As soon as we left our screening, my friend turned to me in the car and said, “I feel like we both just went on a Disneyland dark ride, where it’s pretty but it’s all really fast and doesn’t really tell the story of the movie that well. It ended and I’m just like, ‘how did we get here?'”
To me, that accurately describes the experience of watching The Lion King (2019), the hyperrealistic remains of the golden age Disney animation. A remake that evokes the feeling of an unknown stranger breaking into your home to move the furniture just a little bit; enough to gaslight you into thinking everything is cozy and familiar and then you trip over a misplaced carpet. Everything about the movie is exactly the same save for minorly altered scenes, and the story is told infinitely worse— a collection of numbingly boring and non-emotive Kingdom Hearts cutscenes stitched together to make up a two-hour piece of content. Modern Disney remakes have always struggled with justifying their motive to reimagine these beloved classics, and even though I have criticized many of these blockbusters for their lack of new perspective or artistic flair in the past, not a single one tries as little as The Lion King (2019) does.
Pixar’s sequelitis phase comes to an end with Toy Story 4, possibly the most worrisome sequel of all. Not only do you have the pressure of following up Toy Story 3, the most respected bookend to a nearly-perfect animated trilogy, but it is the newest sequel in a chain of “generally enjoyed but lacking long term impact” sequels from a studio that is lauded for its originality. It also marks the feature-length debut of director Josh Cooley. Greenlighting this film was like opening Pandora’s box, for once you create another addition to this story, the reputation and concept of creative integrity of the brand hangs in the film’s response. It’s a scary, extremely tall order to fill. Luckily, while Toy Story 4 will never quite shake off the label of “the sequel we never asked for,” it still manages to charm, delight, but most importantly, find a way to take its concept to infinity and beyond. And in this summer movie slump, I’ll gladly accept it as a knockout.
Toy Story 4 kicks off with a cold open: the formerly off-screen separation of Woody (Tom Hanks) and Bo-Peep (Annie Potts) right before moving onto where we left off at the last film—Bonnie and the toys playing throughout the years until her student orientation at kindergarten. Woody, feeling not as relevant with his new owner as he did with Andy, decides to keep a watch on Bonnie on her first day. She creates Forky, a spork with googly eyes and a young mind haunted with existential terror, and Woody is determined to keep him safe through Bonnie’s summer road-trip. When a stop is made in a small town with a carnival and an old antique store, some old friends and flames come back to offer a new perspective of the past, of toy responsibilities, and when to move on. The Toy Story franchise has never been a stranger to themes of identity, but this is a deeper and even bigger step in interrogating what greater purpose toys (and/or, we) have in life.
If you’ve seen the original 1992 Aladdin, which is probably most of the people who are reading this, then you know that this new remake has some big shoes to fill. Most likely, we all have the same exact reason why— the late Robin Williams simply makes Aladdin what it is. I rewatched the original just the other day, and I was only mildly enjoying it until Genie lit up the screen with his big, blue energetic personality, taking in the ‘Friend Like Me’ number in all its technicolor glory, I fully remembered why the 2D-animated film was so cherished. Though, even in its original form, there’s a lot that is problematic with Disney’s take on Aladdin, from the ethnic hodgepodge of cultural tourism to the pop culture references that keep it from transcending the early 90s release date. But, one special quality that made the film stand out from a well-established canon of fairytales, was Williams as Genie, and his raw sincerity.
And how could this remake ever recapture that spirit? Well, it simply doesn’t. I don’t think anyone truly expected it would. We know the story of Aladdin, the titular underdog street rat with a heart of gold, who learns the importance of staying true to oneself as he wishes on a magic lamp for a more extravagant life with Princess Jasmine. I’ll save the spiel. Although, I wish Walt Disney Studios would also give us the same amount of faith in our intelligence. Instead, we’re presented with a passionless retelling of the original Aladdin, the same, general, basic plot beats with only minor alterations (hold on, Genie fucks?!) that don’t seem to add anything besides runtime. Director Guy Ritchie does make sense for a more action/adventure based Disney story, but his directorial influence is only hinted at in small sequences of spectacle. So, we’re left with a question often raised whenever a new one of these remakes release, but seriously, what’s the point?
Last week, all I could think about was finally seeing Ava Duvernay’s latest directorial feat, A Wrinkle in Time. Despite the mixed coverage of the film, nothing was going to diminish my eagerness. Adapted from the classic novel by Madeleine L’Engle, the film follows Meg Murry, portrayed by Storm Reid, as she travels throughout the universe to find her scientist father with the help of her brother, Charles Wallace, friend, Calvin, and the extraordinary Mrs., Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who, played by Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling, respectively. My expectations were definitely high, but DuVernay and company didn’t just deliver an entertaining movie–they delivered an experience.