wow, good job contradicting yourself. Anyway, my love for it is NOT a contradiction, and I suggest you round up your father and/or son and watch this with them!

Oni: Thunder God’s Tale is Baby’s First Crash Course in Shinto

I’ve known about Netflix and Tonko House’s project, Oni: Thunder God’s Tale, since its initial announcement in November 2019. Over the course of the three years it took for the show to drop… a lot has happened, on both a global and personal scale. We have at least seen an explosion in diversity lately, but I feel like a lot of it just becomes clout instead of doing anything substantial for the good of humanity. Despite that, I decided to watch Oni anyway; it’s short, so it’s not like I had to worry about time.

In Oni: Thunder God’s Tale, a bunch of yokai (who are actually kami because the terms are technically one and the same) live together to protect the world from the Oni. A large dude named Naridon enters their domain with a child. He lives there and raises his kid, Onari, who trains to fight the Oni. However, she doesn’t exactly have any powers (referred to as kushi) because Naridon is a bit of an oddball. Sounds like the perfect setup for a coming-of-age story!

Before discussing the story at all, I must praise Tonko House for their absolutely stunning job with the visuals. Tsutsumi brings that experience as a former Pixar animator to the table for sure. Oni, being in brand with the studio, is an ode to stop-motion animation, and simply put, it’s the most beautiful display of the style I have ever seen. Every motion and detail is perfect and full of life. I can’t really express how visually appealing the show is; you’ll have to watch it yourself.

Furthermore, the show does a better job presenting a mythological world than almost any other case I’ve experienced in Western culture, especially compared to the literature department. It hits all the right notes, and teaches you the basics of Japanese culture and Shinto folklore in memorable ways, instead of mindless exposition dumps that insult the viewer for not having encyclopedic knowledge of the stuff going into it. If only there was more soulful stuff like this out there to teach children about other cultures.

As far as the story goes, it’s pretty straightforward stuff. However, it’s told with much more chutzpah than a lot of the crap that spews out of our screens these days. Oni isn’t exactly deep or profound, but it’s not mind-numbingly predictable either. It showcases the strictness of Japanese society all too well, with how much pressure the children are given to excel, especially for poor Onari, who doesn’t know what her power is. It’s not heavy all the time, though; there’s plenty of adorable humor sprinkled throughout.

Being only a four episode miniseries, Oni doesn’t exactly have time to tell its story. While it kind of sucks that I waited this long for such a short show, the length is to its benefit; if it was allowed to go on longer, it could’ve easily gotten boring. Oni, especially in the first half, is basically a character study. There isn’t much adventuring whatsoever, and there’s a lot of dialogue. Honestly, it would have been a REALLY bad show if it went on for twenty-four-plus episodes. Fortunately, it does what it needs to do in the time given.

As you can expect from a program aimed at kids, the characters are quite simple, and are hard-carried by how they are presented in execution. Unsurprisingly, the studio did a great job making them memorable and likable (well, except for the people who aren’t meant to be likable). Onari herself is plucky and full of energy, and as the main character, is the one who must find herself. However, the real star of the show is the tragic hero, Naridon. Although he’s doofy and the least expressive character in the show, I was somehow able to tell that he carries a lot of baggage. If Tonko House actually meant for you to pick up on that, then kudos to them. 

Out of Onari’s classmates, the only one who isn’t a jerk is her kappa friend… Kappa. He’s the socially awkward and sensitive kid that you just want to hug all the time. Unfortunately, everyone kind of exists to fill the class and be, as I said, jerks. Even her teacher, Tengu-sensei, is kind of one too. Once it’s found out that Naridon is a big hotshot, he puts too an unfair amount of stock into Onari; they couldn’t give George Takei a better character to voice? Even Naridon’s brother, Putaro, is kind of your typical jealous younger sibling. Holy crap, I said the cast was great, but in retrospect, a lot of them really aren’t. Well, props to Tonko House for clearly telegraphing whom the audience is meant to root for. At least the school principal is a cool dude.

If there is anything of note to add, it’s what you could argue is the show’s biggest flaw. In essence, it loses its whimsy by the second half. While still excellent all the way through, it’s… well… how do I put it? Basically, in some regards, Tsutsumi isn’t that much different from typical modern writers. Oni has social undertones that have been around since humans put pen to paper, and it kind of sucks that this is just another one of those cases. Fortunately, it’s one of the more respectable instances of it, and they kind of—as the kids say it—jabait you in a way.

Sidebar: I swear if The Dragon Prince becomes darker next week, I’m going to be really angry and sad. However, you won’t be hearing my thoughts on it until November 19th since I’m going to Walt Disney World again!

Actually, hang on, there’s just another small nitpick, and it’s this weird case where subtitles appear to translate text on various background objects that don’t really matter whatsoever. Well, obviously, they do matter as little details to make the world feel alive, but you know what I mean; none of it matters to the plot. Ironically, this DOESN’T occur during the one instance of actually relevant onscreen text.

Well… okay, there’s one more issue I have with the show; not really the show but its circumstances I guess. While it’s nice and all, it doesn’t do Japanese culture any favors. In this age of inclusivity in American pop culture, people seem to think that nothing exists unless observed by the American mainstream. As someone who’s read manga for ten years and studied Japanese culture directly for four, Japanese mythology is alive and well in its actual origin point: you know, Japan itself. From Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan to In/Spectre and beyond, Shinto is everywhere, much to the locals’ famous claims of not being religious. It is odd that, with how common Shinto is, most of those I.P.s fail to break through into the mainstream, with Spirited Away being the only one to have managed it. Not even Oni is mainstream; Netflix really didn’t do much to promote it at all, and I spent two years thinking production was axed by COVID.

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Final Verdict: 9.75/10

As far as representation is concerned, Oni: Thunder God’s Tale is by far the best portrayal of Japanese mythology in all of Western entertainment (at least out of what I know of). To be less hyperbolic, it’s just a really cute, amazing show that doesn’t overstay its welcome. If you wanna raise a kid who will swim outside of the mainstream, then Oni is an easy must-watch. In fact, if you’re a parent, you should probably watch it with them.

Song of the Sea: This Time WithOUT Feeling?

I finally got to see Cartoon Saloon’s The Secret of Kells after years of buildup. I loved it, so naturally, I did the next logical step: also watch their second film, Song of the Sea. Time to stop beating around the bush and discuss the movie already! 

In Song of the Sea, a boy named Ben is subject to the classic family tragedy: his mother runs away, and a new baby sister, Cirsha (is that how you spell her name?), is left behind. As you can expect, dad is depressed, and Ben hates Cirsha because he blames her for his mother’s presumed death. Well, things escalate when she starts playing with the magic conch that Ben inherited from mom, because she’s a magical child who’s destined to free all the Celtic spirits from their stony prisons caused by Macha the witch stealing their emotions.

Sound complicated? Well, Cartoon Saloon has clearly upped the ante since The Secret of Kells. The plot is more involved, there’s more at stake, more influenced from Celtic mythology, and they go RIGHT for the jugular, Disney-style. The movie has a much more adventurous feel, since they are shipped off to live with grandma in crappy London (well, that’s how it looks in the movie), and have to hoof it back to their secluded island to reunite Cirsha with her patented magic onesie. 

Oh, right, I almost forgot to remind you of the supremacy of hand-drawn animation. Man, I miss experimental Disney, but Cartoon Saloon at least shows some sign of trying different visual styles. Song of the Sea is set in the modern day, forcing them to use shapes and colors unlike what had been seen in The Secret of Kells. The characters are still made of simple shapes, but there’s a lot more roundness going on, versus the many polygons in the previous outing. As expected, they do wild things with shapes and depth that—not to sound redundant—showcase how awesome hand-drawn animation is. 

Anyway, back to discussing the plot! Despite it being more complicated than the other movie, Song of the Sea is still pretty straightforward for the little ones to follow. Just like last time, the artstyle lends itself to telegraph the mood of the given scene and what certain characters are like without them speaking a word (this helps since Cirsha can’t say anything anyway). Weirder stuff happens, like Ben navigating a tunnel made of facial hair, but it’s pretty standard fare for the most part. The most interesting aspect of the movie is a parallel that can be made between two different characters, and the movie never really states whether or not they are one and the same. It’s something that adults will probably notice their first time through, though.

There is a lot more suspense than last time, as well. The stakes aren’t just higher; Ben has some close shaves as well. When Macha’s owls get the memo about Cirsha being a selkie, they pursue quite relentlessly. There’s also the caveat of Cirsha’s life slowly draining away every second she’s not in her onesie. Good thing dad chucked it into the ocean!

As with the previous venture, the characters are kind of the weakest part. Simple and effective is once again the name of Cartoon Saloon’s game, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with the cast, I’m not entirely willing to slander strangers on the Internet in their names either. Ben is a classic piece of crap kid with a redemption arc who eventually warms up to his sister. Cirsha, on the other hand, is the second best character. She’s cute, and has a lot of character for a mute girl. The BEST character is the dog, Cū. He literally swims across the ocean to unite with the kids after they are taken to grandma’s house. 

Something I failed to comment on regarding The Secret of Kells, which is also consistent with Song of the Sea, is the perfect pacing. Both movies tell their stories effectively, and I never felt like they were rushed nor overstayed their welcome. It’s doubly impressive since they give a lot of time for resolution following the climax, unlike SOME studios. 

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Final Verdict: 9.65/10

Song of the Sea is really great. Cartoon Saloon does a fantastic job reminding me of that experimental phase of Disney from way back when. I have one movie of theirs left in this trilogy (and I don’t plan on seeing The Breadwinner because it will probably gut me into oblivion), and I will watch it… someday. When I have time.

The Secret of Kells: Yes, I’ve Finally Watched it for the First Time

I’ve wanted to watch Cartoon Saloon’s Irish Folklore movies for a good while, even more so after getting into European folk metal. COVID is the reason why I took this long to get around to it! In case you didn’t know, the studio’s third movie never premiered in theaters. And so, GKids, for some ungodly reason, exclusively streamed it on Apple TV+, which—to be fair—I could’ve got a free trial and canceled it after watching the film. However, my consciousness didn’t want to. It also wouldn’t solve the fact that the other two movies aren’t up for streaming anywhere. So, I recently stumbled upon the environmentally friendly Blu-ray box set containing all three movies, and decided to get that through Amazon. Sure, Cartoon Saloon still wouldn’t get a cent of commission off of it, but I at least trust Amazon, for they seem to be the only ones capable of shipping anything in this day and age. Anyway, without further rambling, let’s review the studio’s first movie: The Secret of Kells!

In The Secret of Kells, a boy named Brendan lives in the titular town of Kells, run by his anal Uncle… uh… Abbot? Crap, I already forgot his name. Anyway, said uncle wants to build a wall that could trump Trump in order to protect them from Vikings. However, things get interesting when an old geezer named Aiden (and his cat) moves into town, with a magic book that is just one page short of completion. Aiden is too old to finish it. Guess who gets hoisted with the big responsibility.

Whenever I’ve reviewed Disney movies, I never know what to say about the visuals. As aesthetically striking as they are, I admit that the films are quite samey. The Princess and the Frog is probably better looking than most of the company’s films, and that’s because of something that a lot of millennials and boomers can agree on: hand-drawn animation. While it can look crappy and cheap (i.e. TV anime), Cartoon Saloon shows just what the art form is capable of. 

There’s so much to say about it, I can dedicate a real paragraph to talk about it! While it’s not as anatomically correct as even Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, The Secret of Kells has its own sense of beauty. Characters are made of basic shapes, which allows them to get really creative with the designs. The way people look lends to their personalities; Brendan is small and cute, while you already know his uncle is a big fat meanie from his height and stiffness. Beyond the cast, the movie does some wild things with the backgrounds; stuff I don’t want to spoil for your sake. It’s colorful, whimsical, and in 2022, still looks timeless. The Celtic world of Ireland really shows through in the natural splendor of the forest outside of Kells. If only Disney kept at the hand-drawn biz; who knows how their newer movies would have looked then!

As my first ever film outside of a natively English-speaking nation other than Japan, I was curious about if there was a sub or dub, like with anime. The answer is that there’s no such thing; it’s English through-and-through, but thankfully, it’s authentically European. Over there, other countries are like states to them, and it’s easy to be exposed to a myriad of tongues. In essence, this means that they can speak English but still have the beautiful accents of their respective regions. It really helps make the movie awesome, although that could just be the pagan weeb in me talking.

Anyway, despite the movie being artsier than Disney, it’s got about as straightforward of a plot. It boils down to Aiden and Brendan working together, under Uncle’s nose, to finish the miraculous last page of the book, and with an inevitable Viking assault capable of occuring at any moment. That’s more-or-less it; Brendan is pretty much just Aiden’s errand boy. Someone probably has a deep analysis of how the movie is an allegory to chauvinist postmodernism (whatever that is), but I definitely didn’t notice it if it was there.

The hardest part of a feature film is writing characters that you’ll grow attached to in that short time, but thankfully, The Secret of Kells does a good enough job with that. Brendan has that childlike wonder, and also becomes like Crockett Johnson’s Harold at one point. He meets Best Girl Ashley, a strange child who lives in the forest and is quite the tomboy. Aiden is a fun and eccentric old man, and conversely, Uncle is—well—we’ve established him. Thankfully, Uncle isn’t exactly a bad Disney parent; in 2009, Cartoon Saloon subverted a trope that it took Disney until—what—Encanto to subvert themselves? Wow, way to sound pretentious. Look, I love Disney, but being the embodiment of the mainstream can bite them in the rumpus room sometimes.

Kind-of-spoiler here, but I’m at least glad that The Secret of Kells doesn’t take the obvious route of making humans evil. Sure, there’s Vikings, who are all polygonal,  black, and have red fire, but they are clearly established as their own entity that don’t represent humankind as a whole. Also, this legendary monster that is supposed to be suffering and malice incarnate… most people would just make it a 40-something-year-old man. However, it’s actually just a monster… for once. I hope I’m not wrong about that, or else I’ll look stupid!

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

Surprise, surprise—The Secret of Kells is a really good movie, and I’m stoked to watch the other two. If I wasn’t already sold on Europe via its metal scene, then this might’ve been what did it instead. I recommend it to anyone who misses hand-drawn animated movies.

Ten Years of Changing Fate and Mending Bonds!: Brave Retrospective

Pixar’s Brave turns ten this year. Who’da thunk that’d ever happen? Since I’ve done many-a Disney movie retrospective, I thought it’d be time for me to tackle Brave! It’s one I remember fondly, but as someone who hadn’t seen it in at least five years, I can’t exactly go off of that. As such, it’s time to see what it’s like from the perspective of a hyper-critical adult!

In Brave, we are taken back to the good old days in ancient… er… Scotland(?). Princess Merida learns to be a badass from her dad, much to the chagrin of her protective mother. Oh, and dad almost gets offed by a bear in that classic Disney fashion. When Merida becomes a teen, mom gets REAL overprotective. Merida hates this, and in her blind rage, makes a deal with a witch to change her fate (you of course have to read those last three words in a Scottish accent). The witch’s spell turns mom into a bear, and the only way to reverse it is to mend the bond torn by pride (oh, and same for those last six words as well).

I sure didn’t appreciate the Celtic atmosphere when I was younger, but for a pagan metal junkie like myself, I was able to enjoy Brave‘s setting more than I ever have. Europe really is something else, and Pixar—as always—knocks it out of the park when making magical locales. This is the perfect opportunity for some Celtic folk-inspired musical numbers…!

…All two of them. The first is a song I guarantee most Disney fans only know the chorus of; you know, it’s the one set of lyrics that they always use every time Brave comes up in a Disney park attraction. Unfortunately, upon hearing the full song for the first time in years, I found it to be one of Disney’s weaker numbers. The iterations of it that appear in the aforementioned Disney attractions have way more weight and impact than its original use in the movie. The other number is a cutesy, sentimental piece used during a mother-daughter bonding montage. I had completely forgotten about it until seeing the movie for this retrospective, and forgetting a Disney song ever existed is a sure sign that it’s not particularly likable. I really feel like they squandered an opportunity here. While their next Disney princess movie (which also turns ten next year) is set in Scandinavia, most of the songs in it aren’t exactly inspired by pagan folk music. 

In case you couldn’t tell, the plot is pretty straightforward. While Merida struggles to mend the bond, she and her mom learn to get along with each other. Things go awry, the dad ends up rallying up the other clansmen to try and kill his own wife, mom realizes that she was being REALLY dense, and the power of love turns her human again. Oh, and they have a run-in with the evil bear from the beginning, who happens to have been a previous customer of the aforementioned witch. Like I’ve said numerous times, you generally don’t see Pixar movies expecting something mind-blowing. 

However, there is something VERY unexpected that I felt quite flummoxed by. There’s implied nudity, including during the brief moment after Merida’s very young brothers turn back from bear to themselves, and even the old fart clan leaders ogling Merida’s naked mom when she turns back into a human. There’s also a scene of one of the brothers swan diving into a very traumatized maid’s cleavage. I’m not joking; there’s even a zoom in right into her bosom. If you’re familiar with hentai, this’ll seem like nothing. However… This is a movie for children; a Pixar movie. Man, how different things would become in just four years after Brave‘s release.

While the plot itself isn’t too interesting, it’s one of the more digestible Pixar movie plots thanks to the movie’s seriously star-studded cast. Most Disney characters are super expressive, but to be perfectly real, they were REALLY expressive in Brave. Every character, and every mannerism, were just so memorable. I enjoyed their interactions way more than when I saw the movie the first time! 

Merida and her mom are the stars of the show, for they are the entire plot. Merida’s cool and all, albeit a bit immature, but her mom is actually one of the best Disney parents… eventually. She’s insufferable at the beginning, but has some amazing moments throughout, such as when she just ear-grabs her husband and the three clansmen to resolve a fracas. Also, the way she tries to act human even when she’s a bear is just perfect as well. Merida’s dad and her brothers are also very silly and rambunctious. The brothers don’t say a single word, and they’re just as bursting with character as everyone else.

The clansmen and their sons are additional comic relief. They all have very distinct character designs, and are—as expected—full of mannerisms. I wish they had more screentime, but it makes sense why they didn’t.

The weakest character is its main antagonist, Mordu the evil bear man. Like I said with The Princess and the Frog: Facilier was the last true Disney villain. In the transitional phase to Disney’s current system, we get some unremarkable Disney villains like Mordu who seem to exist just to spice things up (and we’ll be seeing another example in that other movie that I said would be turning ten next year). He’s at least got good foreshadowing, but he just seemed to be a plot device for the whole movie.

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After All These Years: 9.35/10

I’m gonna be honest, I thought I was going to revisit Brave, and walk out of it thinking it wasn’t a particularly remarkable movie. However, it might be one of my favorite Pixar movies of all time. It’s not groundbreaking, but it just does what Pixar does really, REALLY well in sheer execution. It’s aged really well in every department. I recommend it to kids and Disney nerds.

Lightyear: Pixar’s Simplest Movie

Well, aren’t we lucky this year? Pixar didn’t just give one movie; they gave us two! While Turning Red was great, all the hype was put into the in-universe first installment of the Buzz Lightyear franchise that spawned the popular Toy Story character whom we know and love: Lightyear. It sure looked like a departure from the formula, and those departures tend to be really something. Let’s hope this one meets the company’s high standards.

In Lightyear, the titular character crash lands his ship full of science crew on a hostile alien world. Traumatized from his eff-up, he insists on testing each attempt at reproducing hyperdrive technology. However, each time he does it, time on the planet passes several years because science. By the time he succeeds, everyone he knows and loves is dead, and there are killer robots running around. I feel like the latter is more pertinent.

Before talking about the movie itself, I kind of want to bring up something funny. The visuals, as always with Pixar, are stunning. It looks cartoony, yet photorealistic, as usual. However, keep in mind that in the Toy Story universe, this came out in the early 1990s. That means that CG movies looked better than reality itself, in that universe. I don’t know if that’s supposed to mean something for any Pixar theorists, but I’m just throwing it out there.

In terms of the movie itself, I’m going to be perfectly honest: I’m actually having a hard time trying to find an abundance of positives with Lightyear. For the record, I saw it in theaters, and I’m sure I made it clear how I feel about those. Also, the pre-show had a politically charged climate crisis commercial in it, which put my anxiety on edge for a lot of the beginning of the movie. 

Lastly, I—for some reason—expected something with more nuance. Lightyear is not meant to be like Pixar’s usual introspective stuff; it’s a popcorn flick. I generally don’t do popcorn flicks at all, and I have only seen Disney and Pixar movies lately because I know they aren’t popcorn flicks. I’m just annoyed that I had to go through all the usual theater crap just to see a popcorn flick. I get that most people watch movies just like this all the time, and it’s a customary experience for them. Me being disappointed at Lightyear being overall very mindless and driven entirely by sensory-overloading spectacle is entirely my fault.

With all that being said, I’m going to try to discuss the story—without spoilers—in a scholarly way even though it’s simplistic enough to be described in one sentence. The story is, well, not too remarkable, and this is coming from a Disney fan, which is saying something. Although most of the company’s films are straightforward, there’s some kind of takeaway that only adults can really appreciate. The Incredibles, for example, is definitely a popcorn flick, but it’s one of Pixar’s best movies. In addition to pulse-pounding spectacle, we get the complexities such as Syndrome’s character arc, and clever interactions that I never noticed as a kid, such as when Helen and Bob are arguing about which directions to take to pursue the Omnidroid during the climax. Lightyear, as I’ve implied, has none of that. It’s a mindless action romp where Buzz and a ragtag team of textbook underdogs fight the evil emperor Zurg. The cherry on top is that time travel is involved; that rarely leads to a coherent narrative, and this is not one of those times.

I also found the cast to be among the lamest in a long time. Buzz is perhaps the worst of them all; when a toy version is better than the real thing, you know something is wrong. His obsession with getting everything done himself, and completing the mission, is the catalyst for the entire conflict of the movie. The epic, badass space ranger, whose toy counterpart has won the hearts of millions for decades, is a simple case of “you gotta rely on your friends” straight out of a Disney Junior program. 

There are only four other protagonists who play a major role in the movie, three of which are those aforementioned underdogs, and I only caught one of their names: Izzy Hawthorne. She’s the granddaughter of Buzz’s idol, but she’s not as competent. There’s some skinny guy who’s scared of everything, and a mad convict grandma. Of these three, I only liked the mad convict grandma. She was the best. Everyone else felt like typical characters, whose arcs most people could predict in their sleep. The other character I enjoyed was a robot cat named Socks (or is it Sox?). He’s basically the comic relief, but he has some utility, such as vomiting tranquilizers. 

Zurg in this movie is… er… well, he’s something. I can’t even discuss him without spoiling the movie. Basically, there’s a BS twist that is implied—in context with the universe—Andy, and even Toy Buzz, have known all this time. Since it’s Pixar, I can only assume that the reveal with him has been foreshadowed way back in Toy Story 1, and even the old Buzz Lightyear cartoon that I only remember because it had the voice actress of Shego from Kim Possible in it (MatPat will probably have a video about it if he hasn’t done so already). However, foreshadowing or not, the twist itself approaches Kingdom Hearts levels of nonsensical, and some of the important details are glossed over.

I’m really giving it some flack, so I should highlight some positives. Lightyear is, for all intents and purposes, a sci-fi spectacle drama whose main protagonist is named Buzz Lightyear. However, Pixar manages to really make it believable that it is a Buzz Lightyear movie. All the details are there in the right places, including each line that would inspire the toy’s iconic phrases. They at least did something right.

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Final Verdict: 8.25/10

When Disney and Pixar travel off the beaten path, they tend to put out some of their best and weirdest stuff. Lightyear was not one of those times. In fact, this is the most disappointing Pixar movie I’ve seen in years, even if most of those feelings are on me. Regardless, it’s at least an enjoyable movie, especially considering the kind of “cinema” that most audiences have grown accustomed to by now. As long as you enjoy spectacle movies, Lightyear should be right up your alley.