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“The Muppets”
a review by Darby O’Gill

There are a few things that I like to think of as the building blocks of my childhood; The Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry, The Three Stooges, and The Little Rascals all played their part, but the one to play the biggest role had to be the Muppets! Allow me to better illustrate my life-long devotion to Jim Henson’s Muppets, if you will. My first soundtrack ever was The Muppet Movie, wait for it… on 8-track. Yes, I know I’m old. It was quickly followed by The Great Muppet Caper, also on 8-track. One of the fondest, and most vivid memories I have from my childhood, is the joy and excitement I would get at 7:30pm, once a week as the drum-roll and trumpets would sound over the rotating ITC Entertainment logo. That image and sound is forever etched into my brain. I remember my cousin taking me to see The Muppet Movie in the theater, just the two of us, because she had just gotten her driver’s license and she could. And when I got married, and my mother requested Kermit’s Rainbow Connection as our mother/son dance, I couldn’t have been more touched. As you can tell, the Muppets have played a huge role in my life, and to say the news of a new Muppet movie, back in the hands of Disney no less, made me nervous, would be a huge understatement.

In The Muppets, two brothers, Gary (Jason Segel) and Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), grow-up in a small town called Smalltown; only Gary is a real boy and Walter is, well a Muppet. There’s not really a lot of explanation for it, so I’m just going to move on. Walter naturally feels out of place in Smalltown, but that all changes after he sees his first episode of The Muppet Show! So, when Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) plan a romantic get away to Hollywood, it’s only natural that they invite Walter along to take a tour of the Muppet studios. But when they get there, the studio and theatre are in ruins. The Muppets are all but forgotten, as all that seems to remain is a sad little tour. It’s on the tour that Walter overhears an oil tycoon’s, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), plan to buy the land and drill for oil. Walter seeks out Kermit the Frog to help him bring the Muppets back together again, and hopefully save the studio in time!

I really wanted to love this movie. I went in with high hopes and wary expectations, but ended up coming out with the same mixed emotions. I really disliked the first half of the film. The thing that makes a good Muppet movie is that the story is being told around the Muppets and their interaction with the people in the real world. The first part of this movie deals with the people and not the Muppets. I understand that that’s just how the filmmakers chose to tell the story, but I just didn’t like it. I think it’s also why The Muppets Take Manhattan is my least favorite of the original movies. Also, the musical numbers are forced and way too over the top. One of the nicest things in the first two movies is the way the music just flows with the story, and sadly that doesn’t happen here. This brings us to the second half of the movie, where the Muppets regroup and hold a last-minute telethon to help save the studio. Now this is the movie I wanted to see! The eye to detail, and love and care that went into bringing The Muppet Show back to life is heart-warming. I fell in love with the second half of this movie! I know that Muppet co-creator Frank Oz walked away from this project, because he disagreed with the way some of the characters were being handled, and that the Muppets were never about money. I agree with him, but I’m also guessing that he was referring to the earlier rendition of the script, which was quickly panned by many of those that got to read it. In the final version of the film, I don’t really have a problem with it. The Muppets aren’t really raising money for themselves, as much as they’re doing it to help save their studio. Some people are also complaining that Kermit is depicted as a Hollywood mogul in the movie, but I think they forget that he was in fact the executive producer of The Muppet Show. He ran the show from his little table just off stage, and was in charge of all the guests. I think the movie nailed the spirit of the old show, and hopefully gets a whole new generation to watch them now on DVD. In closing, there were just two things I would have liked to have seen: 1) I would have loved it if they had found a Fraggle hole in the basement of the studio, and 2) If the marketing people would have gotten McDonald’s to release a new set of Muppet drinking glasses, that would have been AMAZING!

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“Tangled”
a review by Darby O’Gill

Just when you thought Disney was all out of princesses, Rapunzel lets down her hair and pulls out another hit. Tangled marks the 50th installment of the Walt Disney Animated Classics series, and even though it might not be one of the best, it definitely doesn’t disappoint. I think it’s safe to say that Pixar and DreamWorks Animation have clearly stolen a lot of Disney’s animated thunder over the last few years, but why is that? It might just be a sign of the times, but I don’t think computer animation has anything to do with it. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought Tangled was a completely computer animated film, which it is sort of. They used both hand-drawn and CGI techniques to help bring Tangled to life. I don’t think the look really matters though, and when it comes down to it, it’s not the animation style that makes a great movie. It helps, but the story itself is what really brings an animated tale to life. Okay, well when you say it like that you do sound kind of stupid. What I mean to say is that the story is what connects to the audience and ultimately holds their interest. If you took one of the Toy Story movies and remade it word for word with the old school hand-drawn animation, I would be willing to bet it would still be one of the best animated movies of all time!

In Tangled, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) was born with magical hair, and when she was just a baby, she was kidnapped by an old hermit lady who knew of her hair’s magical powers. She then locked Rapunzel away in a tower, raised her as her own, and for eighteen years told her of the dangers of the outside world, keeping her an unknowing prisoner. That is until the dangerous outside world came to her. When the outlaw Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi) decides to use her nicely isolated tower as a hiding place to lay low after stealing a priceless item from the castle, he not only is shocked to find someone living there, but quickly finds himself being blackmailed into playing tour guide for Rapunzel’s first outing into the world.

The movie has some great moments and fantastic animation in it, but it also has musical numbers as well. The music is good, but it doesn’t have that unity that the other Disney animated classics of the 90’s use to have, like Aladdin and The Lion King. The songs in Tangled almost seem out of place at times, and even forced. I’m not a big fan of musicals, but I was a big fan of those older Disney films, so I’m not exactly sure what the difference is here. Not that it effects the enjoyment of movie, it’s just noticeable. The musical numbers don’t seem to flow with the storytelling here. In The Little Mermaid, you almost didn’t even realize the musical numbers were happening at times. Music aside, the humor in Tangled is really fun! Not too goofy, but it does have its moments. The storyline is clean for the most part, with the exception of a few holes, but overall Tangled is a nice addition to the Disney legacy.

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“Toy Story 3”
a review by Darby O’Gill

First they were lost, then they were stolen, and now forgotten; but thankfully for us, Pixar has not forgotten their roots. Back in 1995, Pixar released their first feature length film, Toy Story, and to say it was a game changer would be somewhat of an understatement. In the last 15 years, Pixar has racked-up 249 various awards out of 487 nominations. But, in the end they’ve proven one thing more than anything else, and that is that even an animated cartoon can make you care enough to cry. I’m not kidding. The amount of sniffs and snorts around me in the last fifteen minutes of this movie was almost deafening. Pixar’s sense of story has always set them apart, but their true sense of artistry and artistic vision complete the package in a way that others can only dream of. I went to a private art school, and was there when the first Toy Story came out. While I was there, I was completely surrounded by art and creative people, and there was this sense of breaking boundaries every day, a feeling that you would think I’d still feel in Hollywood; but sadly it’s not the same. I realized that when I was watching Toy Story 3. Each Pixar movie always opens with a short, and they have always made me think of art school, but “Day & Night,” the new short attached to Toy Story 3, really made me realize that I don’t have that creativity around me any more. It also helped to transport me back to that way of thinking I had back when the first Toy Story came out so many years ago. Thanks for indulging me, and playing my therapist for a moment, but maybe we should get to the review.

In Toy Story 3, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and the rest of the gang, are back and facing possible retirement. With Andy getting ready to leave home for college, the toys are faced with the fate of life in the attic, or even the possibility of being trashed! The one thing I always do love about the Toy Story movies is their ability to give their storylines these great double entendres that speak to children and adults alike. Much like the other two movies, after a misunderstanding, the toys have to find their way home, and try not to be seen in the process. You know, when you say it like that, you can’t help but realize that all three movies are basically the same in structure. But, that’s what makes Pixar so great! They can take brand new storylines, using the same structure, and yet you feel like you’re seeing something you’ve never seen before. Toy Story 3 is full of those wonderful moments that remind you of being a kid. Hands down my favorite moment is the barrel of monkeys atomic blast, pure genius. The one thing I think Toy Story 3 proves, is that when a movie is made for the right reasons, they can truly work, and still make the studio more than enough money. Pixar doesn’t just make a sequel to cash-in on the last film’s success. That’s something I wish the Shrek franchise would have realized, because the first movie was unbelievably creative, and could have easily have had the same success with their sequels as the Toy Story franchise if they had. You can clearly tell that if the story wasn’t worth telling in Toy Story 3, they wouldn’t have made the movie. I really enjoyed this, the possibly last story in the Toy Story saga, but I’m sure if we see them again, it will be for all the right reasons.

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