Oh sure, you got your buddy-buddy road movies that are a dime-a-dozen, but how about one set in a mythical, magical world where unicorns are scavengers that, like raccoons, raid your trash cans, and there are centaur policemen? Leave it to the minds over at Pixar to come up with a crazy idea like that.
Set in this altered reality where elves, trolls, pixies, cyclops’, and all the rest all live in a bustling metropolis where cars, electricity, and cellphones replaced magic and wizardry. Remember Will Smith in Bright? Here we meet the blue-haired, pointy-eared elfin Lightfoot family. Widowed Laurel (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a loving & caring mom to her two sons: overly rambunctious and fun-loving Barley (Chris Pratt) and younger, more timid Ian (Tom Holland). On Ian’s 16th birthday, he gets a rather peculiar gift; a magical wizard staff from his late father (I think his name was McGuffin). This staff comes with a spell… a spell that will bring back their dad, BUT for only 24 hours!
However, using this Gandalf-sized stick o’power proves a little too much for Ian and BOOM! The very rare Phoenix gem that makes the complicated spell work breaks and only brings back half of his dad–the lower half! Oh crap! But big brother Barley has a plan: being a walking encyclopedia on all things D&D, past town history, and wizarding spells (and isn’t THAT convenient!), he and Ian go a quest to find another Phoenix gem to bring back the other half of dad. And the only one who knows where another gem is Corey (Octavia Spencer), a manticore (a lion/scorpion/dragon hybrid), and the owner of a kiddie-based restaurant. Problem is, she’s reluctant to help the boys as she’s no longer the warrior-beast she used to be.
Undaunted, the guys continue with their quest to find the precious gem with their half-dad in tow (he’s got a dummy stuffed on top for public appearances), and run into all sorts of problems with biker pixies, officer Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez), who’s Laurel’s boyfriend, and coming to grips with their own personal emotions and differences. Meanwhile, Laurel has hooked up Corey when she discovers that her sons are in mortal danger, if and when they find that Phoenix gem. The third act is a homage to the Indiana Jones movies as the boys near their quest with disastrous results.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting much as the first act dragged on, but screenwriters newbie Jason Headley, Keith Bunin (Horns), and director Dan Scanlon (Monsters University) finally cranked this car into fifth gear, rocking the second and third acts into overdrive. As with most recent Pixar films (Coco, The Incredibles 2, Toy Story 4), the storylines have been aimed mostly at adults and less at kids. At the screening I attended, about 80% of the audience were kids, but the laughs were mostly from the adults! Story-wise, it’s your standard buddy road trope where hidden secrets and true feelings are revealed, but this animated feature has that special Pixar touch of being fun, powerful, exciting, heart-breaking, and drop-dead gorgeous looking.
Yes, it’s got some plot holes and continuity errors, but once you past the slow first act exposition yadda-yadda-yadda’s, you’re in for a treat. Scanlon keeps upping the ante as the film progresses, letting our heroes grow in character, charm, and range, something other films don’t bother doing. Check out the bridge scene, it’s both nerve-jangling and heart-warming. Then you have the voice talent to match the exquisite CG animation. Tom Holland is letter-perfect as the nervous and unsure 16-year-old, while Chris Pratt is excellent as his brash ne’er-do-well older brother. AND, of course, what Pixar film would be complete without John Ratzenberger’s voice? Yup, he shows up as a construction worker!
Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) anime TV series
If you’re a fan of anime, you already know about Fullmetal Alchemist, one of the biggest selling manga’s (comic books) in Japan, not to mention all the incarnations it has spawned, including movies and spin-offs. This original 51-episode arc started it all and it’s easy to see why it’s so addicting.
Without going into too much detail, as there’s alot to unpack with 51 stories, I’ll give you the bare-bones essentials. In this universe, magic is practiced everywhere, but no one calls it that. They call it Alchemy; a hybrid of science and the occult. It takes years to study and practice to perfect, but in the rural town of Resembool two inquisitive teenage brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric are doing just that, having an absentee father that was a practicing Alchemist. Encouraged by their mom, the boys get really good at it, until one day when brash Edward goes too far. After their mom dies of the plague Ed, in a fit of rage, does the unthinkable: a human transmutation, something that’s NEVER to be done!
The transmutation backfires, causing Alphonse’s body to be dragged away into the Gate of Truth. Edward sacrifices his right arm & left leg to retrieve Alphonse’s soul, binding it to a huge suit of armor with a blood seal. Edward, now part machine, is invited by Roy Mustang to become a State Alchemist to research a way to restore Alphonse’s body, and is given the title of Fullmetal Alchemist as his [magic] techniques are superior. Ed & Alphonse then set out upon the land searching for the mythical Philosophers Stone to achieve their goals, each time encountering clues, demons, and various obstacles stopping them in their attempt to bring back their mother or making Alphonse human again.
This simple anime was so popular it branched-off into another anime series, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, then two anime movies, Fullmetal Alchemist: Conqueror of Shamballa and Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos. Then, in 2017, a Fullmetal Alchemist live-action movie was made, along with audio dramas, more manga’s, collectibles, trading cards, artwork, and several video games. Yeah, you could say it’s got quite the following.
Directed by Seiji Mizushima (Mobile Suit Gundam, Neon Genesis Evangelion), while his style may not be on par with the great Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke), it’s still fun, all hand-drawn, meticulous in design, and light years better than anything you’ll see on Saturday morning cartoons! What I love about anime is that they aren’t afraid to push the boundaries in storytelling, in art design, or in scope. How many times have you seen a U.S. cartoon series that has a character graphically torn to shreds, gushing blood everywhere, and yet done so beautifully? Yeah, that’s what I thought.