Moana (4.5 Stars)
Moana, released in 2016, is unequivocally the best animated movie Disney has released this century. The story follows Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), the daughter of the chief on the Polynesian island of Motunui. When a curse begins to wreak havoc on the tribe, Moana answers the call of the ocean and sets out on a voyage to track down the demi god, Maui (Dwayne Johnson), and set things right. What elevates this animated story from the countless that have come before is its lead character. Moana is a fully fleshed out central figure that carries the story at every turn. She is a strong independent female protagonist who kicks butt and doesn’t need a love interest, serving as a welcome addition to the Disney princess canon. Coupled with Dwayne Johnson who gives a solid comedic performance and Heihei, a scene stealing chicken, the film generates some fun and memorable moments. With a soundtrack brimming with catchy tunes(aside from 1 subpar entry), thrilling action, colorful visuals, and a unique climax, this is a film hitting on every level. Moana is a creative take on the classic Hero’s Journey that expertly utilizes an incredible soundtrack and amusing supporting characters, resulting in a joyous adventure that serves as one of the most rewatchable films in recent memory.
Zootopia (4 Stars)
Zootopia, released in 2016, is a creatively intelligent story that succeeds in crafting strong lead character arcs, as well as thought provoking themes. In this world of anthropomorphic animals, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is an idealistic rookie bunny cop new to the urban community of Zootopia. Her first real case finds her forced to team up with Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a cynical fox con artist to uncover a potential conspiracy. The film boasts a great ensemble of voice performers that includes Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Octavia Spencer, Nate Torrence, Shakira, and J.K. Simmons. Together, every member contributes to provide an authentic feel to this fictional, but grounded world. The strong screenplay provides less humor than is typically seen in a Disney animated film, but builds intrigue throughout and culminates in a clever finale. Overall, Zootopia is a smart film possessing an overt, yet important message. With a great premise, talking animals, and solid music, this is a film that will be enjoyed by everyone.
Inside Out (3.5 Stars)
Inside Out, released in 2015 is an emotionally mature film packed with plenty of zaniness, humor, and adventure. The film chronicles the childhood of a young girl named Riley(Kaitlyn Dias). As Riley grows, she develops emotions such as Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). Together, these personified emotions must help Riley navigate the trials and tribulations that accompany adolescence. Amy Poehler is perfectly cast as Joy, delivering some of her best work to date in the realm of cinema. Her natural pitch and demeanor translate wonderfully to the role. She is positioned as the centerpiece of the story and thoroughly engages with a pitch perfect take on happiness. Additionally, Phyllis Smith provides a spot-on sullen portrayal of sadness and Lewis Black wins the movie with an explosively scene stealing take on anger. The storyline gets a little flimsy at times, but the emotionally resonant themes shine bright throughout. Overall, Inside Out is a wholly original idea bolstered by enjoyable vocal performances. The story is sure to amuse children, while captivating adults.