‘Raya And The Last Dragon’ Is A Surprisingly Positive Presentation From Disney

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Audiences looking for a worthwhile movie to watch last year had a hard time of things as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The pandemic forced the shutdown of countless movies in production around the world, and delayed the release of others that were already completed.  That extensive list of movies delayed due to the pandemic’s impact includes Walt Disney Studios’ latest CG-flick, Raya and the Last Dragon.  The movie was originally planned for release Nov. 25, 2020 (the week of Thanksgiving), but ended up making its theatrical debut months later, March 12, 2021.  More than two months later – May 18 to be exact — the movie has made its way to home audiences on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K UHD/BD combo pack.  The movie itself is just as enjoyable in its home release as in its theatrical release.  Its bonus content adds to that appeal.  Though at the same time, it also raises at least one concern that deserves some attention.  That concern will be addressed later.  The pacing of the story featured here works with the story itself to make for even more appeal  It will be discussed later, too.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the movie and its presentation in its new home presentation.  All things considered, they make Raya and the Last Dragon a surprisingly welcome new offering from Disney.

Raya and the Last Dragon is a surprisingly welcome new offering from Walt Disney Studios.  The enjoyment comes in the fact that it is an original story.  It is not based on some book and is not yet another of the countless reboots that Disney has churned out in the past couple of years or so.  The story featured here centers on a young woman – Raya – who sets out on a quest to reassemble the “Dragon Gem” years after representatives of the nations of Kumandra fought over the gem and cracked it into multiple pieces, unwittingly freeing a group of evil beings known as the Druun.  The Druun turn everything they touch into stone, including Raya’s father.  That set-up leads to Raya’s quest, which is in her mind, solely focused on bringing her father back to life so to speak.  In the process, Raya meets Sisu, the last dragon, and a motley crew of friends from the nations of Kumandra.  Her new friends’ own strife, which was also caused by the Druun, leads her to increasingly realize the need to trust and to trust in the good in people.  While this (and the message of the need for unity and peace) is at the heart of the story, the movie’s creative heads do not allow any of that content to overpower the enjoyable action and adventure that makes up the rest of the story.  What’s more, the story does well in avoiding being just another coming-of-age tale (which is what Moana, Disney’s most recent “princess” movie, was).  Rather, it just culminates in Raya’s own personal realization and acceptance that she was limiting herself.  Given, that self realization is a familiar plot element that is used in other movies from other studios, but it is presented in a unique, fresh fashion here.  Keeping everything noted here in mind, the story featured in Raya and the Last Dragon serves as a strong starting point for the movie’s presentation.  It is just one part of what makes the movie so surprisingly positive.  The bonus content that accompanies the movie in its new home release enhances the viewing experience even more.

The bonus content featured in the home release of Raya and the Last Dragon is important to its new presentation because of the background that it provides to the story.  The background in question is largely the story of how the movie’s creative heads and cast overcame limitations brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic to make the movie still happen.  The cast and crew discuss working from home in the feature “Raya” Bringing It Home.”  They talk about the difficulties of trying to balance their work and home life as a result of being forced to work on the movie from home.  From the issue of everyone trying to log onto one of Disney’s systems all at once so as to work on the movie (risking bogging down the system), to dealing with the presence of family while working, to the very mental impact of having to stare at a computer screen for eight (and sometimes more) hours a day just to make the movie happen, the group addresses here, a variety of obstacles that it faced in bringing the story to life.  That alone makes for even more appreciation for the end product.

The noted bonus feature is just one of the key extras featured in the movie’s home release.  “We Are Kumandra” and “Martial Artists” serve to show the dedication that all involved had to making the story true to its source material so to speak.  Viewers learn through “We Are Kumandra” that the movie’s creative heads and voice cast traveled to Southeast Asia pre-pandemic as part of the movie’s pre-production to lean about the culture of the region so as to properly and accurately display it on screen.  “Martial Artists” meanwhile profiles the martial arts expert who displayed the martial arts used across Southeast Asia for the fight scenes.  Again, here is an example of the movie’s creative heads making sure the region, its people, and culture were honestly and honorably displayed.  This is hardly the first time that a Disney movie and its staff have gone to such lengths to make one of its movies as accurate as possible.  It just shows even more, that continued dedication.  That, in turn, leads to even more appreciation for the movie.

On yet another note, the deleted scenes bonus are important to the overall presentation, too.  They are important because in watching them, viewers will agree that they are scenes that were not needed considering what made the final cut versus that content.  What’s more, that the deleted scenes show the Druun as some kind of supernatural entity type creature that can inhabit suits of armor and become evil warriors is also troubling.  It creates the sense of some kind of anime type presentation, especially as Raya uses her sword (which is also part axe in the deleted scenes) to break through the Druun’s armor and “kill” them.  The more subdued use of the Druun in the final product is so much better by comparison.  So here again is more proof of the positive impact of the bonus content. 

As a final touch, the “Taste of Raya” virtual dinner adds its own touch to the bonus content.  The cast and creative heads enjoy a virtual dinner via Zoom as they talk about the work that went into the movie’s creation.  The dinner in question features real Southeast Asian dishes as part of the event. Learning about those dishes and the importance of the representation of Asian culture and peoples in the movie industry adds its own touch to the presentation.  All things considered, the bonus content featured in this movie adds quite a bit of engagement and entertainment to the movie and the viewing experience.

While the bonus content featured with the movie’s home release is its own overall positive, there is a concern tied to the bonus content.  That concern comes in the reality that it is not featured in the movie’s DVD presentation.  That is the only platform on which it is not presented.  This leads one to feel that this is Disney trying to force viewers who want to watch the bonus content to have to pay even more mainly for that content.  This is hardly the first time that Disney has gone this route, either.  Keeping that in mind, it makes for even more frustration toward Disney on top of the frustration already caused by the company basically double charging viewers to watch certain movies on its streaming service, Disney+.  It paints Disney even more as a company that cares more about money than the audiences.  Maybe one day, Disney’s officials will come to their senses about all of this.  In the meantime, audiences who want to watch the movie’s bonus content will have to pay anywhere from $25-$30 (and more counting sales tax).  Even with that in mind, it thankfully is not enough to make the movie’s home presentation a failure.  It is just something that really needs to be addressed by Disney.  The pacing of the movie’s story rounds out its most important elements.

Raya and the Last Dragon clocks in at one hour, 47 minutes.  That is just under the two hour mark.  For families with young children, that is important to note because of the attention span of those younger viewers.  Thankfully, the movie’s creative heads must have taken that into consideration.  That is because even at that run time, the story moves along at a relatively stable pace.  Even in the “slower” moments in which Raya and her growing group are on board Boun’s boat, the story manages to make the dialogue engaging and entertaining.   The result of that solid pacing is that audiences of all ages will remain engaged and entertained throughout.  That maintained engagement and entertainment results in that much more enjoyment in and appreciation for the original, action-filled story.  That, coupled with the engagement and entertainment ensured through the movie’s bonus content, makes the overall presentation a rare positive presentation from Disney that actually deserves a spot among this year’s best new movies.

Walt Disney Studios’ movie Raya and the Last Dragon is a surprisingly enjoyable offering from the studio.  That is due in part to its featured story.  The story is an original work that follows a young woman’s quest to bring her father back to life.  In the process, she learns a valuable lesson about trust and trusting in the good in people.  The story also incorporates an equally important message about the need for peace and unity.  This is all done without either aspect becoming preachy, and overpowering the rest of the story.  What’s more, the story does not just rehash Moana’s whole coming-of-age story.  All things considered here, the story proves to be a solid starting point for the movie.  The bonus content that accompanies the movie in its home release adds its own enjoyment to the viewing experience.  That is because of the background that it offers audiences.  The story’s pacing rounds out the most important of its elements.  It ensures that even though the movie runs almost two hours, even young audiences will remain engaged and entertained throughout.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of this movie in its home release.  All things considered, they make the movie a surprisingly enjoyable offering from Disney.  Raya and the Last Dragon is available now on DVD, Blu-ray/DVD/Digital combo pack, and 4K UHD/BD/Digital combo pack.

More information on this and other titles from Disney is available online at:

Website: https://waltdisneystudios.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WaltDisneyStudios

Twitter: https://twitter.com/disneystudios

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‘Soul on a String’ Survives By More Than A Thread

Courtesy: Film Movement

Late last month, independent movie company Film Movement brought the Chinese epic Soul on a String to audiences when it released the movie domestically on DVD.  The movie, which originally debuted in its home nation June 15, 2016 and domestically Oct. 22, 2016 at the Chicago International Film Festival, is a an interesting cinematic experience.  It crosses elements of east and west for a story that makes the movie worth at least one watch.  The story will be discussed shortly.  While the story itself makes the movie worth at least one watch, its pacing sadly detracts quite a bit from the movie’s overall presentation.  It will be discussed later.  While it takes away quite a bit from the movie’s presentation, the movie’s stunning cinematography makes up for that pacing and makes it at least somewhat bearable.  It will be discussed later, too.  Each element is key to the overall presentation of Soul on a String.  All things considered, the movie survives by more than a thread.

China’s imported epic journey of self-discovery Soul on a String is one of 2017’s most intriguing independent home releases.  Released domestically by Film Movement, the movie follows one man’s journey of redemption as he tries to return a sacred stone to its rightful place.  If this sounds oddly familiar, it should.  Disney’s hit animated movie Moana presents a very similar story, just with some minor changes.  In the case of the latter movie, the protagonist is a young woman on a coming-of-age journey as she travels to return a sacred stone to its rightful place.  Considering that Soul on a String came along first (Moana debuted Nov. 23, 2016 domestically, roughly five months after Soul on a String debuted in China), one can’t help but wonder about the connection between the two.  Getting back on the subject at hand, the story at the center of Soul on a String is in itself reason enough to give this movie at least one watch.  Audiences will be moved by Tabei’s personal growth over the course of his journey.  He starts out a very reluctant figure, wanting nothing to do with the journey or his two unlikely companions who join him along the way.  However, as his journey progresses, Tabei becomes more welcoming of them and grows personally, accepting even more his journey and fate.  That growth over time makes the problematic pacing of the nearly two-and-a-half-hour movie almost bearable.  Speaking of that pacing, it is the movie’s one major negative.  It is a major issue for the movie’s presentation, too.

The pacing of Soul on a String’s story is the movie’s only real notable negative.  That may not seem like much on the surface, but in the grand scheme of the movie’s two hour, twenty-two minute run time, it is extremely problematic.  Obviously the story’s intent is to follow Tabei on his long journey.  However, the story’s pacing plods along at points nearly at a snail’s pace, making one quite encouraged to fast forward through those many points.  In defense of the movie’s writing team of Zhaxidawa and writer/director Yang Zhang, the movie’s oftentimes dragging pace could have been fully intentional as a means to illustrate the length of Tabei’s journey.  If that is the case, then it definitely leaves viewers feeling like they are right there on that expansive journey.  Regardless of whether or not that was the intent, the pacing’s problematic nature cannot be ignored.  That is especially the case when there is so little actual action to the story.  Luckily, as problematic as the story’s pacing is, it is not enough of a problem that it makes the movie unwatchable.  The movie’s cinematography makes that plodding pace at least somewhat bearable.

Soul on a String won the “Best Cinematography” award at the Shanghai International Film Festival last year at the film’s Chinese debut.  That win was fully justified, too.  From start to finish, those behind the cameras and those charged with putting those shots together did an exceptional job of setting each of the movie’s scenes.  The vast expanses with their rich colors (both on land and in sky) are visually stunning throughout the movie.  The same can be said of the tight canyons through which Chung and Pu are forced to travel late in the story.  Each scene harkens back to the American Westerns which the movie strives (and succeeds) to emulate.  As a matter of fact, it could easily be argued that the scenes established in this movie actually outdo those in their American counterparts.  Audiences will revel in the juxtaposition of the lake to the mountains in the story’s final act and the natural beauty of the countryside throughout Tabei’s journey.  All things considered, the visual aspect of Soul on a String is truly the movie’s cornerstone.  It makes this Chinese import worth watching even more than the epic journey of self-discovery at its heart.  Of course when both elements are set alongside one another, they make the movie’s pacing throughout an issue that while clearly problematic, is also at least somewhat bearable.  Keeping all of this in mind, Soul on a String proves to be an independent offering worth at least one watch and that survives by more than a thread.

Soul on a String is a work that while definitely not perfect, thanks to its pacing, is one that is worth at least one watch.  That is thanks to its story and cinematography, which collectively ensure viewers’ engagement at least through most of its nearly two-and-a-half-hour run time.  If not for the positives that both elements prove, the movie’s plodding pacing would have ultimately doomed it.  That–again-was not the case, though.  Since it wasn’t the case, the movie ultimately survives by more than a thread.  It is available now.  More information on this and other titles from Film Movement is available online now at:

 

Website: http://filmmovement.com

Facebookhttp://www.facebook.com/FilmMovement

  Twitterhttp://twitter.com/Film_Movement

 

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Voiceplay Releases New ‘Moana’ Medley Video

Fans of Disney’s hit movie Moana have new reason to celebrate.

A cappella outfit Voiceplay has just released a video of the group performing a medley of songs from the movie’s soundtrack via Yahoo! Music.  The group was joined by Broadway star Rachel Potter (The Addams Family, Evita) for the performance.

Courtesy: Reybee, Inc.

Voiceplay member Eli Jacobson discussed the new medley and its partnership with Potter for the video in a recent interview with Yahoo! Music’s Lyndsey Parker.  He said during the interview that developing its take on the songs and bringing Potter on for the project was natural.

“The music is just truly inspirational and we individually felt connections to the characters,” Jacobson said.  “We also all share the dream of providing music and voicing for an animated film and knew that Rachel would have a great take on Moana.  The fact that our kids and families love the music is just really just a huge plus.”

Potter said she was just as excited to work with Voiceplay as the group was to work with her.

“I was just so elated to get to do a Moana medley with these guys,” Potter said.  “It really captures the emotions throughout the entire film in just a few minutes and it’s something Jude (Potter’s son) and I can enjoy for years to come.”

Potter’s collaboration with Voiceplay on its new medley is not the first time that she has worked with the group.  She also worked with the quintet on The Phantom of the Opera and Charlie Puth’s Attention.   Voiceplay itself has already crafted a medley of popular Disney showtunes including numbers from The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and Aladdin as part of Disney’s celebration of its 20th anniversary on Broadway.

More information on Voiceplay’s new Moana medley is available online now along with all of the group’s latest news and more at:

 

 

 

Website: http://www.thevoiceplay.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/thevoiceplay

Twitter: http://twitter.com/thevoiceplay

 

 

 

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‘Moana’ Makes For An Enjoyable Occasional Watch

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Walt Disney Studios has gone to great lengths in recent years to attract young female audiences looking for something other than the standard damsel in distress stories.  New strong female leads such as Princess Elena (Elena of Avalor), Merida (Brave) and Elsa and Anna (Frozen) have proven those efforts have paid off.  The company’s take on Rapunzel (Tangled) could be argued either way.  Late last year, the House of Mouse brought its young female audiences another strong female role model in the form of Moana.  The Polynesian teen’s coming-of-age story proved to be a rousing success for Disney in terms of sales.  Now available on DVD and Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, the movie has proven to be just as much of a financial boon for the company.  As successful as it has performed, this latest teen-centric tale of self-realization and friendship is, in reality, not Disney’s best.  It is not a total loss, though.  That should be emphasized here.  That is due in part to its dual-pronged story.  That will be discussed shortly.  The story’s pacing does take away from the story, bogging it down more than once.  The movie’s bonus material should also be noted in examining its overall presentation.  That will be discussed at more length later, too.  Each element plays its own part in Moana’s overall presentation.  They show that while it is anything but Disney’s best, it is also not the studio’s worst effort either.  It is worth at least an occasional watch.

Walt Disney Studios’ latest animated adventure Moana is hardly the famed studio’s finest work.  To be fair, it is also not the company’s worst effort.  It is worth at least an occasional watch.  That is due in part to the movie’s dual-pronged story.  The most obvious of those two prongs is Moana’s own coming-of-age story.  After being told by her father not to go beyond the reef, she decides (on the advice of her grandmother) that she should make her own decision.  This leads her to strike out on her own adventure in an effort to save her island and its surrounding islands.  This story of self-actualization generates, in itself secondary messages about finding one’s own way in life, not being afraid to take chances, and so many other messages.  The movie’s writing staff is to be commended for the way in which they incorporated those messages into the central story without allowing them to overpower the script’s central story.  They are to be commended just as much for the balance of that central story with the secondary story of Maui’s turn from villain to hero.

The secondary story of Maui’s turn from villain to hero is just as commonplace in the cinematic realm as Moana’s coming-of-age tale.  As the pair journeys to return the heart of Taffiti Moana eventually leads Maui to realize the error of his ways, leading him to make a tough decision about himself and about personal sacrifice, leading him to atone for his past wrongs and become a hero.  It is, in its own right, its own coming-of-age story, just more in the avenue of self-actualization.  This story of personal growth is just as commonplace in the cinematic realm as Moana’s coming-of-age tale.  Yet somehow the script’s writing team was able to make both stories work.  That ability to make both stories so entertaining makes the movie’s writing team deserving of its share of applause.  At the same time though, that applause cannot be too loud.  That is due to the problem raised through the story’s pacing.

Moana’s writers are to be commended for joining two common-place cinematic stories and somehow balancing them.  They are to be commended, too for somehow taking at least a somewhat original approach to the all-too-familiar stories.  While the writers are to be commended for the efforts taken to make those stories work collectively and alone, they cannot be applauded too loudly.  That is because their efforts also led to a pacing problem that clearly bogs down the movie.  That pacing issue is evident early on as Moana is given the heart, only to lose it when she is caught by her father.  The problem here is that it meant the story had to take a lot of unnecessary time building up to Moana getting the heart back from a somewhat expected source all while she is growing up and finding her way all before she even embarks on her epic journey.  Once Moana finally gets her voyage, things pick back up a little, only to get bogged down again as she and Maui get randomly attacked by a bunch of mutant-type living coconut pirates.  Yes, mutant-type, living coconut pirates.  Sounds like the premise for a really bad 1950s B-sci-fi flick, right?  Once they escape the creatures’ (which conjure thoughts of the goombas from the Mario Brothers video game franchise) clutches, the story does pick up again, only to be bogged down yet again later as Maui (at least temporarily) deserts Moana—not to give away too much—before things pick up again in the story’s final act.  Considering the constant back and forth of the story’s pacing, keeping audiences engaged in the nearly two-hour movie is not easy.  That could potentially chalked up to the fact that it seems like the writers just threw together elements of past Disney offerings such as Aladdin, Hercules, and so many others and hoped they would make this story work.  They made the story’s dual-pronged approach work.  But they clearly caused problems in the story’s pacing.

The pacing of Moana’s dual-pronged story is a problem that cannot be ignored in examining the movie’s overall presentation.  The constant back and forth of the movie’s pacing makes maintaining audiences’ engagement (especially younger audiences) problematic.  Luckily, the efforts of the movie’s writing team to balance the stories and somehow make them at least somewhat original makes enduring the pacing problems easier.  Another element that makes up (at least somewhat) for the movie’s pacing is the bonus material included in the movie’s home release.  The movie’s key bonus feature is the documentary “Voices of the Islands.”  The roughly half-hour program takes viewers along with the movie’s heads to the South Pacific as they studied the Polynesian people and their culture ahead of the movie’s creation.  Audiences will be surprised to see how much of the region’s culture—from the importance of family and community to the importance of the coconut to even something as minor as the people’s hair style—plays directly into the movie in this program.  All of these discussions exhibit just how much time and work went into making the movie believable and that it properly paid tribute to the people on which it is centered.  It creates a new respect for the work put in to bring the story to life and is yet another example of how bonus features can make an otherwise forgettable flick more memorable and not the last.  The bonus ‘Gone Fishin’’ short that features Moana and Maui adds its own enjoyment to the movie’s overall presentation.  When the movie’s bonus material and its story are coupled together, they make the one negative of the movie’s pacing bearable.  The end result is a viewing experience that audiences of all ages will enjoy even with just the occasional watch.

Walt Disney Studios’ new animated movie Moana is not the studio’s best effort, nor is it the company’s worst offering.  It is a movie that is worth at least an occasional watch.  That is due in part to the balance in the movie’s dual-pronged story.  The story’s pacing is problematic.  There is no denying that, but luckily it is not so problematic that it makes the movie unwatchable.  The bonus material that is included in the movie’s home release gives audiences even more reason to give it a chance; especially the movie’s companion 30-minute “Voices of the Islands” documentary.  That bonus documentary, when coupled with the movie’s balanced two-part story, the two elements do plenty to make up for the movie’s pacing problems.  That combination makes the movie worth watching at least once in a while.  More information on Moana is available online now at:

 

 

 

Website: http://movies.disney.com/moana

 

 

 

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/disneymoana

 

 

 

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La La Land Is Phil’s Picks’ Most Laudable Movie Of 2016

Courtesy: Black Label Media/Gilbert Films/Impostor Pictures

Courtesy: Black Label Media/Gilbert Films/Impostor Pictures

The end is here.  2016 officially ends tonight.  So with the year’s end here, Phil’s Picks has one last year-ender before the clock strikes midnight and we welcome 2017.  That final list of the year is the year’s top new movies overall.  It includes both independent releases and theatrical releases.

One of the biggest surprises of the year was La La Land.  It is a breath of fresh air in a field of films overly crowded by prequels, sequels and remakes.  Little Men, another independent offering, is also in this list.  Sure, its premise isn’t overly new.  But at the same time, audiences don’t see a lot of movies with its premise about two young men becoming friends while their parents fight.  It sends a powerful message.  On the bigger stage, Dr. Strange and Star Wars: Rogue One are on the list along with Jason Bourne.

As a final reminder, the list includes both the Top 10 movie picks from Phil’s Picks plus five honorable mention titles for a total of 15 movies.  That being said, here for you is Phil’s Picks 2016 Top 10 New Movies list.

 

2016 PHIL’S PICKS 2016 TOP 10 NEW MOVIES

 

  1.  La La Land

 

  1. Fences

 

  1. Little Men

 

  1. Marguerite

 

  1. Zootopia

 

  1. Dr. Strange

 

  1. Jason Bourne

 

  1. Star Wars: Rogue One

 

  1. Moana

 

  1. Deadpool

 

  1. Star Trek Beyond

 

  1. Queen of Katwe

 

  1. The Edge of Seventeen

 

  1. Captain America: Civil War

 

  1. The Nice Guys

 

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