Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The House, or: Kitty Condo

I’m a simple human–I see animated stop-motion cats, I’m in. Does that decision-making process hold up for the Collab? Hmmmmm….maybe.

The Film:

The House


Paloma Baeza, Emma De Swaef, & Niki Lindroth von Bahr

The Premise:

A house experiences changes over time as its inhabitants come and go, and the world around it evolves.

The Ramble:

Split into 3 different tales, our stop-motion narratives are connected by their setting: a house originally built in the English countryside evolving into a refurbished London home, and then a decaying building of studio apartments.

The home’s origins make it seem destined for disaster, along with its inhabitants. Mabel, a young girl living in the countryside with her parents and baby sister Isobel, tries to make the best of things. Her much wealthier relatives look down on the family, particularly her alcoholic father Raymond.

A stop-motion animated child holds her baby sister at an elaborately set table, looking upset.

While wandering drunkenly through the woods at night, Raymond stumbles across a glowing box that looks suspiciously TARDIS-like. If only. The box is actually a rickshaw housing a mysterious figure who will make a life-changing offer to the family. Because the figure is Mr. Van Schoonbeek, an architect, he would like to build an elegant new home for the family to live in, no cost to them. If this feels like an extremely dodgy deal, it’s because it is.

The stop-motion landscapes are beautiful in this segment, but the faces barely seem human with tiny features and little beady eyes. As the house closes in around the family and the architect controls more and more of their lives, the setting becomes dimly lit. …Except for, appropriately, the gas lights in the house.

A stop-motion anthropomorphic cat sits in a sunroom with another cat, looking at their surroundings.

Mabel’s parents behave as if they are in a trance, no longer caring for their children as they are transformed into a part of the house. The home’s future as a flipped house in London with a bug infestation and the last remaining building staying afloat after devastating flooding are not directly connected to its past…though a happy life for its inhabitants seems impossible.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really loved the first narrative, which was delightfully creepy and very much centered around family dysfunction and the fraught relationship with mysterious, wealthy architect of the house. I wanted to like the other segments, but their only connection was the setting of the house. There’s also a lot of emphasis on the renovations & structural changes happening in the home in these other two segments as well rather than a focus on the characters.

Our first segment does set up the unsettling & haunted tone of the film as a whole, though I was fully prepared for an actual ghost story that would parallel or at least echo some of the other families’ experiences. It does seem thematically that the only way to get through life is together…though there are lots of other dark themes about climate change, greed, and class struggle.

I appreciate the experimental nature of this film’s different segments, though some continuity or thread that brings things together felt very lacking here.

Would my blog wife slowly take over this one’s home or sail away from its bug-infested walls? Find out in her review!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Encanto, or: Don’t Rat Me Out

*Spoilers follow*

I don’t know quite how it happened except that Lin-Manuel Miranda seems to be determined to earn EGOT status at the moment…but our Oscars theme for the month has basically become Lin-Manuel Miranda fest. With the exception of Licorice Pizza, all of our films have ended up involving him in some capacity, though he’s still missing the Oscar for the EGOT. Hopefully that just means he’ll be involved with significantly more film productions then.

The Film:



Jared Bush & Byron Howard

The Premise:

When the magical Madrigal family’s home and powers are threatened, teenage Mirabel sets out to solve the problem.

The Ramble:

As it turns out, miraculously acquiring special powers and an enchanted, sentient house isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…especially when those come along with intense familial pressure.

A young woman holds a basket full of party supplies, talking to a group of young children outside.

The central Madrigal family’s origin story is pretty dark, as it involves the murder of matriarch Abuela Alma’s husband shortly after the birth of their triplets. Alone and a refugee, Abuela is granted a miracle when the spirit of her husband, uh, becomes a candle, more or less. The candle represents the family’s magic, and causes a new home to spring from nowhere as a safe haven. What’s more, each member of the family is born with a unique gift, from healing with cooking to influencing the weather and shapeshifting.

Unfortunately, there are two members of the family who aren’t living up to the legacy: Mirabel, who didn’t receive a special gift, and Bruno (who, famously, we don’t talk about).

A tall, muscular woman dances, with donkeys as backup dancers behind her.

To make up for her perceived inability to contribute to the family, Mirabel overcompensates, attempting to solve everyone’s problems and make things better for all. Of course, the more she tries to impress, the more Mirabel falls short. This is particularly true on the evening of a big celebration to mark youngest Madrigal Antonio’s new gift (the classic & enviable ability to talk to animals). Having visions of the family home cracking and falling apart, Mirabel disrupts the party with all of this doom and gloom.

Two sisters rest on a floor covered with flowers, colorful paint on their clothes.

Sensing that (like Bruno) there are things troubling the Madrigal family that they’re not discussing, Mirabel is determined to surface the truth and heal what is broken…which may be difficult with her super strong but anxious sister Luisa and seemingly perfect sister Isabela. Accompanied by some memorable musical numbers, Mirabel eventually learns that fortune-telling Bruno had an ominous prophecy before suddenly disappearing. When she realizes that the prophecy seems to predict that Mirabel will bring about the family’s doom, will there still be a place for her as a Madrigal?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Sometimes the plot is stretched a bit thin, but the fun songs, refreshing message, and beautiful animation are enough to keep me entertained. The dancing donkeys during Luisa’s excellent song “Surface Pressure” are by far my favorite.

Possibly because I watched my share of (dysfunctional) Disney romances as a child, it always feels extremely welcome and fairly radical for the studio to release films that have almost no romantic love story. It’s about damn time, honestly. The emphasis is entirely on Mirabel’s growth as a character and the evolution of her family’s perspectives on the nature of their miracle. I really appreciate the way the film tackles heavy themes like healing from intergenerational trauma, the circumstances in which a gift can become a curse, and the toxic nature of perfectionism. It’s quite sweet and very needed that Mirabel’s gift is (spoiler/not really a spoiler) her empathy and curiosity in problem-solving.

Possibly my main criticism here is that some of the themes are wrapped up neatly rather than adequately explored. Part of me wanted an even more radical message from Disney in which the Madrigals lost their powers. It’s a little odd how the family is almost worshipped by the others in the village, and it seems like the power dynamic could very easily take a dark turn. People of the village, at least draft up some kind of constitutional framework.

And, though Abuela certainly is carrying a lot of grief and trauma as a widowed refugee, she does get something of a free pass to carry out some really toxic behavior. Her attitude to the family’s legacy results in her own son living inside the walls of the house for YEARS because he’s tired of hurting and disappointing the family with his gift. Which, by the way, he doesn’t control. Abuela also shames Mirabel when her granddaughter is 5 years old because she doesn’t receive a gift…which, again, is out of her control. The ways in which family compromise means Mirabel has to overlook a lot of toxic patterns does feel realistic, but maybe not the most satisfying conclusion for a children’s movie.

Those songs are going to be stuck in my head until the end of time, though.

Would my blog wife carry this one’s heavy burdens or decide not to ever talk about it? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, or: To Your Ship Be True

The only type of film I’m feeling up for right now is one that’s the equivalent of homemade comfort food. I think stop-motion animation is the closest we can get to a film reaching through the screen, gently patting us on the back, and telling us everything is going to to be okay. Did this week’s film live up to our admittedly rather high expectations of being comforted with endless bowls of mac and cheese?

The Film:

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

The Premise:

The lives of Shaun the Sheep and company are disrupted when an alien crash lands near their farm.

The Ramble:

It’s a dark and stormy night in the countryside, meaning the timing is perfect for the sudden appearance of…aliens? A UFO lands in the forest, and the only witnesses are a rather hysterical man and his dog. In other words, did it really land at all?

For the residents of Mossy Bottom Farm, the UFO may as well be lightyears away, as their routine continues as usual. Shaun and his sheep friends, bored with their lives of essentially standing around chewing grass, cause all manner of mayhem as sheepdog Bitzer tries to keep them in line.

An animated dog and sheep glare at each other across a sign that indicates no frisbee throwing is allowed.

After finally taking things too far and ordering pizzas for the sheep, Shaun ends up puzzled when the pizza boxes arrive empty. He follows a trail of crusts to the barn and encounters an alien who evidently really enjoys pizza. The alien, Lu-La, has a gift for imitation and a knack for getting into trouble matched only by Shaun’s. Though Shaun tries to keep Lu-La’s existence a secret, the task is next to impossible when the alien takes the tractor out for a joyride.

While skeptical of the local UFO sighting, the Farmer sees the crop circle pattern mysteriously left behind and is inspired. Deciding to cash in on the alien hysteria, the Farmer plans a space-themed park…which he naturally puts Bitzer and the sheep in charge of constructing.

An animated man with thinning hair and thick glasses sits at a breakfast table, reading a newspaper with a headline about a UFO sighting.

Meanwhile, Shaun has disappeared with Lu-La in an attempt to reunite her with the UFO she crash-landed. Apparently Lu-La’s fondness for driving dangerously got her into trouble in the first place, as she hopes to return to her parents after borrowing their UFO for an impulsive ride around the galaxy. Mayhem ensues when they are sidetracked by adventures in a grocery store and a mysterious agency investigates the possibility of alien life on Earth.

An animated sheep looks in alarm at a pink and purple creature resembling a dog. The creature sits in a bin of frozen food in a grocery store, holding a frozen pizza.

Just as Shaun and Lu-La locate the UFO, Bitzer arrives on the scene, followed shortly by the agency, the Ministry of Alien Detection (MAD). Determined to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life, MAD won’t let Lu-La escape as easily as she might like.

After a serious UFO crash, will Lu-La be able to return to her parents and home planet?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m not going to lie, I absolutely adored the first Shaun the Sheep film and was hoping for a repeat of the wild, inventive humor here. In the first film, Shaun’s antics lead the Farmer to develop a severe case of amnesia and gain fame as an iconic hair stylist to the stars. Even with aliens thrown into the mix in the sequel, the plot doesn’t maintain the same level of absurdity and fun. Most importantly, I wasn’t rooting for the characters to pull off their unlikely schemes in the way I did in round one.

Also, there was only a very brief bit where the sheep pretended to be people. In the first film, the extended scene where the sheep acted like humans dining in a restaurant legitimately cracked me up.

The plot feels very disjointed, in large part because the characters don’t share a goal for most of the film. Part of the charm of Shaun is that he constantly screws things up, yet the sheep (and eventually Bitzer) always have his back, working together to make things right. The other problem is Lu-La as the sower of chaos here, who I’m just not as invested in as Shaun. What would be a silly antic from Shaun is just irritating from Lu-La, even when we learn that her childish behavior comes from being an actual child.

I will give credit here for the animation. Like all things from Aardman, the accomplishment of telling a complete story with almost no dialogue is impressive. The expressions on the sheep’s faces, and long-suffering Bitzer, are particularly endearing.

And let’s not forget the alien theme park, though less than thrilling to visitors, was constructed by an all-sheep construction crew with a dog as foreman. That concept in and of itself could be a major hipster tourist attraction.

Does my blog wife believe the truth is out there or was this all as staged as the moon landing (jk in case Buzz Aldrin is reading this)? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

I Lost My Body, or: A Bird in the Hand

Sometimes life feels without direction or meaning. It happens to the best of us. At other times, your purpose in life is abundantly clear; for example, if you are a reanimated hand that has been separated from the body you used to be attached to. This story is the latter.

The Film:

I Lost My Body

The Premise:

The animated tale of a severed hand on a mission to reunite with the rest of Naoufel, a young man with a traumatic past.

The Ramble:

To say Naoufel hasn’t had the best day ever is an understatement: lying on the floor near his severed hand, covered in blood as flies buzz around him. Later, his hand busts out of a medical waste bag, determined to be reunited with him. What is Naoufel determined to do? You know, chill.

As a child, Naoufel was interested in music and exploration: he dreamed of being a concert pianist/astronaut. Things related to touch and to seeking out the unknown, you’ll notice. Naoufel’s happy childhood was cut short when his parents died in a car accident. At the time of the crash, he was recording sound, and is therefore still interested in listening to and recording the everyday sounds of the world around him.

an astronaut and a composer holding sheet music look down at the viewer

Now a young adult, Naoufel lives with his uncle and cousin, neither of whom are particularly warm or supportive. An exceptionally bad pizza delivery driver, Naoufel is aimless, isolated, and feeling a lack of agency in his own life.

That is until our apathetic protagonist makes an unusual pizza delivery. Late as always, Naoufel is unable to open the lobby door leading up to the 35th-floor apartment. Though merely explaining the situation to the customer at first, the two begin an earnest conversation over the intercom. Starved of human interaction, Naoufel develops a crush on Gabrielle, the person behind the voice, and becomes determined to find her again.

a young man wearing a helmet holds a pizza box in the lobby of an apartment building

Recalling from their conversation that Gabrielle works at a library, Naoufel makes his way there. He just barely misses her and, based on information a good coworker would definitely not share with a stranger, follows her to a carpenter’s workshop. When he arrives and is called out for lurking, Naoufel lies and says he is there regarding a notice for an apprenticeship. He’s especially keen to work for the carpenter, Gigi, when it becomes clear that Gabrielle regularly visits to bring him medicine. Even better, Gigi has an apartment available so Naoufel can move out of his uncle’s place.

Though initially using woodworking merely so he can be near Gabrielle, Naoufel demonstrates a knack for the process and enjoys making things. When Gabrielle helps Naoufel with a splinter in his hand, the two have an opportunity to bond. As it turns out, both are extremely interested in the North Pole and long to see that vast, white expanse of land.

a man and woman sit on the ground on opposite sides of a table, a pizza box between them

This leads Naoufel to a grand romantic gesture: building a wooden igloo on a nearby rooftop. Gabrielle is impressed; however, when Naoufel uses the opportunity to reveal his identity as the delivery guy from all of those weeks ago who has been yearning to reconnect, she is skeeved out.

Meanwhile, the severed hand wanders around the city in search of Naoufel. Facing a harrowing journey, the hand is attacked by a pigeon, nearly trash compacted, brawls with rats, and is almost hit by a subway car. As a viewer, you will become way more invested in what happens to this poor hand than you may have thought possible.

an animated hand perches on the edge of a window sill, a darkening cityscape in the distance

So how did Naoufel lose that hand? And is he destined to keep missing every time he tries to reach out to another human being?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

First of all, I feel for that severed hand (no pun intended). I wasn’t even distracted by questions that later occurred to me, such as how the hand could “see” its surroundings and feel pain, and whether it could die again. No–I was that invested in what happened to this hand, and I was rooting for it to find Naoufel and become reattached.

Naoufel himself, though? He sort of drove me crazy. It’s difficult to watch him stumble along in a depressed stupor, and especially so because he feels life is beyond his control. While I relate to these feelings, they don’t always make for a particularly sympathetic character. Also, I hated his decision-making process in virtually every situation. Desperate for human connection and afraid to admit the truth? I get it. Tracking down a woman at work, following her, and then making up a lie so she’ll have to see you regularly? Whoa, man. Let’s not do that. Worse, even though it was beyond his control (and even awareness), I will never forgive Naoufel for not reuniting with that severed hand!

I will admit that this film is gorgeous to look at, and the symbolism is highly effective. The idea of touch as a way to connect people to each other and to the world around them is clearly important, and the animation focuses on not only the severed hand, but also the use of hands to touch, create, and interact. Naoufel is also very interested in destiny, as the forces shaping his life to this point have felt very much beyond his control. Though this review paints a somewhat bleak picture, I appreciate that there is hope in the film. Naoufel learns it is possible to break patterns and to change the course that seems to be laid out. Beautifully, he learns to be at peace with the idea of not feeling whole. Too bad the severed hand doesn’t get a say there.

Was my blog wife okay with this one getting handsy or did she promptly sever all ties (and hands)? Find out in her review here!

a bee uses a device for collecting pollen from a pink flower
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bee Movie, or: Not the Bee Puns

Wrapping up our first free-for-all of 2018 is a first for our Blog Collab:  a dive into the world of animation!  Will we immediately regret stepping outside of our usual sharks, demons, and killer mermaid territory?  I mean, probably.

The Film:

Bee Movie

The Premise:

Jerry Seinfeld made a children’s movie with a vaguely environmental message as an excuse to write a lot of cringeworthy bee puns.

The Ramble:

This should come with a warning label for the number of bee puns that are likely to induce physical pain.  I was ok with the first few, but slight amusement and eyerolls quickly transformed into resentment that made a movie less than 90 minutes long feel endless at times.

If you aren’t dissuaded, let’s continue.

Barry is a young worker bee who has just graduated from the equivalent of bee university and is now facing the prospect of choosing a career.  Or, rather, a mindless repetitive task he’ll complete every day until he dies.  This really begs the question of why bees even need to attend university and what they’ve even been studying if they have no idea what they’ll do for their short lives (AND other bees later reveal there are certain roles bees are bred to perform)…but, if like me, you think about this one too hard, your brain will implode.

a group of smiling bees wearing hard hats sits in a tram, facing forward
The longer you look at this image, the more convinced you become their eyes are moving.

Because the survival of the hive seems to be rather terribly planned out, the graduates have just one chance to pick the job they’ll do for the rest of their lives.  Unable to decide, Barry jumps at the opportunity to go out gathering nectar with the pollen jocks.  The pollen jocks are an oddly militaristic group of bees with nectar guns and a cartoon stereotype of a general as their leader.  Can I point out that the queen would really be their leader, and I can’t remember anyone mentioning the queen even once?!?!?  Does no one else find that bizarre?

To move on to the actual plot of the film (I’ll do my best not to analyze every single logical misstep in this movie from here on out), Barry manages to survive an unlikely number of obstacles when he is separated from the group.  While dodging rain drops, Barry finds shelter in an apartment belonging to Vanessa, a florist.  After she saves him from meeting the business end of a shoe, Barry decides he must thank her even though talking to a human is strictly against bee law (can I just point out that 1. this film spends more time on that over the fact that bees in the US magically speak English despite never talking to humans and 2. the highly important rule against talking to humans becomes nothing more than a vague recommendation after this moment).

a woman dressed in a pink sweater talks to a bee standing on a kitchen counter
Love at first questioning one’s own mental well-being?

Upon meeting Vanessa, Barry instantly falls in love with her (what) and she seems to reciprocate?  Or at least their relationship is significant enough that Vanessa eventually breaks off her engagement.  FOR REAL.

Now that Barry gives zero fucks about humans learning bees can talk, he and Vanessa spend their days together out and about in New York City (btw, Vanessa can somehow afford an apartment mere blocks from Central Park).  When the two visit a grocery store and Barry sees the amount of honey harvested from bees, he uncovers the truth that humans have been stealing from bees for centuries.  Determined to right this wrong, Barry decides to sue humanity–representing himself because who the fuck would represent a bee in court.

a bee in court presents evidence as the judge looks on

In a not-so-shocking turn of events, Barry wins the case.  Bees now own all of the honey they produce, begging the question of what bees would even do with money.  And there’s still half an hour left(???).  After the bees no longer have to work hard to make honey, they stop pollinating flowers and everything dies.  How can Barry possibly restore the balance again?  Will it somehow involve an unlikely scenario in which he has to land a fucking plane?

Yes.  Yes, it will.

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

I tried so hard to remember this is a children’s movie and is going to rely on imagination over logic in its storytelling, but the logical leaps are really difficult to overcome.  The message about bees contributing to the hive by completing boring, meaningless work until they die seems rather dystopian for a children’s movie.  At one point, a bee even points out how every job matters, no matter how small, which would have been a much better message if this film were going to choose one.  I don’t know what this movie was trying to say.  Yield to the inevitable, perhaps?

It’s also really difficult to believe that an adult human woman would put her entire life on hold to help a bee win a court case–a bee she may or may not be in love with.  And, honestly, what is the lifespan of a bee?  Spoiler:  Vanessa and Barry are in business together by the end of the film.  How long is that going to last and will it really all have been worth it???  Am I giving this film way more credit than it deserves as a philosophical reflection?

All of this I would consider overlooking if it weren’t for the fucking bee puns.  The bee puns, OH GOD, THE BEE PUNS.  I’ll give you just one terrible pun so you can feel my pain:  Sting testifies at the trial.  I could’ve forgiven this film for a lot, but I can’t fucking forgive that.

Overall, the plot is horrifically nonsensical, there’s no identifiable message, and I really don’t understand who the target audience for most of the humor was.  I’m bumping the rating up slightly as I am proud that we’ve gained admission to the exclusive(?) Bee Movie club, but I’m ready to return my membership card.

Would my blog wife defend this one in court or introduce it to the bottom of a large boot?  Read her review here to find out!