Thursday, 6 March 2014

The Lego Movie (A Review)

Ladies and gentlemen...we have it. The greatest 1 hour and 40 minute toy commercial of all time.

A crazy unique looking cast that works remarkably well together
The Lego Movie is pure joy. There's no better way to describe it. By all accounts it should be a shallow marketing ploy for one of the most popular toys ever, but the movie is actually so strong of a comedy that it transcends it's superficial marketing purposes. The humour travels a mile a minute, the characters are brilliant send-ups of classic story archetypes, the visuals are bright and colourful, and that song...oh man, that song. Like the song says: "everything is awesome." Y'know, I could just stop there and tell you I highly recommend this flick, but if you're interested in the finer points within this tiny bricked world, then read on.

First of all this film is written and directed by the duo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Don't recognize those names? Well, maybe it's about time you do. They started with the criminally underrated animated comedy Clone High before directing Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (a movie I thought was gonna suck until I saw it,) and more recently the 21 Jump Street remake (a movie which, again, people thought was gonna suck, but then were pleasantly surprised with it.) Are you noticing a trend? Clearly, people need to take note of Lord and Miller and start giving these two the benefit of the doubt on whatever project they're working on. (Or studios need to know how to advertise their shit better.) As soon as I saw these two were attached, I knew we were in for a tight comedy with clever writing and a joyfully juvenile spirit. In short: I was pumped when I saw that they were directing this movie, even more pumped when I saw the first trailer, and yet the movie still somehow met my lofty expectations. That's pretty rare nowadays!

Fun Fact: Will Forte voices Abe Lincoln in both The Lego Movie and Clone High!

So what's the plot? Well, the best way I can describe The Lego Movie is Toy Story meets The Matrix on a sugar high. Enter a world completely made out of Lego where our hero, a construction worker named Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt,) is optimistically taking part in the corporate system he seems to fit right in with, when suddenly he is thrust into an undercover resistance against the ruler of this Lego land, President Business (Will Ferrel.) President Business (moonlighting as the evil "Lord Business") has separated each themed Lego world into their own sets (wild west, space, etc) and is obsessed with order. Meanwhile, Emmet is recruited by the Master Builders, an underground rebel group fronted by the kick-ass Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and the wise wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman.) The Master Builders believe in creativity over all, and have the ability to construct wild, new and outstanding things out of the Lego pieces that their world is made out of. As it turns out, Emmet got himself stuck with a mysterious relic, dubbing him "the special" who is meant to fulfil some sort of prophecy (there's always a prophecy) that will stop President Business for good. The problem: Emmet doesn't have a creative thought in his head, and is in no way the messiah-type figure the Master Builders are looking for.

Our hero, Emmet: The Untalented Optimist
If this is all sounding classic "hero's journey" fare, that's because it is. You have the unknowing hero, the evil bad dude, the tough chick, the wise mentor, the Batman (oh yeah, Batman is in this movie. We'll get to that in a bit.) They're all archetypes we've seen a million times, just now they're represented by goofy looking Lego figures... and that's why it's brilliant! Everything is over the top to the point of parody, but without being patronizing. Everyone takes all of this action and plot seriously, despite using terms laughably attempting to be "epic" such as "the special" or "the piece of resistance." And if that was the only note on which this film worked, we'd have a good movie on our hands...but the rabbit hole goes even deeper then that...

Without giving too much away (and yes there are things to give away in The Lego Movie, so please try to avoid spoilers,) this movie isn't just about characters living in a Lego world, it's about Lego itself. About Lego, the child's play thing, in today's mainstream culture, and about how different people approach the toy. You have those who follow the instruction manuals and builds the structures that are in each Lego set, then you have those who just take whatever Lego pieces you have available and build whatever comes to mind. It's here in where The Lego Movie goes from good to great, and while some will definitely see where this is all going ahead of time, I'm convinced the younger movie goers will mark this as one of the best executions of a film's message of this generation. But again, I don't want to say too much about this, so let's just go ahead and talk about Batman.

"I'm the Lego piece that Lego Land deserves..."
Yes, the goddamn Batman is in this movie. For you see, since the movie can use any property that Lego has made toy tie-ins for, this leads to the movie having a ton of Lego-versioned cameos from various areas of pop culture. Some you see coming, and some I was genuinely surprised about, but definitely the big one Warner Brothers is focussing in on their advertising is Lego Batman. And for good reason. Not just a cameo, Lego Batman (played by Will Arnet, pitch perfect casting by the way) becomes a main supporting character about a third of the way into this movie. And then he proceeds to totally steal the show. He's a perfect parody of the brooding, gritty Dark Knight era Batman. It's an era of Batman that pulls on our nostalgic heartstrings from our childhood, but is now portrayed as a dark and serious drama. In a way, Lego Batman shows us that this whole damn movie is like that: a epic movie-tie in to what was originally intended as a simple children's product. It's kinda getting meta, I know. I'm surprised Lego Batman got me to this point almost as I'm sure you are. Nevertheless, the lampooning of Batman here perfectly encapsulates why this film works, and on more than just the level of "oh hey look, it's Batman! Cool!"

Limited movement. Unlimited fun.
What adds even more to the fun is the visuals and animation itself. The film is a computer animated feature, but it takes major cues from the stop-motion amateur animated Lego movies I'm sure many budding animators have attempted at some point (yet another notch for the nostalgic charm-o-meter.) Things like a lowered frame rate in some areas, to attention to texturing details in scratches and smudges on the Lego figures are the little attentions to details that make the film's visuals stand out. But since this film is computer animated, they're not totally limited to stop motion techniques, making things like face acting (blinks, lip-sync, etc) nice and smooth.

But there are other challenges with animating this movie. Because of the rules they've set up with this world, these characters still move and act as Lego figures. That means stiff movements, light weighed characters, and no character can even bend their knee! It does make some aspects of the animation limited, but I often say that limitations force people to be creative, and luckily the animation team on this feature rose to the challenge to give us something truly different. The lack of joints in a character's model is never an issue with the way the characters dart and move, and also in how the world around them is build and is optimized for the Lego characters to act around. And thanks to some rather obvious animation cheats, the Lego characters can perform hard to imagine tasks (like a Lego man changing a shirt) all while winking and nodding at the audience. It's all self-aware visual humour, which is always a bit of a gamble, but it works remarkably well here.

Pew, pew!
And I didn't even mention the effects animation yet! Holy jeez, give the effects animators on this feature a prize or a delicious dessert of some kind, because these guys really had to work in a different way for this one. Remember me saying some rules of this Lego universe provides some challenges for the animation teams? One of those rules is everything in this Lego world is made of Legos... EVERYTHING! That includes all effects: water, fire, explosions, smoke, soap, lasers, EVERYTHING! That's really working outside of the box for effects animation, and the team blew it out of the water! You haven't seen anything until you've seen a Lego ship race across an ocean of blue Lego pieces acting like real water with waves and splashes and everything. Good job guys.

This was that sugar high I was talkin' about...
I'm not surprised this movie worked. The talent behind every aspect has proven themselves, and a movie about a world of Legos always sounded fun to me. What I'm amazed at is how well this movie works, and on how many levels. I didn't even mention characters I loved like Benny the 1980-something space guy (Charlie Day) or the Unikitty (part unicorn, part kitty, all awesome, voiced by Allison Brie.) Hell, there's a whole subplot with Liam Neeson's Good Cop/Bad Cop character, that is surprisingly touching, that I didn't even get a chance to mention! This is a film that revels in creativity, both in its message and it's execution. It's a glorious send-up of a nostalgic brand from our youth being turned into a big budget Hollywood film, while somehow still being it's own special and unique animal. If you still haven't seen this one, I highly recommend you do. It's still early in the year, but I wouldn't be surprised if come December this is in my top 10 movies of 2014. Yeah. It's that good.

"Everything is awesome" indeed. (I did mention that song is super catchy, right? Cause...y' is.)


- Moo

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Top 10 Animated Horses

Special mention to the horse from "What's Opera Doc" for being fantastic

Chinese New Years just ended, and 2014 marks the year of the horse! Because of this event, and because the internet likes lists (my Top 10 Animated Dragons article is still one of my most popular blog entries) I present to you my top 10 animated horses! Because why not!

Yup plain and simple, the horse character has been around pretty much as long as animators needed to do a 4-legged walk cycle, but these horses, in my opinion, go above and beyond their colt brethren to become the best of the best! I'm only looking at horses represented in animation (comics and video games are a neigh,) and only 1 entry per franchise. Points for horses with memorable personalities, cool design, or just something funny or interesting about them. So without further ado, let's get started!

10) Bullseye (Toy Story)

It's kind of a played out cliché in western animation: if you want to make an audience connect with a non-human character, make it act like a dog. People love dogs. Whether it be objects, like a lamp in Luxo Jr., or more recently a moose in Frozen, dog mannerisms are always a sure fire way to instantly love a character, even if you don't pick up right away that this thing, that is clearly not a dog, is acting like a dog.

Horses, being a reoccurring companion to hero characters, are no stranger to being "dogified," but Bullseye from the Toy Story franchise is definitely the least subtle about it. From jumping up and licking people on the face, to his fierce loyalty, I in fact find Bullseye's dog-like behaviour to be even a little too on the nose. However, what saves Bullseye from being cut on this list is the way he's animated. Being a toy horse, Bullseye moves with the same lanky, rag-doll movements that his owner Woody does. It's this extreme acting and overshooting action that makes Bullseye fun to watch for me. His animation kinda reminds me of the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees from Raggedy-Ann and Andy...but, you know, more energetic...and not as depressing...and also not a camel...

9) The Headless Horseman's Horse (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Most of the time animated horse characters are companions to the archetypal hero. Usually they're kind, bright, loyal, or as mentioned before, dog-like. Very rare do we get a truly terrifying beast of a horse....but that's what we got here!

The Headless Horseman from Disney's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (one of two shorts on Disney's film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad) is a superbly animated force of terror. His pursuit of Ichabod in that short is a great blend of fun and scary, and of course it would be nothing if he wasn't racing along on his manic horse from Hell! (May not actually be from Hell, the ending's a bit vague.) With his blood red eyes, this horse means business...and in this case, business is killing you! Because after all, what's the Headless Horseman without a horse?? Just...."The Headless," and that's not nearly as scary. So points for evil Hell horse for being different, and being an essential part to an awesome villain.

8) Khan (Mulan)

Okay, not all of these are Disney horses, I swear!! But I felt I needed to put Khan in here somewhere. Not as memorable as other horses on this list, or even as memorable a character in this movie, but I really liked Khan because this horse was There was very little "dogifing" like other animated horses, yet he still had a very distinct personality. He was a warhorse. A horse who is serious and brave; the perfect companion for Mulan to ride into battle! And on top of that, the character design of this horse is truly awesome. He looks very muscular, with such a thick neck, but skinny legs. Plus the style of drawing on Khan goes with the movies Chinese painting motif, making this horse a unique looking entry to the list. Not as memorable, but I think cool enough to make it to number 8. 

7) James Baxter the Horse (Adventure Time)

Hurray!! It's time for some animation inside jokes!! So...

To those not in the know, the Adventure Time episode "James Baxter the Horse" might seem odd. The plot is there's a horse named James Baxter who balances himself on a beach ball while saying his name in a horse whiney-like way. Whenever anyone sees James Baxter the Horse, they get so happy that they forget all their troubles. Finn and Jake see this, and they try to emulate what James does, but they just can't seem to spread cheer the same way James Baxtor the Horse can, even outright failing.

Folks watching this episode might have some questions like, "who the hell thought up this plot?!" or "why is that horse really, really well animated?!" Well, the answer to that last question is because legendary animator James Baxter (animator on films such as The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame) guest animated the titular horse (as well as provided the neighing of his name.) The quality of animation on the Horse is so much more detailed compared to the simplistic and stylish characters that normally populate Adventure Time, it really does cheer people up, both in and out of the show. But even more to that, if you read between the lines of this episode, it could be a metaphor for a wishful animator (maybe even Adventure Time creator, Pendleton Ward) wanting to be as good as these classic Disney animators. However, failing to reach that quality of work, they just have to appreciate the work they do and embrace their own style and techniques. But hey! That's just how I read the episode. Maybe I'm not supposed to read too much into a show where a horse balances on a beach ball...but hey! At least that's a good segue to...

6) Spirit (Spirit: Stallion of Cimarron)

Maaaaatt Daaamooon horse
Yes, James Baxter (the animator, not the horse) was the supervising animator on the titular character from Spirit: Stallion of Cimarron (there's your reason he was a horse in Adventure Time! Ya happy now??)

Now, I know a lot of people haven't seen this movie...and let me say, if you want some beautiful animation, check this shit out! Oh man! Most of it is stunning sweeping shots, amazing scenes of running horses, and just jaw dropping animation. And it's one of the few 2D animated features done at DreamWorks Animation, so that alone makes it a unique feature. Like Khan from MulanSpirit's horses are more realistic in their horse animation. In fact the main character, Spirit, doesn't talk or make pop culture references, or anything! Well...there is internal horse monologues provided by Matt Damon, but still!

Now, to be fair, the character of Spirit is a bit bland, but in my book you can still get to number 6 on this list if you just look really awesome. And yeah...the animation, again, is just really awesome. If you missed this film and are craving the traditional hand-drawn animation of yesteryear, track this one down. 

5) Derpy Hooves (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic)

Ermahgerd! Mah lerttle perner!
Ok, you knew there had to be at least one mention to My Little Pony on this list, right? And I know technically this entry is a pegasus, not a "horse" per say but you know what? Fuck it. It's my list. If I want a wing-a-ling pony on my list, gosh darn it I'm gonna have my wing-a-ling pony! And truly, out of all the My Little Pony characters I could have put on this list, no character is as "special" as the fan named character Derpy Hooves. 

As the tale goes, this grey background pony appeared in the first episode of the series with inexplicable crossed eyes. Was it a slip up? A layout artist having some fun with the background characters? Who knows! But pony fans loved this goofy background character, dubbing her with the moniker "Derpy Hooves." But wait! It gets better! The show's creator, Lauren Faust, loved the fan reaction so much that the character was brought back, messed up face and all, to be hidden in future episodes! Starting with their second season the cross eyed wonder played the role of "Where's Waldo." Eventually, even the character name "Derpy" became cannon within the series! Finally Derpy made her way into an episode in a talking role, even being called by name. But of course, controversy over if this character was poking fun at the mentally handicapped was brought up (which, you know, is totally a legit complaint,) and since then all official mention of this character's name was removed. However, love for the pony formally known as Derpy still persists. Even after they removed her name from episodes, Hasbro released a special edition 2012 Comic-Con figure of Derpy just for the fans! The figures don't have the name of the character anywhere on the package...but we all know who she really is...we all know... (PS, it's Derpy.)

4) Horace Horsecollar (Mickey Mouse)

Ohhh...Mr Horsecollar... What happened to this character?! At one point he was pretty much Mickey Mouse's best friend and sidekick! Mickey frickin' Mouse! And hell! This rubber hosed horse even has the honours of being co-created by the same duo that made that massively marketable mouse: Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney! And Disney himself originally voiced Horace, much like when Mickey first got to speak! So I ask again...what happened to him?!

I guess the easy answer is he just got pushed aside. Other Disney side characters Goofy and Donald were, in many ways bigger and more interesting personalities than good ol' Horace. Horace wasn't as dumb as Goofy, or as temperamental as Donald. So even though he was still featured in groundbreaking Mickey Mouse shorts like "The Band Concert," this "cheerful know-it-all" character just remained on the sidelines of Disney history. He remained more prominent as a side character in the Disney comics for a while, acting as a detective partner with Mickey, but even that faded away eventually. I've always had a soft spot for this relatively obscure character though. And hey! We're even beginning to see a reemergence of Horace! Whether it be self-referential about his obscurity in the Epic Mickey video game series, his role as the technician on the TV series House of Mouse, or as a main character in the 2014 short that appeared before Frozen in theatres, Get a Horse, we're seeing a lot more of Horace! Could this be the triumphant return to form for one of animations long-lost sidekicks?? not. But still! It's cool that he's still around. Keep on truckin' Horsecollar. Keep on truckin'.

3) Twinkles the Wonder Horse (Dave the Barbarian)

Ok, if you haven't seen Dave the Barbarian, you should probably get on that. One of the, in my opinion, many underrated Disney saturday morning cartoon shows from the early 2000s, Dave the Barbarian was created by Doug Langdale (creator of The Weekenders) and Savage Steve Holland (creator of Eek! The Cat) and the result is...strangely a perfect blend of those two shows, but with a fantasy setting. It's weird, I know, and by all accounts I would say that wouldn't be a good mix of styles but...surprise! The show is actually really hilarious. It parodies tropes and clichés commonly found in fantasy, has a biting and oftentimes brilliantly sarcastic script, and features some wonderfully strange side characters. For example, the minor character Twinkles the Wonder Horse. A girly looking horse with a beautiful pink and yellow mane who talks like Christopher Walken and has a extreme case of depression.

...yeah...the jokes just write themselves. Twinkles the Wonder Horse: nuff said. 

2) Maximus (Tangled)

This character made this movie for me. Not to say Tangled isn't a good movie. It's fine. It has a nice fairytale plot, an interesting villain, decent songs, yadda, yadda, yadda. But this horse! My God this horse! This took me by surprise!

There's been so many horse characters from Disney, but Maximus stands out to have the most unique and fun personality of the bunch. Charged with the task of hunting down the thief Flynn Rider, Maximus quickly proves that he's more capable than the captain of the guards who's riding him. And this is where we see the sheer determination of Maximus. He's on a one-horse mission! His persistency won't let up! He's an unstoppable force! Like The Terminator....but a horse!! And that premise alone leads to some of the funniest jokes and scenes in the movie. Much like other horse characters, many dog-like characteristics are given to Maximus, but what makes Maximus even more hilarious is when they give him human-like acting to do. Actions such as shaking hands, or sword fighting (a horse in a frickin' sword fight!) just become that much more hilarious when it's animated with a regal, fairly realistically designed horse.

And hey, that leads perfectly too...

1) Mr Horse (The Ren & Stimpy Show)

Truthbomb time: I'm not a huge fan of Ren & Stimpy. Even as a kid, I just found it too juvenile. I know I'm in the minority here, but I don't know. Gross out humour never really appealed to me. And that, for the most part, was a lot of what Ren & Stimpy had to offer. But I watched it anyway. I have no idea why. It was...mesmerizing? Confusing? A bit of both?

And once in a while, a moment will catch me off guard. Sometimes a pose, or a drawing would be so wacky, so off model, so detailed in weird ways, that it would be beautiful in a strange way. And of course, sometimes there were jokes that still, despite my feelings for the show, just made me laugh. And thus we have Mr Horse, voiced by John K himself.

Mr Horse is one of those jokes that, again, baffle me. I don't even know why I love this guy, but maybe it is because, compared to the rest of the animals on Ren & Stimpy, Mr Horse looked more like a realistic horse, and stands out from the crowd simply by looking normal (relative to the rest of the cast, that is to say.) And on top of that his mannerisms as so very human. The way he talks, the way he dresses. We've seen horses acting like dogs to cute effects. We've seen horses kinda acting like humans for hilarious effect. Well here's a horse who straight up acts human in every way, and it's hilarious. The juxtaposition is so ridiculous, but he acts so serious. It's a simple joke, but for some reason, he stays in my thoughts and is the #1 horse I think of when I try to think of animated horses. 

And hey! If you don't agree with me and my list, at least Mr Horse has the perfect response for you.

Happy Year of the Horse, folks!

- Moo

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Frozen (A Review)

Gosh darn, Disney!! You do not know how to market your own shit!!

This movie isn't about the snowman...if you can believe it...
I was all set to hate on this movie. I had a whole "Disney doesn't know what they're doing no more" rant prepared and everything! The previews looked dumb, the characters looked bland, the tone felt like it was trying way to hard to be "hip" (that's what the kids are saying nowadays, right? "Hip?") I just had a bad feeling about Frozen. Hell, even with the one word adjective title, it felt like I've seen all this before. I even referred to Frozen as "Tangled on ice" for the longest time leading up to this film. Well, as it turns out Disney still knows what they're doing... but Disney's marketing department doesn't know how to market this movie at all. Which is weird, cause you'd think this would be an easy sell. It's a classic Disney formula, involving huge influences from the "Broadway sensibility" that the 90s "Disney renaissance" era brought to animation, but with some awesome twists and turns that make Frozen stand out on it's own and actually ends up being a truly unique fairy tale flick. In other words: DON'T TRUST THE PREVIEWS GUYS! THIS FILM IS ACTUALLY PRETTY GOOD GUYS! REALLY!

Elsa also gets a sweet ice dress that shows off her legs... damn grrrl!
The film is loosely adapted in typical Disney fashion (in other words, incredibly loosely) from the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale The Snow Queen. In Frozen, the plot follows the characters of Anna and Elsa, two sisters who are princesses of the kingdom of Arendelle. The older sister, Elsa, is born with mysterious powers to create ice and snow. One day while playing with Anna as a child, Elsa accidentally strikes Anna in the head with her magic. The King and Queen are able to save Anna's life, but as a result they had to remove any memories of her sister's power, and keep the two sisters separate until Elsa can controls her powers. Unfortunately (and since this is a Disney movie) the parents die in a storm, leading to Elsa to become the queen. At Elsa's coronation she looses control of her ice abilities, takes off into the isolation of the mountains, and covers the kingdom in an eternal winter. This leaves Anna to go on a Wizard of Oz-like quest, meeting up with fun side characters along the way, to eventually try to meet and talk to her sister and hopefully find a way to bring back summer.

What could possibly go wrong! ...oh powers...
And that's only the first act! The script does a great job introducing all of this backstory in a entertaining way. But more importantly, it in no way feels forced. What's even more impressive is that once Anna starts playing the "Dorothy" role in their quest, things still don't go as predictably as you might think from a Disney flick. It's not a typical fantasy quest, as there's no dragon to slay, no evil kingdom, no big baddy at the end. There's just two sisters trying to patch things up between them.

And there in is the biggest change to the Disney formula: this is a story about two sisters. That's kind of a big deal. (And not just cause Disney can add not one, but two more entries into their highly profitable "Disney Princess" lineup.) It's amazing because the focal point for this whole story isn't about finding romance. In a Disney princess movie! It's not about romance! That is just crazy!! I mean, there is love interests in there, and they play a part in the plot, but it really takes a back seat to the true focus of this story. This film is about family. The familial love is what pushes the story forward, and the complex sister relationship is something that is not only not seen in a Disney animated feature, it's a relationship that isn't really prevalent in Hollywood movies in general. So kudos on that call Disney. Ya did good.

Professor X recruits Elsa in the Frozen 2...hopefully...
That leads me to talk about my favorite part of the film: Elsa. Oh man, do I love this character. It's wonderful to get a Disney character who is not good, not evil, just a confused shade of grey. She's far and wide the most interesting personality in this film as she's in a position where she wants to be a good sister and ruler of the kingdom, but bad things happen because of her and her uncontrollable powers. She lives in a world that hates and fears her (just like the X-Men!) and she doesn't even know how to stop what she's doing (just like the X-Men!) It's a coming of age super-power metaphor for puberty (just like....ah, you get it...) In fact, as Elsa finally lets loose her powers during her big power song "Let It Go," you can really feel her happiness and freedom in what is probably the best musical number in the film both thanks to the jaw dropping effects animation of Elsa building her ice castle, and the singing power of Broadway star Idina Menzel (who you may know as Elphaba from, just clueing in that there's a lot of Wizard of Oz similarities going on in this film...neat.)

Oh yeah. And by the way, this is a musical. Surprise! Didn't know it was a musical because the previews didn't even mention this fact? Well...yeah! This is a musical. In fact, music is a huge part of this film. Kind of a big thing to sweep under the rug, Disney marketing! And maybe if you embraced it, more people would be inclined to see this frickin' film! Because, surprise-surprise, the songs are pretty awesome. But whatever, Disney marketing, I'm sure you know what you're doing. ...aaaanyway...

Did someone ask for an EPIC SONG CUE?!

The music is terrific. Much like 90s Disney films employed Broadway familiar employees of the time, here we're treated with some fun musical numbers with a very modern sensibility. Along with getting Wicked flashbacks from Idina Menzel's performance, the songs are penned from Robert Lopez, known for his comedic writing from Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon. And while of course writing for a Disney movie means no raunchy or inappropriate comedy like in those musicals, there's just a huge sense of fun, excitement and at times epic scale to the musical numbers. They're big, loud, exuberant and the centrepieces for all the major plot points. And in my opinion, that's exactly what I want from my Disney flick.

They got different hair! ....that's...somethin'...right?
Now, you might think I've pulled a complete 180 degrees on my opinion of this movie compared to my opinion of its previews, and truth be told, that's not entirely the case. I was in awe with the amazing background designs (especially Elsa's ice castle,) but the character designs...meeeh. There's really no denying the character designs play it a little on the safe side, in that the style is very similar to Tangled. Which wouldn't be a bad thing, but I felt at least in Tangled we got more of a variation between characters, with more unique personalities just from the designs. Elsa and Anna's faces have only tiny variations between that of Rapunzel's (and each other's for that matter.) And while I enjoyed the moose character, Sven, acting like a dog, there's no denying that he was trying to fill that animal sidekick role that the horse in Tangled already did so well (as well as having a much more unique personality.) All in all, most human characters I think could have been designed more interestingly, or with a dash more creativity. True it's a safe design choice, and it's not that bad, but I just kinda wish they'd push the envelope design-wise a bit more.

Graduate of the Lindsay Bluth school of dance 
On the animation side, it's looking good, but I think could've been better. There's a couple of standout character animation performances, one of which being the charmingly clumsy Anna, whose movements are absolutely beaming with personality. Other characters I kinda wished for more animation to convey more of a personality, such as the lead males, Kristoff and Hans (not bad animation mind you, just a little bland.) Then way on the other hand, there's this random Duke character, who is waaaay over the top and cartoony. It seemed like this character was forced in order to get some comic relief in there with his quick pace and awkwardly spastic movements. I know he was trying to be funny, but this character's cartoony animation didn't really fit in with the other, more realistically, animated human characters. But with that said....the effects! Oh man! The effect animation on this flick is just frickin' amazing. The snow looks amazing, and you can really tell they did tests and research on the stuff to make sure this icy wonderland looked brilliant.

Damn it've warmed my icy heart...
Now I know what you're thinking: "you're almost finished your review, and you didn't even mention the snowman!" Yes, the snowman. Olaf. That oddly designed, obvious comedic relief that Disney has been forcing down people's throats as the main icon in their ad campaign for this movie. I thought I'd talk about Olaf last because, in many ways, he kind of embodies perfectly how I felt about this film. Going in it felt like he was forced. Really forced. Like Disney said, "you're going to watch this snowman...and you're going to love him...LOVE HIM DAMN IT!!" And I was all set to "stick it to The Man." I was totally going to reject this false snow icon! Here I thought I was gonna hate the snowman, but upon seeing him...damn it. I kinda love him. True, sometimes his antics were a little irritating, but mostly I found him charming, funny, and even a little heartwarming. And that, in and of itself, is how I see Frozen as a whole: charming, funny and even a little heartwarming. I admit that, like the townspeople who judged Elsa harshly because of her powers, so too did I judge this movie before I saw it. So please, ignore how Disney markets this movie. Ignore the fact that they're awkwardly trying to hide Disney's musical roots, or how they're not showing that this is a unique story about two estranged sisters. Just go see it for yourself and be the judge. For me, it was a great example of classic Disney storytelling tackling a new type of fairy tale for a new audience in a new age.

I guess that'll teach me to judge a snowman before I get to know him.


- Moo

Friday, 21 June 2013

Monsters University (A Review)

Wowie! It's been a while!

Oh yeah. The character design department must've had fun!
It's been 12 years since the original Monsters, Inc., which was the 4th feature produced by Pixar in 2001. It was about the time when Pixar was really hitting their stride as a studio and right before the insane boom Pixar had with Finding Nemo. And even though the characters were charming and the film did well (pretty much becoming instant classic with both kids and adults) there really wasn't any need for a sequel. Not only did they finish all of the main character's story arcs, but it also solved the world's great energy problems in a fun and satisfying way. So the only logical way to bring back Mike and Sully to the big screen would be through a prequel. And so we take our main characters back to their college days, before they were top employees at Monsters, Inc., and when they were unknown students at Monsters University.

Mike's wisely at the forefront this time around.
For those not in the know, our two main characters are James P. Sullivan (aka Sully) and Mike Wazowski (John Goodman and Billy Crystal) who meet for the first time while attending school to learn how to become scarers. Scarers are monsters who enter children's rooms and scare them because they need those children's screams to power their way of life (wow, it's kinda a weird concept now that I've actually written it all down like that, but whatever. It works.) The tricky part is because this is a prequel, we already know exactly how it's all going to end. That said the film does a commendable job at keeping me guessing on how it's going to get there by having these characters start off in such a different places during Monsters University comparatively to the first movie (personality and relationship wise.) While Sully was definitely the heart and focus of Monsters, Inc., it's clear Monsters University is all about Mikey. Here Mike is an enthusiastic nerd with big dreams of becoming a scarer despite not being all that scary himself, and Sully is a lazy jock-like jerk who forgoes hard work and coasts through his classes mostly relying on his family's reputation and his natural talents.

Oh shit...just look at him! Something bad's gonna happen to this guy...
The two start off hating each other, so the film is all about how they grow to eventually become the inseparable duo we know from Monsters, Inc. It's great fun to see these two interact with each other in a new and interesting way. Not to spoil too much, but their rivalry is not only the cause of the film's major conflict, but it grows to a point where if they don't at least cooperate together, neither of them will get what they want. And once the movie ends and we get to familiar territory, it all felt like everything tied together nicely, and every piece of the puzzle finally landed in the right place. Even Randel, the villain from Monsters, Inc. voiced by Steve Buscemi, got a quick little backstory, and while they could have found a way for him to be more involved in the overarching story of this film, it was still a joy to see how he got to be so villinous.

The brothers of Oozma Kappa!
It's pretty much impossible not to compare this movie to Monsters, Inc., so let me get this out there right now: no, this movie isn't as good as Monsters, Inc., but it is really good in it's own right. Monsters, Inc. had a lot of unique things going for it that this movie just can't have because it is a prequel. Things such as the stakes being much higher in the original and the clever themes and parallels to real world energy problems. That and the "adorable factor" brought on by the human child Boo couldn't possibly be featured in this movie (due to her not even being born yet,) so don't expect any of that, which is a shame because she was one of the most memorable parts of the first movie. But you know what Monsters University is? It's fun. Hands down fun. It's a smaller, personal tale, but it's a fun one that has plenty of clever jokes for both adults and kids, and memorable characters and moments. The college setting allows for the writers to work in tons of references to college focused comedies like Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds. And it checks off all the college movie stereotypes in fun and wonderfully designed new monsters, such as the stuffy, no-nonsense dean (played by Hellen Mirren as some millipede/dragon hybrid) and the preppy, jerky frat-boy (played with wonderful ego from Nathan Fillion.) But the best gems are the new characters featured in Sully and Mike's fraternity "Oozma Kappa," which features an abundance of memorable moments from the charming "losers on campus." My favorite being Art, a newage philosophy major monster played by Charlie Day, who doesn't contribute anything of relevance to the plot, but has some great oneliners and his design is so much fun and different compared to the rest of the cast (he's like a fuzzy, purple slinky with a face! Brilliant!) Close second is Joel Murray's character, Don; a mature student whose optimistic attitude would almost put Ned Flanders to shame. Really the characters are why you come to see this movie; they're crazy fun in both their appearance  their acting, animation and their writing.

So is this Pixar's deepest film? Definitely not. Even with a very poignant 3rd act and a surprisingly dramatic monologue from Billy Crystal's Mike, its themes don't nearly resonate as deeply as something like Wall-E, UpRatatouille, the Toy Story franchise, or even Monsters, Inc. But is it one of Pixar's funniest films? Well... actually, probably. It's up there! Director Dan Scanlon doesn't have many productions under his belt, but he really managed to make this a creatively fun feature with some genuinely hilarious visual humour and even some much needed heart to this story. So if you want a fun time, something to just take your mind off and watch some enjoyable animation, this is definitely a good one to see. And while it's not as great as Pixar in it's heyday  it's definitely a step up from what they've been producing in recent years.

And at the very least, hey! At least it's not another Cars sequel!


- Moo

Sunday, 26 August 2012

ParaNorman (A Review)

An homage to the horror genre, and more!
I'm not sure why, but two things I enjoy seem to be currently in style when talking about animated features. First of all, stop-motion animation is making a huge comeback even in a CG heavy environment, with Pirates! Band of Misfits leading the way earlier this year (by the way, check out my review for that, it's pretty cool, if I do say so myself.) The second, and perhaps more surprising, is that these animated movies are touching on a genre admittedly not seen all that much in western animation: horror. I'm not surprised horror is so rare in animated movies in this part of the globe. In North America animation is still mostly sold as family flicks. In other words, some mindless entertainment to stick the young ones infront of so that they'll shut up for an hour and a half. Horror is just asking for children crying, screaming and generally the opposite of good times for parents looking for a moment's peace. One can definitely say parents are too sensitive in protecting their children from "scary" entertainment designed for a younger generation, and kids in fact enjoy being scared more then they let on. I would totally agree with that. That said, ParaNorman is not for children. Not the young, young ones anyway. And it's not because of the "scary-jump-out-and-spook-you moments," or for any disturbing visuals, but because of the morbid themes, the mature tone, and some admittedly very dark plot points. And it's in these very points that I think ParaNorman is not only successful as a film, but it is also breaking some new ground for animated movies.

They're like the Scooby-Gang! Except...not at all...
The movie surrounds Norman, a kid who has the power to see and talk to ghosts. Right out of the gate Norman has this power, and it also seems he's been dealing with it for a while judging by how casually he talks to the spirits, how apathetic he is with dealing with living people, and how inpatient his father is when talking about this issue. Norman just so happens to live in a Salem-like town, known for it's touristy portrayal of witch hunts. However, once a real witch's curses comes to pass and brings zombies to life, it's up to Norman and a small rag-tag group (mostly made out of people who made fun of him before) to stop the curse and restore peace to the town...and that's when the twists happen. I wouldn't dare ruin the second and third act of this film, but suffice to say they do a lot with the standard "zombies attack a small town" formula that hasn't been done before and that I genuinely didn't see coming.

The stop-motion is excellent. This is Laika's second stop-motion children's horror movie (after the wonderfully twisted Coraline) and I gotta say, they're really making a wonderful niche for themselves. And what's even more wonderful is the fact that even though this is another stop-motion film with spooky elements, this film has a distinctive art style all on it's own, really letting the two films stand out from each other. Everything is so detailed in each shot, and with some creative melding of some 2D elements as well as some 3D effects makes this lovingly crafted film a great feast for the eyes. The detail of facial animations alone is astounding and is made possible with the advancements in 3D printing technology, which is just plain cool.

Yup. Toilet paper hands. It's much more scarier then you might think.
Now here's the thing about this movie: it's not very funny. I mean, there are jokes, and gags, some slap-stick and a couple of tongue in cheek references to old horror shlock, but that's not the highlight of this movie. They were able to get some chuckles out of me, but if you're expecting to roll on the floor with laughter during this film, you best look elsewhere. Comedy is not the main focus of this movie. Instead, the film chooses to better focus its attention on two things: it's tone, and it's themes. Tone wise, it's all rather grim. And when you're dealing with death as one of your major plot points, that's no real surprise. The subject matter is probably why some of these jokes don't quite hit their mark. However, when things change from comedy to drama, that's where the script shines. And I don't just mean all the end of the world drama, but even more personal moments where Norman's parents are full on arguing over what to do about Norman, and how Norman's own father treats him like a freak of nature. That stuff hurts, and it's wonderfully brought to life in this film. And the themes this film bring to the table are all wonderfully brought to life in the drama this piece provides. Themes like hatred, bigotry, mob mentality and acceptance are heavy issues that I feel could have been butchered if not for the pacing of this film and it's allowance to give time to let these themes resonate with the audience.

I suppose if I was to complain about one thing, it would be the voice acting. Lots of the side characters were decent (McLovin' himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse was an interesting choice for the school bully character,) but some other characters were a bit lacking in intensity when delivering on some of these dramatic moments. Sadly, Norman's voice actor, (teen actor Kodi Smit-McPhee) is the biggest offender. He delivers appropriately timid reads neer the beginning of the film when his character is a misunderstood loner, but as the film progresses and the drama ramps up, Smit-McPhee (and some of the other other actors) aren't quite able to deliver the intensity needed for those dramatic moments. Close, but not quite.

The film starts out on a gradual burn, but give it time and I think you'll be rewarded with some amazing animation, some dark plot twists and one of the most compelling third acts to grace a film in a long time. It's the kind of animated film I'm glad exists, as it's much more focused on delivering a strong message than anything else. And most importantly for an animated feature dealing with such grim issues, it takes itself seriously. Writer/director Chris Butler seemed to be very passionate on both his love for old horror films and the themes in this film, and it really shows. While we have more animated homages to horror filmes approaching this year, such as Tim Burton's  Frankenweenie and Genndy Tartakovsky's Hotel Transylvania, judging by the previews they both seem to be much more lighthearted affairs then ParaNorman. It's a risky move to make and animated "kids" movie with such heavy issues and story points, and in that regard this film should be applauded and encouraged! So do this film a favor and go check it out as soon as you can!


- Moo

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

5 Things I Liked (And Didn't Like) About "The Legend of Korra" Season 1

Back in April I gave my first impressions of The Legend of Korra, a sequel series to one of my favorite TV shows, Avatar: The Last Airbender. And if you recall, I totally gushed over the first two episodes. And now season 1 has finished, and not only that! At Comicon recently they annouced that next season (or "book," as they call them) will be called Spirits (COOL!!) and that the show has been renewed up to season 4. That's excellent news!

Time to look back on what happened with these guys...
With that said, now would be a good time to look back and see if the show met up with all of my lofty expectations I had for season 1. And did it? Well...kinda... It's odd. I'm met with a blend of emotions after the season finale, some good, some bad, and some...just odd.  So what better, and balanced, way to show my appreciation/disappointment for this wonderful/frustrating show than with 5 things I liked/didn't like about the first season of The Legend of Korra (in no particular order.)

But before we get started, let me say that on the whole The Legend of Korra is an amazing show, probably the best cartoon out right now. However, that doesn't make it imune to geeks like me nit-picking things apart. So with that in mind: haters, think before you leave comments. These are just my personal opinions, feel free to take em or leave em. Also, since I am reviewing the season as a whole there will be SPOILERS. So many SPOILERS that if you don't want SPOILERS then you shouldn't read this SPOILER filled blog full of SPOILERS. I hope I've made myself clear, and you have been warned... (SPOILERS!!) Also warning, this is gonna get really ranty. So grab yourself a drink, cause we're gonna be here a while...

I liked... the Art Direction and the Animation.

Even Meelo knows good art when he sees it! ...I think...
Let's get the obvious out of the way first. This is one pretty, pretty show. I said it before, but the animation and artistry in this show has been pushed to new levels of awesomeness. Even further than The Last Airbender did, and that was a show that was already praised for it's beauty in animation and backgrounds. And even though we don't get to see as much environmental variety in The Legend of Korra, what we do have is some amazingly crafted sets that go into an astounding amount of detail. There was even a deeper integration of 3D elements, which normally I find jarring in 2D shows, but how it was used here was inspirational. Much like the original series it was used for important vehicles such as blimps and tanks, but here it was also used for other major elements, such as the giant monument to Avatar Aang. I can think of one subtle moment when the 3D background was being panned in the episode "The Revelation." Because of how the 3D background was rotated, it looked like the characters were walking in an arc, rather than straight left to right. Subtle, but very clever! And likewise it goes without saying the animation was top notch. From the wonderfully choreographed fights, to little bits of character acting like Bolin proclaiming "I love you," the animation  was skillfully crafted and full of energy.

I didn't like...the Lost Opportunity to be a Vigilantly Badass

I thought the first episode, "Welcome to Republic City" was a perfect way to kick off the season. It was a great jumping on point for new comers, it set up our new cast of characters, and probably most importantly, set up our new setting for this whole season, Republic City, and the problems within: homelessness, class warfare, organized crime, corrupt officials, and the anti-bending revolution. Korra only tackled two of these problems in season 1, corruption and the anti-bending movement, the later being the primary focus of the season. And while it is the most interesting conflict to deal with, I saw two problems when jumping right into fighting Amon and his revolution: 1) we hear of all this supposed awful things the bending triads do to non-benders, but we never really got to see any of it aside from some slight bullying in the first episode (weak sauce) and 2) we don't get to see Korra take on this universe's equivalent of the mob, which would have been awesome.

Remember Zolt! Yeah! This guy! Wouldn't blame ya. He had, like, two lines.
Both these problems could have been easily solved by two simple words: turf war. They mentioned it briefly in the third episode, "The Revolution," that there were three criminal groups and it was implied they were going to fight it out soon for territory in Republic City...that would have been awesome to see!! Imagine how cool it would be to see Korra (and maybe Mako and Bolin too) take on not one, but THREE criminal factions as they fought each other! Even if Korra was successful, there would undoubtably be major damage to the city, and maybe even injured unsuspecting bystanders. This would give so much more ammunition for Amon and his anti-bending revolution, making his grand rally against Republic City not only more believable, but much more interesting. Hell, remember Lightning Bolt Zolt? The guy who had his bending taken away almost as quickly as he was introduced? Something tells me he could have been a great sub-villain, as an antagonist to both Korra and Amon. But nope. Third episode, and the mob's already out of the picture. But who knows, maybe we'll get some Korra vs organized crime in season 2, but without Amon to profit from the fallout, it almost doesn't seem worth it. In my opinion it was a huge wasted opportunity.

I liked... the Mature Tone of the Show

This is the darkest timeline...
Whenever there is a sequel of any sort, there is always going to be comparisons to the original. Especially for TV shows. Something tells me Aang vs Korra is going to be as frequently debated as Kirk vs Picard. But at the end of the day, you have to admit, Korra is not like Aang, and Aang is not like Korra. Aang is fun and funny and free spirited and a goofy trickster and yadda yadda yadda. While Korra is strong and independent, and fierce and stubborn and...well...more mature. Not just in age but in personality as well. And while the conflicts that plagued Aang were deep (remember the airbender genocide? Yeah...not a fun topic...) the show always delt with things in a lighter mood through the optimistic eyes of a younger generation. But much like the audience that watched the original, the Avatar has aged. Having the protagonist now a teenager was a brilliant move. It made the decisions, the way the characters acted, and the problems facing the character more mature, and even pretty dark. And yet they still had that bit of oddball humour the franchise is known for, so it still felt like we were watching a show in the same universe. So yes. The darker tone: me likey....however...

I didn't like...That There Were No Time for Side Missions

In this picture: Bolin finding out he won't get his own story arc
Much like my other criticism of the show, this here's another pacing problem. While I did like the drama that came from rushing head first into the conflict of the anti-bending revolution, what we lost were those character-centric episodes that all good ensemble shows need. Episodes that don't further the overarching story in any huge or meaningful way, but take time to develop the characters and let them breathe for a moment. There were many of these scattered throughout The Last Airbender: "The Cave of Two Lovers," "Tales of Ba Sing Se" and "The Beach" come to mind. And those also happen to be some of my favorite episodes! The closest thing we get in The Legend of Korra is "The Spirit of Competition" with the whole Korra/Bolin/Mako/Asami love trapezoid thing happening. But where are episodes built around side characters? Much like "Sokka's Master," where's Bolin's solo episode? How about an episode centered around the airbending children? Or totally centered around Lin? Hell, I think a Mako centered episode might have been the most needed: a chance to dive more into his tragic backstory and show how he and his brother got to where they are. That would have been awesome! True, we probably will have more time for that in the coming seasons, but having a greater connection to the characters through these types of episodes would have really helped in upping the drama in Amon's "Endgame." With those extra episodes thrown in we wouldn't have been able to defeat Amon by the end of the first season, but it would definitely have helped flesh out these characters, of which I definitely want to see more of. Hey that's a good segway to...

I like... These Awesome New Characters

If you're going to have an entirely new cast of characters for your sequel series, you better be damn sure they're good, interesting characters. And for the most part in The Legend of Korra, they are. Let me put it this way: the characters I liked, I really liked. They did a great job writing Korra as the main protagonist. Her personality was likeable, and yet not overbearing. The problems she faced seemed real and relatable like her frustration in not learning airbending in "A Leaf in the Wind" or her personal fear of Amon in "The Voice in the Night." These are real problems of overcoming fears and struggling to learn a new talent that I'm sure many, many people can relate to. Tenzin might be my favorite supporting character as a stark, serious counter to his father's playful teachings and his exhaustion at building a family of ruckus flying children is incredibly entertaining. And that only gets more interesting when you throw the show's biggest badass, Lin Beifong, into the mix, explaining exactly what her issue is with Tenzin. It makes watching these character's interactions so interesting and amusing. When written properly, there's nothing better...but on the other hand...

I didn't like... the "Perfect" Characters

Little known fact: Asami started out as a model for L'Oréal 
Ok, this might be my biggest gripe with the show, and I'm referring mostly to Asami Sato. Oh my God, what a poorly written character this is. Some characters got dull overtime, like Mako, and some characters were never really given anything of value to do, like Bolin, but with Asami I was always waiting and wanting for her to be interesting...and she never was. Looking online I can see that a lot of fans aren't big on her because they ruin the oh-so-perfect and juicy relationship opportunities of Korra and Mako, but that's preteen fanfic bullshit that I don't give a rat's ass about. What I do hate Asami for is being "perfect." Seriously folks. She's perfect. Name one negative flaw about her personality. You can't. There is none. And that is more boring then watching paint dry. You need characters with flaws, otherwise your characters seem unrealistic. And no, writers, having bad things happen to your character doesn't make up for their lack of flaws. You can kill off her mother, have her father betray her, take away her family fortune, and have her boyfriend cheat on her all you want. If the character is not interesting, then I have to try really, really hard to care even the tiniest of bits for her. Hell, just make Asami a double agent for The Equalists! If that whole confrontation with her father was staged and it was all a ploy to get to the Avatar, suddenly her character has depth. And what if Asami felt remorse for her actions, and admitted that she really did develop strong feelings for Mako, all of a sudden this character becomes abundantly more interesting because of her flaws. But alas, the Mary-Sue character of Asami isn't the only one at fault here...we also have General Fan Servis...I mean...Iroh...

...I mean, Iroh...whatever...
Much like Asami, this is a character who is unreasonably perfect and is unquestionably awesome at everything right away, but unlike Asami  I can let that slide since he did only appear in a handfull of episodes at the end of the season, and arguably didn't have time to develop his character properly. What I can't forgive is his impressive lack of a personality. I think we're supposed to automatically connect to him because he's named after a fan favorite character (and one of my favorite characters ever written, Uncle Iroh) and he bares a striking resemblance to Zuko (as well as sharing the voice actor Dante Basco.) But he's not supposed to be either of these characters, nor do I want him to be, and yet the writers do nothing to give him a personality of his own other than "he's a good guy." The fact they're serving me this dull half-assed character who is dripping with fan servis and expecting me to love him automatically is almost insulting. The only thing stopping me from writing this guy right off, again, is the slim chance that we might expand upon his character and actually make him interesting in season 2. But first impressions do count for a lot, and my frist impression of this guy is that he's frighteningly boring.

I liked... The Sounds

I mentioned before the return of voice actor Dante Basco to voice the new General Iroh, and aside from his distractingly familiar voice being miscast in this role, I can safely say that all other voice acting within this show is top notch. Even my other hated character, Asami, has a wonderful voice actor in the roll! Janet Varney as Korra, J.K. Simmons as Tenzin: everyone was justly casted! But special mention should go out to Bolin's voice actor, P.J. Byrne. His free flowing ramblings as Bolin added so much personality and like-ability to the character, it's hard to imagine anyone else in the roll. It felt very natural.
Quality voice acting is quality
And Track Team returned. Oh, how I have so much love for Track Team: the duo who worked on the sound effects and music for the original series. They're back, and have upped the quality of the music this time around, probably with a higher budget I imagine. I wish Nickelodeon would just dump a wheelbarrow of money on Track Team's front lawn and just have them come up with amazing sounds. Not much else to say here, but I love em.

I didn't like... Plastic Surgery

Really....really?! Ok, this one is clearly me picking nits here, but plastic surgery? I know technology has progressed in the show, and I like that. I like having the race cars, the radios, the newspapers, the telephones, even the giant robotic suits of armour I'm willing to let slide. But giving the character of Yakone plastic surgery didn't feel right. Yes, I know cosmetic surgery did exist in the 1920s (which this show draws most of it's time periode from,) but I'm more upset with the lazy writing. The big reveal on Amon's identity hinged on the character of Yakone, and this was a lazy way to get him where they needed him to make that big reveal make sense. Hell, if you took this detail completely away, nothing would have been lost. He's moving to the end of the world anyway! Who's going to notice him? Again, this obviously wasn't a deal breaker, but it did strike me as a bit irritating. 

I liked... Similar Yet Different

I mentioned this in my first impressions of The Legend of Korra, and I stand by it. The best way to write a sequel is to make it similar yet different, and that's exactly what Legend of Korra did. It wasn't a rehash of the plot of the original series, yet a lot of the themes were the same. The show did get darker in tone, but the sense of humour and adventure remained the same. The setting became more modern and technologically advanced, but the awesome ancient art of elemental martial arts remained. You get the picture. It's a natural evolution that a franchise needs to take, and that really helps broaden this universe, making it seem epic and grand. Personally, I can't wait to see more of it...even though...

I disliked... That Everything Was Resolved

The season finale "Endgame" was indeed epic in scale, but as for resolving all the problems that faced Korra during the course of the season? I wouldn't say it was successfully in it's execution, or very satisfying. Believe me, I was all for Korra to kick some serious ass in the season finale. I gasped with horror as Amon took away Korra's bending. I cheered with glee when she finally unleashed a fury of airbending! And I reveled in the moment when Amon was exposed as a fraud infront of all of his followers!

"Sensational!" I said to myself , "I certainly can't wait to see what Amon will do in season 2! He - ...oh...his brother just killed himself and took Amon with him...well, that was shocking! And unexpected! And dark! Bravo show! You have dashed my expectations once again! Now surely season 2 will deal with the fallout of Korra not being able to use her... oh... Aang popped out of nowhere and handed back all your powers? And you can also go into the Avatar state? Like it's no biggy? Oh...well...ok, then season 2 will deal with all the other benders who had their powers taken away! I can't wait to see what Lin would be like without... magically all of a sudden can restore other people's powers too? ...ok...well, at least there's that unresolved romantic tension between Korra and Mako - AH GODDAMN IT!!"
...damn those hormones...

You see where I'm coming from? Everything turned from hopeless to perfect in 5 minutes. Again: lazy writing. If this was the end of the series, maybe it would be acceptable...maybe. But by this time they already knew they had a second season! Why the rush and give Korra the power to restore bending and resolve everything in such a rushed fashion? A power she never had to work for or earn by the way, unlike that satisfying moment where she finally could airbend. And if the show ended just a bit sooner, with Aang appearing to Korra, I would have gone ga-ga over the finale. I never thought I'd be saying this, but they needed a cliff hanger. They're important! They build hype, and give you a promise of things to come.  But as it stands now, my excitement has decreased in watching the second season

Sup. Avatars here. Here to lazily wrap up season 1.
That's not to say I won't watch the second season! Hell no! I'll be there with bells on! And I'm sure with a season called "Spirits" we're bound to get some awesome, awesome episodes with spirit world shenanigans. And hopefully it'll be even better then this season, which apart from my rantings, was very awesome. Personally I'm hoping for Ko, the face stealer to make another appearance...OH! And more Commander Bumi. Make it happen, Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, and all will be forgiven.  

Here's looking forward to season 2!

- Moo