‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

After thirteen years, James Cameron has returned with Avatar: The Way of Water. In 2009, Cameron changed the cinematic experience with the technological advancements he pushed for while making Avatar. The motion capture and special effects became lifelike. On top of that, it was the rebirth of 3D, as he placed you in the world of Pandora. Cameron created a visual spectacle that also changed the genre of science fiction. 3D became a staple after, but no one could ever match his breathtaking visuals or the VFX work. Cameron raises the bar again with the sequel, as the visuals appear even more polished than before, and it feels as if the characters are real. The sequel is gorgeous, but it suffers from a weak script and an emotional disconnect between these characters. 

There’s a montage of Jake Sully’s (Sam Worthington) life with his children and Neytiri (Zoë Saldana) on Pandora. And they soon find out that there is a familiar threat that is targeting them. The Sullys find a place to hide with the Metkayina Clan, who are one with the sea. The choices made by Sully and his children throughout this film are questionable and cause confusion. As the Sullys adapt to the traditions of the water tribe, the looming threat continues to move closer, thus feeling a bit like a carbon copy of the first one with new characters. As Sullys children explore the water tribe, they keep getting into trouble. We don’t get a loving family unit, which should have been the beating heart of this film. They keep mentioning that their family unit is strong, yet we only see the kids get reprimanded the entire runtime. 

The exploration of Metkayina Clan is stunning, as Cameron’s visuals in the water world completely take you into another universe. They spend time in the water and learn about the creatures within it. Cameron incorporates the skills from both tribes and plays to their strengths when exploring the ocean. The creatures are also beautifully designed, and it was so impressive to see what Cameron came up with. The whole second act has Sully’s children learning the way of the water from the Metkayina Clan. It looked magical whenever they were in the water, and the VFX was extremely well done. Even the way the action scenes were executed felt more fast-paced than usual because of the double frame rate in the water. This is another technical achievement for Cameron and a visual spectacle that we haven’t experienced in over a decade. 

Avatar: The Way of Water visually exceeds expectations in every single way. James Cameron is the only one who can push the boundaries with this franchise to see technology raised to new heights. However, the story suffers and feels like a recycled version of the first instalment. There is no emotional connection to these characters or this family because their family dynamic was rushed. Out of a three-hour runtime, it felt like we did not spend any time with the family. There was an obstacle to overcome in almost every other scene, which only divided the family unit even more. There were subplots introduced but also dropped. It felt like there was no time, yet it also felt like they could have explored so much more. There could have been much more depth to this sequel, but sadly it was more style over substance. The focus is more on technological achievement than the development of the world and its characters. 

‘Strange World’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Walt Disney Animation has been developing unique stories for family-friendly years. Whether it’s about romance, adventure, or family, there have always been stories many can connect with. There are many Walt Disney Animation Studio releases, and Strange World is unique because it has one of the best family dynamics in the library. Writer Qui Nguyen wanted to explore the relationship between a father and son with Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) and Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal). Jaeger is a famous explorer who wants to teach his son to be just like him. But one day, when they go exploring, Searcher becomes more invested in the ecosystem surrounding their city. He finds this glowing plant with energy flowing through it. He thinks about the long-term effects of farming it. Instead, his father pushes ahead to see what is on the other side of the mountains they’d spent years trying to cross. At that moment, Jaeger felt like he had lost his son because he didn’t want to move forward with him and his interests. This had a long-lasting effect on Searcher because he felt like he was never good enough. 

The film highlights the generational trauma that can be passed down from parent to child in an almost vicious cycle. Sometimes parents can take insecurities and project them onto their children. Other times parents can be exactly like their parents after trying incredibly hard not to turn out like them. Children battle with their parents at a young age over wanting to be an individual and not an extension of their parents. That is when the perception of a parent of their child begins to change. A child isn’t brought into this world for parents to fix the issues they couldn’t heal from in their childhood. This runs throughout the film with Searcher and his son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White). Once Searcher finds some pests in his crops, he ventures to the outskirts of Avalonia to get to the root of the problem. During this adventure, Searcher wants Ethan to learn the farming ways with him. As Ethan explores with his father, he understands that he has a different perspective on living organisms than his father. Ethan has discussions with his father about whom he wants to be and what he wants to do. And Searcher has flashbacks to his life with his father that begin to haunt him. 

There is a focus on generational trauma and how it can affect children, but director Don Hall also crafts a delightful adventure. Walt Disney Animation Studios has made its 3D technology so life-like that it felt like an old-time adventure. Jaeger Clade was presented as a legend and comic book hero for Avalonia for discoveries, while Searcher was treated as a resourceful hero for his farming. This original action adventure is fast-paced and fun to watch because of the lengths the Clades go to for their fulfilment. There is never a dull moment, and that is because the characters of Searcher, Ethan, and his mom Meridian (Gabrielle Union), are a fun-loving, cohesive family unit that brings the laughs. Ethan is also one of the first openly queer Disney characters. And for once, the story doesn’t surround the fact that he is. It’s natural for him to have a crush on a boy and openly discuss it with his family. The importance of acceptance within this family unit is what the world needs right now. They also shift focus on the individuality of Ethan’s career and his path in life, which is a far more interesting thread to pull on when speaking on lineage. 

Strange World is an ode to adventure films that have been dearly missed over the years. The presence of Jaeger Clade will make audiences feel nostalgic because of his passion for exploring. It was impressive the way Nguyen layered the construction of Avalonia. He revealed the twist at the opportune moment. The world-building in this film is wonderful to explore with the characters. And the adorable creatures all fit into a larger perception of the world they live in. It is action-packed, the pacing is strong, and the score by Henry Jackman pulls you into the adventure with the characters. The beauty of exploration is shown in this film, and the audience gets to learn with the characters. This is a film the whole family can enjoy, and the Clades will most likely become one of the most loved families in the Disney library. They are so different from each other, yet they blend into the most endearing family unit. The film will be released on Wednesday, November 23rd, in theatres. 

‘Disenchanted’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Fairytales have always been an important part of pop culture, especially when we were children. The idea that anyone can break into a song and express their true feelings is what makes them magical. The characters have always been virtuous, loving, and empathetic towards others to have kindness overpower any form of hatred. There is just something special and heartwarming about fairytales that other romances do not have. Disney princesses have always been a staple in everyone’s lives, and Gisele (Amy Adams) from Andalasia certainly made her mark. Ingrid Werner who makes her acting debut in Disenchanted has her own reasons as to why fairytales can resonate with everyone,

“I enjoy them because while it’s like very fantastical storylines, I enjoy being taken out of reality for a moment in time, and kind of escape a little bit. It also grounded in real morals and stories, and when you peel away the fantastical elements, it’s all there to teach us something or make us realize something about ourselves or even society.”

Ingrid Werner, Disenchanted

Fairytales can come in all forms and it’s bold to make some changes to their structure. Uprooting an animated princess in a fairytale world and placing her in one of the rudest cities known to man was a choice. Adams was an absolute delight as the excitable and ever-so-loving Gisele, who wanted to spread all the love and kindness wherever she went. Here, Gisele learned from the people around her and made a grumpy middle-aged man into someone warm and kind. 

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

The sequel Disenchanted offers a different take on a fairytale. Gisele has now built a family with Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey) and Morgan Philip (Gabriella Baldacchino) but she still feels something is missing. The magic in her life has turned into something different with her newborn child, and she misses the fairytale world that she came from. One could consider this a midlife crisis for a princess, which seems attractive at first. However, as the story goes on, it changes from a fairytale into a nightmare for Gisele. There’s a comment made by Morgan after moving to a new part of town that felt homier for Gisele, and she calls her, “stepmother”. After being with her since she was born, Gisele was hurt by this comment. She finds this magical wand with some help and she makes one wish to make her life more of a fairytale. Since she had Morgan’s comment in mind, her fairytale slowly turns wicked. After waiting over a decade to see our cheerful Gisele back on screen, it was a bit disheartening to see her go in a darker direction.

There is no issue with Amy Adams’s performance, as she completely nailed the descent into the wicked stepmother, but it felt like we didn’t get enough time with Gisele. The film of course is extravagant and the wonderful music by Alan Menken made the musical numbers worthwhile, but it just felt a bit empty because the attachment to Gisele was lost in the fold. Sure, it felt nostalgic and the development of the mother/daughter storyline with Gisele and Morgan was touching in the end, but it felt disjointed. The songs were not as memorable as the one’s in the first and it feels like a disservice to the wonderful character of Gisele. It’s hard to enjoy a sequel that is so focused on changing the lead character to make it a bit more interesting so it’s not a repeat of the first instalment. The cast is lovely and Maya Rudolph had some strong moments, the song “Badder” is probably one of the best moments between her and Adams. It sadly felt like a sequel with no clear direction in where they wanted Gisele to go. Of course, it was wonderful to see Adams in the role again, but it didn’t do anything for the character. 

(L-R): Amy Adams as Giselle and Maya Rudolph as Malvina Monroe in Disney’s live-action DISENCHANTED, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Jonathan Hession. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

When asked about the change in storytelling over the years in Disney films, Werner expressed that the films have changed drastically and it’s because we as an audience don’t buy into the magic of the storylines anymore. The world has changed our perception of everything and we are no longer looking at it through rose-coloured glasses,

“I’m of the generation where we all bought into the fairytale and you find your happily ever after. Right? Now, there are a lot more inclusive storylines, and I love the new princesses that came out in the last 10 years. It’s just really interesting stories and I love that they keep finding new things to create. But also the stories have a bit more dark elements to them, but I feel like now they’re dealing with real world problems, but in a fairy tale perspective.”

– Ingrid Werner, Disenchanted

Disenchanted may look and feel extravagant because of the production design, costuming, and musical numbers, but at its core, it feels a bit hollow. There just wasn’t the same magic that was there in the first instalment. It’s sometimes hard to recapture the same feeling in sequels, especially those that come a decade after their predecessor. Adams plays the dual role incredibly well, and she proves again that she is one of the best actresses of our generation. It comes down to the writing and the direction they decided to take the story. Just because it looks magical, doesn’t mean the story matches that level. There are small moments that creep through that work, but it takes a while to get into the story and when that happens, it’s too late. The expectations were high for this sequel, especially because Gisele is one of Adams’s best characters. It is the one that put her on the map and made people recognize how much talent she has. The film is now streaming on Disney Plus and is still worth watching if you’re a fan of the first one.

‘Lightyear’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

“To infinity… and beyond!” 

For those born in 1995 (like myself), Toy Story was something special. Our generation grew up with Andy and his toys. So to see this franchise get bigger and better as the years go on is great. Lightyear has been a long time coming and it makes sense for the Buzz Lightyear toy to have his origin story displayed on the big screen. Yes, this film is made for everyone, but it also felt oddly personal for 90s babies. Maybe, I’m just an emotional person when it comes to Pixar, but this just felt different. It was a weird mix of nostalgia and a brand new story for the Buzz we know and love. What worked so well is that the Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story and the Buzz Lightyear in his origin story both had the same character development. Those callbacks to the toy version made Lightyear special. 

In his original adventure, Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) embarks on an intergalactic adventure with a group of ambitious recruits and his robot companion. The story is straightforward and has many obstacles for Buzz along the way. Lightyear is dedicated to the Space Ranger program and thinks that is what defines him at the beginning of this film. He has his best friend, Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) who is with him every step of the way. And in true Pixar fashion, within seconds, we understand how strong their friendship is. Some beautiful, heartfelt moments between the characters show the importance of having the right support system around you. Once, Alisha’s granddaughter Izzy Hawthorne (Keke Palmer) comes into the mix, the pressure of fulfilling a legacy is also shown. In a way, Izzy and Buzz both help each other understand their place in the world. 

Naturally, when we think of Buzz Lightyear, we think of Tim Allen. But now, hearing Chris Evans voice the original character that the toy is based on, it’s impossible to hear anyone else. Evans has always wanted to be in a Pixar movie and having him play one of the most iconic Pixar characters is perfect casting. Voice acting can be difficult because of the line delivery, but Evans made it seem effortless. It’s almost like you could see him saying the lines as we saw Buzz on screen. He was so expressive and just so wonderful as Lightyear. This works because Evans is such a likable actor and Buzz is an iconic character, so it feels like a comforting combination. Similar to Evans, Keke Palmer was a joy to watch as Izzy and she matched Evans’s energy. Having both of them on two different journeys with one common connection made for an interesting dynamic.

Lightyear has stunning animation that will take you into space with Buzz Lightyear. Pixar has perfected its animation and it has gotten to the point where it seems so lifelike. The scenes in space, especially on an IMAX screen feel so epic in scale. Animation can always push the boundary a bit more than live-action and that’s why it added a different feeling when watching this on the big screen. Even though the story may feel a bit generic, the emotional connection with Buzz and the Hawthornes moves the story along. The one character that will be everyone’s favourite after watching this movie is Sox. He is a little robotic cat, that Alisha got for him as his emotional space companion. Buzz learns to love Sox and the two of them make a great pairing throughout the film. This movie is fun for the whole family and is something old Toy Story fans will appreciate because it will make them feel like a kid again. 

Lightyear will be released in theatres Friday, June 17th. 

‘Sneakerella’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Everyone believes in something, and some people truly believe in fairytales. What Disney has taught young children everywhere is that if you do have a dream, you should always push forward and fight for what you want most. It’s not about the kingdom, or winning the affection of a prince or princess, it has always been about achieving your own personal goals, no matter what they may be. Of course, life comes with many obstacles that one must overcome, but those obstacles just make you stronger in the end. It’s nice to know that Disney will continue reworking these old fairytales to modernize them for a new generation. That way there’s always an appreciation for these wholesome, heartfelt stories.

In Sneakerella, we meet El (Chosen Jacobs), who is an aspiring sneaker designer from Queens. He works as a stock boy in the shoe store that once belonged to his late mother. He hides his artistic talent from his overburdened stepfather and two mean-spirited stepbrothers. When El meets Kira King (Lexi Underwood), the daughter of the legendary basketball star and sneaker tycoon Darius King (John Salley), sparks fly as the two of them bond over their mutual affinity for sneakers. With a little nudge from his best friend Sami (Devyn Nekoda) and a sprinkle of Fairy Godfather magic, El finds the courage to use his talent to pursue his dream of becoming a ‘legit’ sneaker designer in the industry.

The film caters to the talents of Chosen Jacobs, who will easily become a young Disney star. His voice, acting abilities, and great dance moves made him shine in every scene. Even though this film is reworked from the original story and slightly altered like A Cinderella Story was, it still felt original. It felt like a modern-day story that works in favour of new-age technology to get the classic story to work. The use of social media worked for the most part, but like any millennial, we know it’s easy to find someone by searching for them in every possible way, by using keywords. It worked and it didn’t, but it was still fun to watch. Jacobs and Underwood had really sweet chemistry, which made their duets adorable to watch.

Sneakerella had some strong moments because of the beautiful lyrics in the songs that were written specifically for this film. Even though the story of Cinderella has been remade over and over again, it was nice to see this modern take for a new generation. The link to El’s past with his mother being the heart of their neighbourhood carried emotional weight throughout the film. He just wanted to pursue his dream of making sneakers to make his mom proud and carry on her legacy in his way. It is heartfelt and sweet, even though the film does drag a bit in the last half. Some of the schemes went on for too long making the ending feel like a bit of a drag. The music and choreography are what make this film enjoyable and, of course, the performance from Chosen Jacobs.

Sneakerella premieres on Disney Plus on May 13th.