Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Raya and the Last Dragon
Director: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada
Writer: Qui Nguyen, Adele Lim
Cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Izaac Wang, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, Lucille Soong, Alan Tudyk, Dichen Lachman, Sung Kang
Seen on: 2.6.2021

Plot:
There used to be one country called Kumandra. But after a terrible plague, the Druun, that turned everybody it touched to stone, and that could only be stopped with the dragons – who all turned to stone themselves – the country split into five realms: Fang, Tail, Talon, Heart and Spine. The last of the dragon powers in form of a stone is in Heart, guarded by King Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) and his daughter Raya (Kelly Marie Tran). Benja would like to bring the five realms together again, but his plans don’t come to fruition. Instead, the magic stone is broken and the Druun return. There is only one hope for Raya now: finding Sisu (Awkwafina), the last dragon who supposedly was just lost and not turned to stone.

Raya and the Last Dragon is a beautifully animated, emotionally touching film. It is pretty much what you hope for when you go to watch a Disney princess film – an absolutely satisfying experience.

The film poster showing Raya standing in the middle, with Sisu above her. The rest of the image is separated in five parts, four representing one of the film countries and the fifth showing Raya and Namaari charging each other.
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Pachamama (2018)

Pachamama
Director: Juan Antin
Writer: Juan Antin, Patricia Valeix, Olivier de Bannes, Nathalie Hertzberg
Cast: Andrea Santamaria, India Coenen, Saïd Amadis, Marie-Christine Darah, Vincent Ropion, Jean-Marc Pannetier [I saw the film in English, these are the French voice actors]
Seen on: 23.3.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) colonialism

Plot:
Tepulpai (Andrea Santamaria) wants to become a shaman like Shaman (Saïd Amadis). When its time to prove that he is willing to sacrifice his most treasured possession to Pachamama and thus prove that he is becoming an adult, he can’t do it – unlike Naira (India Coenen) who is ready to sacrifice her small llama Lamita. When a tax collector shows up in their village and takes not only more than the village can afford, but also their Huaca, a sacred idol, Tepulpai hopes he can prove himself after all – by bringing back the Huaca.

Pachamama is a really beautiful film with a political core, but the story and the voice acting didn’t quite work for me.

The film poster showing Tepulpai and Naira flying on a big Condor bird. Lamita is watching them from the ground.
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A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

A Wrinkle in Time
Director: Ava DuVernay
Writer: Jennifer Lee, Jeff Stockwell
Based on: Madeleine L’Engle’s novel
Cast: Storm Reid, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Peña, André Holland, Rowan Blanchard, Bellamy Young, David Oyelowo
Seen on: 22.3.2021

Plot:
Meg Murry (Storm Reid) is an unusual child from an unusual family. Her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is a scientist, as is her father (Chris Pine) – who has been missing for a while. He was working on tesseracts when he just disappeared. Meg’s genius little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) seems to know more about it. And he has made some strange friends who know even more than that: Mrs Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs Which (Oprah Winfrey). The three women prompt Meg, Charles Wallace and Meg’s class mate Calvin (Levi Miller) to go looking for her father – all through the universe.

I was rather disappointed when A Wrinkle in Time never got a big cinema release here in Austria, and I still think I would have appreciated seeing it on the big screen – the film is at its best, after all, when it just creates visuals. Other than those, it is very fine, but not great.

The film poster showing the main characters arranged in a circle.
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Moxie (2021)

Moxie
Director: Amy Poehler
Writer: Tamara Chestna, Dylan Meyer
Based on: Jennifer Mathieu’s novel
Cast: Hadley Robinson, Lauren Tsai, Alycia Pascual-Pena, Nico Hiraga, Sabrina Haskett, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sydney Park, Anjelika Washington, Emily Hopper, Josie Totah, Amy Poehler, Ike Barinholtz, Marcia Gay Harden, Clark Gregg
Seen on: 8.3.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) sexism, misogyny, rape culture, rape, racism

Plot:
Vivian (Hadley Robinson) and her best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai) are not girls who cause a fuss. They are trying to get through school as well as possible. When a new and very outspoken girl, Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena), joins their class, Vivian is impressed by but also anxious about Lucy’s self-confidence. After Vivian witnesses yet another sexist incident in her school, she finds herself inspired to do something. Drawing on her mother Lisa’s (Amy Poehler) rebellious past, she decides to anonymously publish a zine, denouncing the school’s sexism. That zine – Moxie – causes quite a stir in the school and also in Vivian’s life.

Moxie is a cute film with an openly feminist agenda – I’m here for that all the way. Even if it doesn’t achieve everything it sets out to do, it achieves a lot. And it is simply fun to watch.

The film poster showing a black and white image of the main characters screaming.
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Deidra & Laney Rob a Train (2017)

Deidra & Laney Rob a Train
Director: Sydney Freeland
Writer: Shelby Farrell
Cast: Ashleigh Murray, Rachel Crow, Lance Gray, Danielle Nicolet, Arturo Castro, Gage Bradley, Nick Moceri, Sasheer Zamata, Missi Pyle, David Sullivan, Tim Blake Nelson
Seen on: 7.3.2021

Plot:
Deidra (Ashleigh Murray) would like to worry about her college applications and how she can possibly afford to college in the first place. But instead her mother Marigold (Danielle Nicolet) is arrested and Deidra has to worry about paying bills, and taking care of her younger siblings Laney (Rachel Crow) and Jet (Lance Gray). Her dad, railway worker Chet (David Sullivan), is of no help, but when he mentions how easy it is to rob trains and how nobody gets hurt by it because everything is insured, Deidra starts making plans. But she needs Laney’s help for it to work.

Deidra & Laney Rob a Train is a fun, entertaining film that moves along at such a brisk pace, you almost miss the very serious and critical core that lies beneath all those entertaining bits.

The film poster showing Laney (Rachel Crow) and Deidra (Ashleigh Murray) standing back to back with their arms crossed.
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Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Director: Joachim Rønning
Writer: Linda Woolverton, Noah Harpster, Micah Fitzerman-Blue
Based on: Disney’s Sleeping Beauty / the fairy tale
Sequel to: Maleficent
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Harris Dickinson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sam Riley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ed Skrein, Robert Lindsay, David Gyasi, Jenn Murray, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Judith Shekoni, Miyavi, Kae Alexander, Warwick Davis
Seen on: 23.10.2019

Plot:
It’s been five years and Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and Aurora (Elle Fanning) have found a good way of living with each other and ruling their kingdom. But when Aurora accepts Prince Philipp’s (Harris Dickinson) proposal, things change. And the first thing is that both Aurora and Maleficent have to meet Philipp’s parents (Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Lindsay) and hopefully leave a good impression with them. But something else is afoot, too, that could threaten the entire kingdom.

I really loved the first Maleficent film, so my expectations for this sequel were pretty high, but unfortunately weren’t entirely met. It is an entertaining film, but I was hoping for more.

The film poster showing Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and in her wing several other characters and a castle.
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Re-Watch: The Princess Diaries (2001)

The Princess Diaries
Director: Garry Marshall
Writer: Gina Wendkos
Based on: Meg Cabot‘s novel of the same name
Cast: Julie Andrews, Anne Hathaway, Hector Elizondo, Heather Matarazzo, Mandy Moore, Caroline Goodall, Robert Schwartzman
Seen on: 19.10.2019

Plot:
Mia (Anne Hathaway) lives with her single mother Helen (Caroline Goodall), never having known her father. When she learns that her father was actually the Prince of Genovia and her grandmother, Queen Clarisse (Julie Andrews) wants to prepare her for her eventual ascension to the throne, Mia’s life is completely turned upside down. Becoming a princess isn’t easy, especially when you’re still in high school.

Maybe it was an aftereffect of watching the Downton Abbey movie with all its monarchism, but I wanted to watch this film again. And while it isn’t as good as I remembered it, it is quite nice.

The film poster showing Queen Clarisse (Julie Andrews), all class, and Mia (Anne Hathaway) wearing sunglasses and headphones.
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Toy Story 4 (2019)

Toy Story 4
Director: Josh Cooley
Writer: Andrew Stanton, Stephany Folsom
Sequel to: Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Jordan Peele, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, Kristen Schaal, Emily Davis, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, June Squibb, Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett, Betty White, Carl Reiner, Bill Hader, Patricia Arquette, Timothy Dalton, Flea
Seen on: 28.8.2019

Plot:
Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and Andy’s other old toys have found a good home with Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). When Bonnie starts kindergarten, she crafts a new toy from some trash, Forky (Tony Hale) who promptly comes to life and joins the entire family. But Forky is not ready to be a toy – he believes himself to be trash. Woody has his hands full just to make sure that Forky doesn’t throw himself away. And if that wasn’t enough to deal with, Woody actually catches up with Bo Peep (Annie Potts) on the family trip. She was sold years ago – and has a very different outlook on the world now than Woody.

Toy Story 4 was really great. It was definitely worth the wait (almost ten years have passed since Toy Story 4 after all) to get this emotional and funny film.

The film poster showing Woody tipping his hat. In the background we can see a fair.
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The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019)

The Secret Life of Pets 2
Director: Chris Renaud, Jonathan del Val
Writer: Brian Lynch
Sequel to: The Secret Life of Pets
Cast: Patton Oswalt, Kevin Hart, Harrison Ford, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Tiffany Haddish, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Bobby Moynihan, Hannibal Buress, Chris Renaud, Ellie Kemper
Seen on: 4.7.2019

Content Note: ableism

Plot:
Max (Patton Oswalt) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet) have finally found a good way to live with each other, when their family grows once more: this time, it’s a baby. Max falls in love with the child – and then starts to worry about everything they ever do and all the things that could go wrong. Growing ever more anxious, Max really doesn’t know what do anymore. When the entire family goes to a farm, Max meets the farm dog Rooster (Harrison Ford) who tries to help him with his anxiety.

I have rarely seen a sequel that tried so little as The Secret Life of Pets 2. The first one already wasn’t the best film ever, but this one is a definite step down.

The film poster showing a group of dogs sitting on a water tower on a city rooftop, howling at the moon.
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Aladdin (2019)


Aladdin
Director: Guy Ritchie
Writer: John August, Guy Ritchie
Remake of: Aladdin
Cast: Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Will Smith, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnussen, Jordan A. Nash, Taliyah Blair, Aubrey Lin, Amir Boutrous, Numan Acar, Alan Tudyk
Seen on: 24.6.2019

Content Note: orientalism, brownfacing

Plot:
Aladdin (Mena Massoud) is poor and often has to steal to survive. When he meets a handmaiden of the Princess at the market, he takes a liking to her, not knowing the handmaiden is actually Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) herself. When he visits her in the palace, he is caught and the king’s advisor Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) realizes that Aladdin is just the man he needs to retrieve a magic lamp from an enchanted cave. Things don’t work out the way either man thought, and it’s Aladdin who ends up with the Genie (Will Smith) who resides in the lamp and promises Aladdin that he can win Jasmine – with his help.

Aladdin was generally unnecessary as a remake. The old one would have continued to be enough. But since they did it, at least it is entertaining – if you can look past the fact that it’s still pure orientalism.

The film poster showing Alddin (Mena Massoud) holding a magic lamp in his hands, a monkey on his shoulder. Behind him are Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) and the Genie (Will Smith), as well as a small Jafar (Marwan Kenzari). Below him is a flying capret and treasure.
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