No one wanted it this way. Marvel didn’t want to make a Black Panther without Chadwick Boseman, we the audience didn’t want a Black Panther movie without Chadwick Boseman and I certainly don’t want to give a bad review to a Black Panther movie without Chadwick Boseman.
His loss was first and foremost a human tragedy and if this movie succeeds at anything it’s in bringing across just the sheer, crushing grief of everyone involved in this. It’s not a fun time. It should not be a fun time.
Is it a good movie? I’m sorry, no it’s not.
But, it has good moments and I’ll be sure to highlight those.
It also has plenty of flaws and, well, I’ll be mentioning those too. But rest assured, I will feel like a complete asshole.
The facts of the case, they are simple. Strange World, the youngest heir of a very long, very respectable line of animated features, went missing from the box office in the winter of last year. A few months later, it was found, face down in a cold stream of content. There are many possible suspects. The movie boasted Disney’s 98th first gay character. Perhaps this was a hate crime? Or perhaps Covid 19 was to blame? But no, I believe there can be only one killer. Monsieur Disney, J’ACCUSE!
(Man, I have GOT to write a Knive’s Out style murder mystery with sentient Disney movies, I have to do that.)
You’re all asking the wrong questions, you know.
The mystery is not “Why did Strange World flop?” I can tell you that right now.
Last year I sat down to plot out my review schedule for the next decade or so (I will never, ever, ever auction reviews off again. That was stupid. I was a stupid Mouse).
And this was an honest to God chain of thought I experienced:
Oh hey, I should probably put aside a slot to review the next canon Disney movie.
Oh damn, what even IS the next canon Disney movie?
Oh shit. Strange World? I haven’t heard anything about this. When is it coming out?
Oh fuck. It’s in theatres NOW.
Yeah. I’ve been reviewing the Disney canon since Obama and I both still had black in our hair and even I knew nothing about this thing. It didn’t fail because it as too gay or not gay enough or because every time Disney tries to make a sci-fi animated movie the monkey paw exacts a terrible price, NO. It failed because Disney didn’t market it and bad word of mouth delivered the coup de grace.
But what I can’t really get my head around is why Disney buried this so hard. I mean, it’s definitely bad, but it’s a kind of bad that Disney can and have managed to sell before. To take the most recent examples, Rayaand Wreck It Ralph 2 ate the box office alive and those are both, I remind you, hot effing garbage.
Was it really the fact that the main character is gay? I’ve always found that line of thinking flawed and conspiratorial. If a studio doesn’t want to release a movie with a gay main character, they can just, y’know, not make the movie and save the estimated €180 million dollars. But in this case…I dunno, maybe? It definitely feels like Disney has dropped bigger turds than this and yet was able to convince a sufficient amount of the population that it was selling them chocolate ice-cream. And hell, the reviews for this were actually very positive (not from me, I’m gonna dance on this thing’s fucking head) but most mainstream critics dutifully cooed “representation”, dropped a handful of stars and clocked off for lunch. It really was the audience reaction to this that was sharply negative. Maybe that was a homophobic backlash? Or maybe it was just the burgeoning realisation that most of Marvel/Disney/Pixar’s recent output has been trending worse and worse and people are now treating the brand less as a mark of quality than a warning label.
I don’t know and I’m not going to try to guess. I am DONE trying to game this kind of stuff out. Back in my Raya review I said that the age of Disney movies being big, unifying cultural events was over only for Encanto to come along and be that exact thing. I cautiously mused that Encanto might be the Disney ship righting itself only for Strange World to come along, cough once and die on my carpet so fuck it. I am just going to review the damn movie and leave the big pronouncements to people who actually know what they’re talking about.
Hey kids, know what time it is? It’s “Mouse uses his folklore degree” time!
I know, I know, I’m excited too.
So, do you want to know what the difference is between a myth, a legend and a fairy tale (or “wonder tale” as the cool kids call them)?
A myth is a narrative relic from a now defunct religion. Thor, Odin, Zeus etc were all once worshipped, so any stories relating to them are myths.
A legend takes place in a real place and time, and may feature real historical figures but is nonetheless fictional or even fantastical. So, Saint Patrick casting out the snakes from Ireland is a legend. He was a real person, Ireland is a real place (I mean, I hope) but the events described are fictional. That’s a legend.
And lastly, a wonder tale takes place in a far off land in an unspecified time and is wholly fictional. Anything that begins with “Once Upon a Time, in a Land Far Far Away” will be a wonder tale. So Snow White, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, you get the idea.
Pinocchio is a book. With an accredited author. Published just a century before I was born. It is not a piece of ancient world folklore. So when Pinocchio and Gepetto showed up in Once Upon a Time, a series puportedly about “fairy tale” characters, I was a bit confused because they have about as much in common with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as Hermione Granger. But of course, we all know why they’re actually here. Because this is a Disney show (well, an ABC show) and Disney made Pinocchio in 1940 (AND WISELY NEVER TRIED TO MAKE IT AGAIN).
And look, I’m sorry, I’ll get into the merits of the show in a bit, but something about this makes me deeply uneasy. Okay, here’s the premise of Once Upon a Time:
In a magical Fairy Tale Land, Prince Charming wakes Snow White and they get married. But the Evil Queen puts a spell on them that pulls them all into the real world and places them in a town called Storybrooke (sigh) where they spend decades living the same lives and never age. Only the Queen’s adopted son, Henry, seems to know the truth, as he has a magic book of fairy tales and has been able to piece together which fairy tale character everyone in town actually is. So what’s my problem?
Well, let’s take Grumpy. Grumpy is just one of the seven dwarves who we see in the background as Snow White’s story plays out. Now, this is very clearly not the 1938 Disney Snow White. The characters all look different, sound different, are costumed differently.
This is not based on the movie but a new version based on the original folk tale, right? All the elements we see here, Snow White, the Prince, the Queen, the magic mirror, the dwarves, are all from the original story. I mean, that’s the clear implication. But here’s the thing.
Grumpy is a Disney character. They created him. In the original story, the dwarves don’t have individual names or personalities. The famous names we know today were all Disney’s invention. And by including original Disney characters like Grumpy and Jiminy Cricket it feels like Disney are trying to Trojan horse them in to the canon of European folklore. It feels like an attempt to make Disney’s Snow White the ONLY Snow White, subtly implying that their version is the definitive one. And yeah, I know that it probably wasn’t intentional. I know the creators probably just thought “hey, we have the rights to Elsa from Frozen let’s use her”. But when has giving Disney the benefit of the doubt worked ever out well for anyone?
I keep doing this, y’know. This is like when I reviewed the Universal Dracula and Frankenstein, and just assumed that because they were both horror movies made in the thirties by the same studio they must be roughly equivalent in quality.
Not so, dear reader. Not so.
Now, The Batman, the first big screen outing of the caped crusader, was not a good film. Even looking past its use of yellowface and a stance on the internment of Japanese Americans that could charitably be called “a bit unwoke”, it was very much a movie serial of its time: cheap, poorly paced and of interest to the modern viewer mostly as a curiosity. But hot damn, compared to its sequel it is a masterpiece.
Take it from me, the gap in quality between The Batman (1943) and Batman and Robin (1949) is on par with that between The Batman (2022) and Batman and Robin (1997).
So much so, that I genuinely needed to resort to watching the Rifftrax version to even make it through the damn thing.
Barnes and Noble are currently running a promotion for 25% off on all books being released in 2023 and guess who’s got one of those?
Yes, my sophomore effort Knock Knock Open Wide is being released September 26th, in good time for Halloween. Per Barnes and Noble:
“Knock Knock, Open Wide weaves horror and Celtic myth into a terrifying, heartbreaking supernatural tale of fractured family bonds, the secrets we carry, and the veiled forces that guide Irish life.
Driving home late one night, Etain Larkin finds a corpse on a pitch-black country road deep in the Irish countryside. She takes the corpse to a remote farmhouse. So begins a night of unspeakable horror that will take her to the very brink of sanity.
She will never speak of it again.
Two decades later, Betty Fitzpatrick, newly arrived at college in Dublin, has already fallen in love with the drama society, and the beautiful but troubled Ashling Mallen. As their relationship blossoms, Ashling goes to great lengths to keep Betty away from her family, especially her alcoholic mother, Etain.
As their relationship blossoms, Betty learns her lover’s terrifying family history, and Ashling’s secret obsession. Ashling has become convinced that the horrors inflicted on her family are connected to a seemingly innocent children’s TV show. Everyone in Ireland watched this show in their youth, but Ash soon discovers that no one remembers it quite the same way. And only Ashling seems to remember its star: a small black goat puppet who lives in a box and only comes out if you don’t behave. They say he’s never come out.
When the door between the known and unknown opens, it can never close again.“
Hi folks, really sorry but the Batman and Robin review is going to be delayed until next week. See, I forgot that this was the week I had a book deadline to meet, a TV proposal to submit, a driving test to take and everyone in my family was going to get sick with something. I didn’t plan the last one, but given the last few years that’s really on me.
Anyway, the review will go up February 2nd. Thanks as always for your patience and understanding.
Before we begin, please take a look at these quotes:
“So one of the things that surprised me about this movie on re-watching was that it is much better than I remembered, or at the very least far more interesting. Thor exists in a much richer emotional universe than the two IronMan movies or Hulk.”
“Something that I don’t think gets talked about when it comes to [Thor 2] is just how gorgeous it is. Seriously, the art design in this is just jaw dropping, it is hands down the best looking picture in the MCU.”
“A thought occurred to me as I watched Thor and the Revengers speeding towards a giant wormhole called the devil’s anus while blasting spaceships with lasers while Mark Mothersbaugh’s awesome techno score rippled in the background: is this movie the greatest thing ever? Yes. Yes it is.”
“Wow” you might ask. “What pathetic, gushing, blinkered, Thor-fanboy said THAT?”
“Um, me” I reply.
“Oh. Well, this is awkward” you might answer.
“Yeah. Yeah, maybe think before you say something really hurtful” I sob.
Sorry, feeling a bit emotional today. I put those quotes above to give some context. If there’s an internet reviewer who’s been as unstintingly positive to the Thor series as me I am unfamiliar with their work. I have gone to bat for this series again and again. I made Thormy highest ranked of the Phase 1 origin movies. I made Ragnarok my number one movie of the entire MCU. I HAD NICE THINGS TO SAY ABOUT THE DARK WORLD.
So when I say that Love and Thunder is not only the worst Thor movie but the worst movie in this entire 30 film franchise, I hope you understand that this is a big deal. Something that I loved has betrayed me and left me angry, appalled and ready for revenge.
I had a conversation on the bus with Spouse of Mouse recently where I mused about what I was going to put in the end of year wrap up. “I dunno” I said. “2022 felt the first kinda “normal” year in a long time. Doesn’t feel like anything super crazy happened.”
She looked at me like I was insane.
Oh riiiiight, the thing.
My God, you can get used to anything can’t you? Yes, ignore me, I don’t even know what time is any more and it’s been that way for some…something, I don’t know what the correct term is. Anyway, after the orgy of book schilling that was 2021 the blog must have seemed very sedate this year. The new year will not be like that. Big things in the pipeline folks. We’re gonna have to call a plumber…
But in the meantime, check out this absolutely stunning cover for the Czech translation of When the Sparrow Falls from Planeta 9 publishing.
Or, as it’s called in Czechia, 2184: The Fall of the Caspian Republic. Because, as one Czech reviewer noted “who would buy a book called When the Sparrow Falls?”
Anyway, here’s what I did this year.
In 2022 I reviewed 1 Canon Disney movie, 4 MCU movies (plus Hulk), 3 X-Men movies, 3 animé, 3 live action movies, 4 non-Disney animated feature, 2 animated series and 1 Batman movie.
It was a pretty great year, honestly. After the fairly paltry showing of last year I actually managed to make some sort of dent in my review pile and I discovered plenty of new movies that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Best movie this year isn’t even close.
Redline reminded me of why I love animation in the first place. As for worst? Alice in Wonderland, which increasingly feels less like a movie and more like an early onset symptom.
Even if 2022 wasn’t actually a return to normality in any way, I hope it at least fooled you like it did me.
Have a wonderful, safe and happy Christmas and a great new year.
It’s probably a testament to just how jaded I am that my first thought when watching The Polar Express was “actually, this animation isn’t half bad”. The Polar Express is notorious for being the start of Robert Zemeckis’ turn to the dark side, where one of the most respected directors of genre cinema became a professional corporate necromancer.
And The Polar Express was his first attempt at making an all CGI mocapped film and is infamous for being utterly, skin-crawlingly unsettling in its depiction of human characters. And yet, maybe it’s because I‘ve seen the absolute depths to which this accursed path would lead Zemeckis I found myself not minding the animation too much, for the most part at least. It just looks like a computer game cutscene. And, if I’m being scrupulously fair, there are even shots that I think are honest to God beautiful.
My, this review is trending rather positive isn’t it? I wonder if that will last.