Colossal Review

Colossal is not what you expect. If you saw the trailer and went into this thinking it’s a low fantasy, summertime romp as Anne Hathaway controls a monster and saves the world, then you’d be stupendously wrong. But if you can look past the 30-story romcom monster, then you’ll find a surprising, funny, and pointed message about gender relations (and several meandering ones about a bunch of other things).

The setup is fairly benign, Garden State-level stuff. Gloria (Hathaway) is kicked out of her New York apartment by her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) not specifically for being perennially unemployed but more for getting hammered every night and being hungover every day and shirking every responsibility and obligation. Her only course of action is to move back to her Middle America hometown, where she immediately runs into her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and begins her pattern of drinking and passing out anew.

Bonus for moving back, though: a monster is now terrorizing Seoul, South Korea. Unfortunately for you and me, we already know that it’s Gloria. The movie takes a bit longer to get there, and while writer/director Nacho Vigalondo is effective at making it suspenseful, the first act of the movie is lethargic. It feels like a rehash of a lot of different movies all put into one, and none of it is working particularly well.

To be fair, everyone involved does a bang-up job of selling it all. Hathaway is charming while being believably shiftless, though her general discombobulation can come across as saccharine every so often, especially as she tries to schmooze the various people in her life. And Sudeikis continues to be maximum Sudeikis, which says a lot when he has to sell the idea that being the owner of a barely profitable bar is the Daddy Warbucks dream compared to failing to inflate an air mattress.

Once the film does it’s critical turn, however, it reaaaally starts to get up and go. And it super not in the direction you would expect. Even as it first shows it’s colors of being a deep and fairly dark relationship drama, it’s hard to believe that’s the turn it takes. Between Tim, Oscar, and Oscar’s friend Joel (Austin Stowell), there are a lot of relationships to pick from to make it complicated.

This compounds in a beautiful if grotesque contrast of Gloria finally finding some semblance of meaningful control in being this ephemeral Godzilla-like amongst a blackout lifestyle where she loses her stability in New York and somehow is beset on all sides by home furnishing from an overly generous man. It pushes and pulls her in interesting ways as her emotional culpability finally catches up to her desire to live devoid of consequences with monstrous enormity.

Colossal

It all centers around the idea that whether purposefully or incidentally, the men of Gloria’s life try to puppet her around. Get her to stop drinking, push her into the “right” career, tell her what to remember and what to forget. It’s a sobering simulacrum of many women’s lives. Well, up until the kaiju get involved, but even then, what could be more a manifestation of the emotional and societal response than to become a force of nature the world must reckon with.

One of the men then turns maliciously and intentionally abusive, forcing her intimacy in ways that recalls the disturbing and unflinching story of the first season of Jessica Jones. I won’t say who because it’s rather incredible and honestly a villainous turn that won’t be forgotten, but as Gloria ends up pulled between two manipulative relationships, you know you want to root for her but you don’t know what it is you want her to do, and it’s an impeccable and imprecise sensation that lends great emotional heft to the conclusion.

And that’s a damn good thing because the ending doesn’t make a lot of logical sense. If the emotional payoff wasn’t there, it would be 30 minutes of rock solid eye-rolling. And that’s as it sheds off several other ancillary and perfunctory threads like Joel and Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and some vague theme about how humans in general are monsters and something else about perseverance, I guess? But the hour of investment you put into it gets you some damn fine returns by the end.

Colossal

Characterizations are sometimes a mess where no one is all that likable or learns all that much, and there’s an irresponsible disregard for human life by the film itself that crops up too often when it eventually becomes a large plot point. But Vigalondo nails the relationship drama, and the actors—including the support from Nelson, Stowell, and Stevens—deliver everything their characters need and more to make it all work. If you can deal with some kaiju-level disorientation, then you will find something of a treat in Colossal.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Free Fire Review

Free Fire is in the same stroke an absurdist presentation of the longest gunfight you’ll ever see and one grounded in an odd hyperrealism you don’t see much in action films. What starts as a funny and loose character study with an improbable amount of bullets ends the same way. And while that may sound like a one-note movie, that one note tends to be slick, sassy, and worth your time.

The premise to Free Fire sounds like the answer to the question of what is the least reliable combination of people to enter into a midnight gun deal. Two no-nonsense IRA members with two knucklehead henchmen are attempting to buy several crates of automatic rifles from a slimy South African arms dealer and his commensurate crew of muscle while a couple of (mostly) independent intermediaries grease the wheels in an abandoned factory.

Like I said, a recipe for trouble, and a somewhat overflowing one at that. There may just be three parties involved, but there are a lot of moving parts within each one and as a whole. Writer/director Ben Wheatley (co-writing with Amy Jump), however, manages to condense the entire thing into the base components. By mostly coincidence, one henchmen from each of the two main parties recognize each other after having gotten into a brawl the night before. And slowly but surely, the match inches closer and closer to the powder keg until the shooting starts and doesn’t stop.

This quick introduction performs admirably at setting up exactly what you should expect from the rest of the movie. Everyone—seriously everyone—is there to chew the scenery. The debilitatingly stupid Stevo (Sam Riley), for instance, plays the shady underling who tries to get out from under his rightful retribution with a slithering that Kevin Corrigan would be proud of.

He is the perfect foil to the marginally sharper but equally hotheaded and selfish Harry (Jack Reynor) so when the punches between the two escalate to bullets, it plays believably in a vaudevillian kind of way. And then the bullets start flying, seemingly randomly piercing appendages with little to no consequence, and the movie becomes a delicious pit of absurdity where A-list celebrities crawl around the dirty-covered floor for 90 minutes.

The more recognizable faces rip into their roles with an unfettered savagery that looks like they’ve been wanting for years. Brie Larson as Justine explodes into over-the-top rage at whim while shooting off Liz Lemon-level eye rolls. Cilian Murphy takes his Peaky Blinders Irishness with Chris up to the realm of caricature, stoic and cold for all the worst/best reasons.

Free Fire

And then you throw in Armie Hammer’s Ord, a character that looks like Hammer having the best time of his life in three acts. Ord is like a cherry-picked gestalt of all his favorite parts of his past roles with a little bit Winklevoss propriety, a dash of Illya Kuryakin’s consummate composure, and maybe a sprinkle of the oozing charm of Gabriel Edwards. And showing this against Sharlto Copley’s skeevy and overly, almost inexplicably South African Vernon is like a comedy duo where neither one knows if they’re the straight man or the banana man.

The characters, in fact, are really the only reason any of this works. There’s very little in the way of explosive, eye-catching action, though Wheatley does an admirable job keeping everyone and everything digestible. And as everyone starts taking lead in the legs, there’s even less in the way of standing action, everyone crawling around behind conveniently placed cement blocks like bugs avoiding the light.

With such a robust cast, it’s only natural some would take the lead while others bolster them. But some of them feel a bit like a waste, as the jokes the more prominent characters fall flat. Larson is especially underutilized with her motivations and her principles so clearly defined and immediately appreciable. And the relationship between Vernon and his cohort Martin (Babou Ceesay) would have been fun to play with had Martin not spent most of the movie pretty well removed from the action.

Free Fire

As it is, though, Free Fire knows pretty much exactly what it is, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome. At a lean 90 minutes, it gets in and gets out in a way these hapless underworld criminals just couldn’t manage. It doesn’t have anything new to say or anything extraordinary to hand you, but it does have a lot of fun showing you what it is. And that is a rare thing to find.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Loot Rascals Review

Based on the title alone, you’d think that Loot Rascals is all about the loot. (And rascals, if you want to be pedantic about it.) For that much, it’s true, but the game is also difficult, esoteric at times, and damn hard to put down. It combines a lot of odd parts into a surprisingly compelling whole.

Perhaps that’s what you get when you have a man who says he’s not interested in roguelikes design a game that cribs quite a few staples from the revival genre. Ricky Haggett and the rest of the team at Hollow Ponds have created a game that features procedurally generated maps chockfull of enemies that drop color-graded loot—all of which you’ll lose upon death—but it’s everything else that makes it worth playing.

For one, it has personality out the yang. It’s bright and colorful in a way many games simply aren’t, but it’s also quirky to a fault. From the moment the story begins to unfold—which is admittedly light since it can be entirely summed up as “escape an alien planet”—you’re treated to a sardonically Scottish AI, a flagrant disregard for common sense and physics, and a full indulgence in the tone and attitude of a Ren & Stimpy. If there’s one thing you can’t hold against Loot Rascals, it’s its sense of style.

On the gameplay side, it’s shockingly simple, but with the adherence to a stark and unflinching set of rules, it becomes complex and brutal in a way that makes you keep coming back for more. The game takes place on a hex grid, and with each move you make, enemies patrolling the level can also move. Some move one-for-one to you and others only move one spot for every two of yours.

This is important because when you and an opponent occupy the same spot, you two battle it out. When you swing, you hack away HP equivalent to your Attack rating. When they swing, their own Attack rating, your Defense rating, and a dice roll get mixed up into a bucket and determine how much damage you get, if any at all.

At best, you’re going to be able to take five knocks or so, which means if you play recklessly, you’re going to die. Like, a lot. Even if you play smart, you’re probably going to die a lot. You have to position yourself to not get surrounded or cornered into battles you don’t anticipate because with a certain number of moves, enemies change tactics. If they attack first, you’re almost guaranteed to take damage, so you’re going to want to time your moves right so you can one-shot as many aliens as you can.

Loot Rascals

It conjures a fascinating dance between you and the game. You end up teasing out faster foes into a chokepoint where you can line them up and knock them down while trying to coax stronger, usually slower enemies into amenable positions to not get swarmed and—consequently—dead. And once you mix in map elements like electrical pads that charge up or wholly create new baddies, it becomes even more about managing these chess pieces that are inherently uncontrollable.

And then even if you fight your best, your best may not be good enough. Or rather, quick enough, as demonstrably harder enemies will eventually descend upon the map after a while. These guys don’t fuck around and suddenly turn this tango of opportunity into one of desperation, taking the kills and hits where you can.

The same sort of positioning philosophy comes through in your equipment and inventory. You have ten slots to fill with cards, cards that you’ll pick up along the way for killing aliens or completing side quests. Some are dedicated to Defense, some are dedicated to Attack, and others augment the ones you currently have equipped. The best ones, however, pull double duty, allowing you to switch their utility or giving positional bonuses.

Loot Rascals

Some, for instance, get bonus points for being in even slots or in the top row. Others will boost the card to their right while negating the card to their left. This interplay between physical alignment and actual card attributes makes for an unexpectedly intriguing and deep loot system. You’ll spend a good amount of time crying out to the gods every time you have to pick between an upgraded helmet card or a weaker one that can be actively switched between Attack and Defense or the like. (But, you know, in a good way.)

It’s almost too obviously not for everyone, despite streamlining the adrenal rush of getting loot and making your rewards’ value immediately apparent. With no team to keep track of and very little in the way of special moves, the focus is entirely on the mechanics and the prizes you get along the way. But the basic loop of embarking upon journey after journey only to smash bow-first into another set of cranky, alien rocks can be exhausting to the point of swearing it off completely as if it were a crazy ex.

Even so, there’s no reason you shouldn’t check it out at least once. You get to hang out with a bunch of oddball, charming spacefaring folk; you get to fight seahorse aliens that are actually half horse; and you get to tickle your pickle over an endless and endlessly joyful deluge of rewards. Get your rascals on the loot that Loot Rascals can offer and it just might hook you.

Loot Rascals

+ An art style that you wish you could have on your walls
+ Gameplay that is simple but deep and punishes and reward you in equal measure
+ Loot system forces you to make some heartbreaking decisions
– Brutal difficulty can be a real turnoff at times
– Story is charming but isn’t at all compelling

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Game Review: Loot Rascals
Release: March 7, 2017
Genre: Turn-based roguelike
Developer: Hollow Ponds
Available Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC
Players: Single-player
MSRP: $14.99
Website: http://lootrascals.com/

Review: DC Comics "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" 1:24 scale Metal Die-Cast Batmobile

“To the Batmobile!”

This was part of my haul from December 2016 posted on my toy blog HERE

The Batmobile is a state of the art all-terrain, self-powered, armored fighting motor vehicle used for vehicular hot pursuit, prisoner transportation, anti-tank warfare, riot control, and as a mobile crime lab. Kept in the Batcave, which it accesses through a hidden entrance, the heavily armoured, gadget-laden vehicle is used by Batman in his crime-fighting activities.

The Batmobile made its first appearance in Detective Comics #27 (May, 1939). Then a red sedan, it was simply referred to as “his car”. Soon it began featuring an increasingly prominent bat motif, typically including distinctive wing-shaped tailfins. Armored in the early stages of Batman’s career, it has been customized over time into a sleek armoured / supercar-hybrid, and is the most technologically advanced crime-fighting asset within Batman’s arsenal. Depictions of the vehicle has evolved along with the character, with each incarnation reflecting evolving car technologies. It has appeared in every Batman iteration—from comic books and television to films and video games—and has since gone on to be a part of pop culture.

The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Batmobile is said to be a combined inspiration from both the sleek, streamlined design of classic Batmobiles and the high-suspension, military build from the more recent Tumbler from The Dark Knight Trilogy. Designed by production designer Patrick Tatopoulos and Dennis McCarthy, the Batmobile is about 20 feet long and 12 feet wide. Unlike previous Batmobiles, it has a gatling gun sitting on the front and the back tires are shaved down tractor tires. The Batmobile elevates itself for scenes depicting it going into battle or when performing jumps, and lowers to the ground when cruising through the streets.

Scroll down to see all the pictures.
Click on them for bigger and better view.

Jada Toys released this 1:24 die-cast model kit of the Batmobile from the 2016 movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Assembly was pretty straight-forward and hassle-free. It isn’t anything like the type of model kits released by Bandai where one really has to put every bit and piece together. Check out my recent toy blog post / review of the Bandai 1/6th scale Star Wars Stormtrooper Model Kit HERE. Now that’s a model kit.

In the upcoming film Justice League, Batman will have a new Batmobile called the Nightcrawler, which was designed by his father.

Semispheres Review — Break Yourself

Semispheres feels impossible. Not that it, as a puzzle game, actually is unsolvable, but it very often feels like what it wants from you would require you to rip your brain in half. The key, however, to the game is that it doesn’t quite make it necessary and instead teases you with the possibility of it.

In that way, Semispheres is a brilliant yet soothing experience involving jellyfish orbs and (interdimensional?) portals. The crux of it is that you control two blobs navigating two disconnected but identical rooms that may or may not have differing setups of items, enemies, and those aforementioned portals. Each blob—each with their squid-like tendrils—is controlled with their respective analog stick on the controller, though, and that’s where all that brain ripping starts looking rather inviting.

Enemies, you see, patrol these rooms, but you can circumvent them usually with the aid of your other half. If you pop into a BioShock Infinite-style tear between the two with the left side, for example, you can use a noisemaker to get the attention of a guard and allow the right side to pass unnoticed. Or you can pick up an item that moves both to one side, or pick up a different item that simply swaps the two blobs.

Through these tactics and armaments, the game teases you. It eggs you on to try something bold. For the most part, these encounters can be solved independently, simply but deliberately moving each half as required. But as the levels push forward, the singular notion of becoming better invades your mind. It ceases to be just about figuring it out and soon becomes dextrous.

In the same way as you found yourself bumping into things absentmindedly in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, you’ll find yourself sending one blob into a wall as you attempt simultaneous movement. But you keep pushing yourself and slowly you discover a skill buried deep within yourself. You progressively silo off a portion of your brain and shove it into the realm where breathing and blinking live, where you thrive on instinct.

It’s uneasy—you never feel like you’re not fighting yourself—but it’s also a completely new experience. More than Brothers or Entwined, it requires a different type of forcing a schism into your thinking. It’s active and dynamic in a way that doesn’t demand foresight so much as reactive awareness.

SemispheresGranted, its base concepts will be familiar to anyone who has played a stealth game or co-op game in recent years, but smashing it together into your solo hands instead of across multiple brains changes the entire experience. It’s a fresh and rewarding proposition that I highly suggest you agree to. You will be as flustered as you are soothed.

+ Gorgeous and relaxing style
+ Teaches you how to play at a wonderful pace
+ Demands just enough of you while asking if you can give more
+ That god dang soundtrack

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Game Review: Semispheres
Release: February 14, 2017
Genre: Puzzle
Developer: Vivid Helix
Available Platforms: PlayStation 4 and PC (Xbox One soon)
Players: Single-player
MSRP: $9.99
Website: http://semispher.es/

Topspin & Freezeout – TFormers Video Review of Titans Return Deluxe Wave 4

Topspin is the standout of this wave. Fantastic design ideas and aesthetic choices, with really excellent transformation engineering make this toy shine on all counts. The only issues present are relatively small, and seem to be a result of the materials not quite playing right with the design. I could easily see later uses of the mold being effectively perfect! You can find our video review, with accompanying text and photos right now on the Titans Return Topspin review page, so go give it a look right now!

La La Land Review — Ooo La La

Food. Air. Probably shelter. These are what you and almost everyone else consider the basic needs of human survival. To writer/director Damien Chazelle, however, there’s only one thing on that list: passion. His entire oeuvre has been pointed toward this single point of discussion, and La La Land, both along with and in spite of its Golden Age of Hollywood trappings, is an amazingly stoic and melancholy expression of the nature of feeling.

It is, through and through, a musical comedy-drama. It follows the intermingling of aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and wannabe jazz club owner Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) in Los Angeles as they go from circumstantial enemies to lovers to, well, raw forces of human nature. Mia has never had luck pursuing her lifelong goal and Sebastian has only had the briefest taste of his before it was yanked away. These experiences form not only the basis of the movie but also the thickly woven foundation of these two immense characters.

Most amazingly is that it is unabashedly, almost brazenly unafraid of both wanting to be what it wants to be and achieving that state, neither of which are simple or easy tasks. It opens, for one, on a tremendous musical number, one that, during production, actually blocked off the entirety of the Judge Harry Pregerson Interchange for a single six-minute take. The stalwart presentation sets the tone for the classical Hollywood veneer while the lyrical content establishes the idea of dreams clashing with reality and compromise.

It easily could put off a great deal of people, pushing to the far end of what most would accept as musical content. But it secretly operates as a moment of calibration, setting precisely what the viewer should expect so that it can then fulfill that promise and, later on, subvert it. In fact, it almost immediately smashes apart those expectations by flipping the meet cute on its head with Mia and Sebastian in the middle of this classically L.A. traffic jam (also known as everyday L.A. traffic).

That flip is key to the whole film. The entire outdoor take is decidedly modern and counter to almost every other scene, shots either actually having taken place on a set or purposefully made to look like a set, which is perhaps the greatest trademark of 30s and 40s Hollywood aesthetics. And that pushes straight through to the themes and narrative.

If Whiplash is the dire necessity of the triumph of a dream—of the fruits of passion ever ripening by whatever means—then La La Land is about the inescapable transactional nature of it. It’s not singleminded or myopic like the former, but it’s more about the way things tend to fall away as you get closer and closer to your goal, an accomplishment that seems to then bring all those things back in time if they warrant the return. It’s a clean organizational view that give wonderful contrast to the sharp directed chaos of Whiplash.

La La Land

That sort of thematic baseness yet complex, nuanced emotional arcs isn’t something that comes from classical films. As the film swiftly dances along from season to season, tune to tune, it becomes clear that the marketing schtick of Golden Age musicals isn’t the meant of this film. It’s more like the peanut butter on top of the celery, a pleasing and familiar aperitif to encourage the deeper satisfaction of this indomitable statement.

That’s not to say, however, that the framework isn’t good. It’s fantastic, in fact. The way the movie uses musical motifs is brilliant, shaping and varying them for different shades of the same utility. The main sting singlehandedly swings between heartbreaking to heartwarming to heart-wrenching, amongst many other feelings across the heart-verb spectrum.

A good deal is thanks to Stone and Gosling in the lead roles, both fully capable song-and-dance actors. Admittedly, Gosling’s vocals carry the same slightly amorphous edges as his normal speaking voice, but it still works. These are two people so overflowing with charisma, it’s impossible to look away. Stone’s mating dance in one of their several meet cutes is damn near the most charming and smile-inducing thing you’ll ever see (next to her Jimmy Fallon lip sync clip, that is).

La La Land

But their acting chops are at a full and raging 11, fully encapsulating the core of what these two are perhaps over idealized by Hollywood. Just good-looking, lovable romantics, but that’s really just the first act, if that. They quickly expand into dire, haggard, nearly broken humans, showcasing two vastly different but equally powerful depictions of ambition conflicting with other needs. (Lesser needs, if Chazelle has anything to say about it.) They each are deep, nuanced characters made engrossing by Stone and Gosling.

They’re beautiful. The film is gorgeous. It’s a rare beast, attempting something so few others in more than one way. And even rarer is the fact that it succeeds in all of them. Dancing and singing, complex narrative structures, a brave and uncompromising ending. It even bears down on several conceptions of the purely fantastical. From beginning to end, La La Land is a raw, undiluted experience, unashamed of what it is and what it wants the world to be.

Final Score: 10 out of 10

Tomopop Review: DC Bishoujo Wonder Girl by Kotobukiya

In just a few short years, Kotobukiya’s Bishoujo line has evolved to cover properties from all kinds of entertainment media including games and film. But the brand began with comic book characters, and here we return to its roots with Wonder Girl.

I have lots and lots of Bishoujo figures in my collection, yet I couldn’t resist adding one more. Read on for my thoughts and review!

Read more…

Moana Review — Making Waves

Disney isn’t ever focused on doing anything earth-shatteringly new. Instead, this is an animation studio aiming towards, perhaps more than anything, on nailing the fundamentals. That’s where Moana lies, their latest CG project about a Māori demigod teaming up with a “princess” to fulfill one or more destinies. But despite being predictable at times—even bordering on rote—the execution is near flawless and pushes to be progressive in its setup and even attempts a few interesting tricks in the narrative.

The primary and eponymous bit of this film is Moana Waialiki (Auli’i Cravalho), the sixteen-year-old daughter in line to take over for her father as chief of their island tribe. It’s a big responsibility making sure their spot of land among an endless ocean runs smoothly, and it’s made more complicated by her ever-present drive to sail. Even as a child, the ocean has called to her, compelled her to sail beyond the reef surrounding their home Motunui, though her father Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison) is adamantly—hostilely—against it.

Turns out it’s actually destiny calling her, and with the aid of her grandmother Gramma Tala (Rachel House), pet pig Pua, and tagalong idiot rooster friend Hei Hei (Alan Tudyk), Moana eventually discovers the truth and the reason why the island is dying. She sets out across the sea to find the absent and legendary demigod Māui (Dwayne Johnson) to restore the somewhat literal heart of Te Fiti, the mother island. Adventure, basically, awaits.

It really takes its time getting into the adventure, though, which is oddly welcome. The film doesn’t really get going until halfway through, or at least it doesn’t feel that way upon initial viewing and dissection. This is one of the neat things the film tries that’s out of the box. If you try to stuff it (or assume it tries to fit) into a neat little three-act, hero’s journey framework, it doesn’t quite mesh. Instead, it’s more about self-realization, leaving external influences aside.

Seriously, Māui doesn’t even show up until the middle of the movie. Her journey is her own, which is remarkably and sadly progressive. The film’s basic structure is something of a buddy road trip flick, but its built of themes established early on and pushes through to the end. Though the absolute conclusion is predictable (it is a kids film, after all, with a happy ending and all that), the resolution that gets us there feels earned.

Some of it does, however, feel a bit recycled. Throw in a bit of The Lion King, add a dash of Frozen, and shake it up with a spritz of Mulan and Finding Dory, and you’ve got it. An awareness from the film (courtesy of screenwriter Jared Bush and a litany of other contributors) is welcome in this aspect, however, even going so far as to comment on what qualifies as a Disney princess.

Moana

At the cost of giving up what makes Moana’s arc so fantastic, however, is a tepid approach to Māui’s own story. He is rife with his own set of formative events, desires, and psychological quirks, all of which are established in quality varying from sufficient to terrific. But his conflict is introduced and resolved as quickly as just about any other modern comedy. He almost literally Han Solos his way back into the story after he briefly dips out. Thankfully he isn’t the only dish being served, but it is an unfortunate consequence of simply being constrained to a 103-minute film.

It’s a laser focus, though, that’s greatly appreciated. It gives us a chance to fully embrace our main protagonist, charming and bubbly and god damn determined as she is. Cravalho takes on the role with overwhelming aplomb, ripping between cartoonish ranges of bumbling likability with an indescribable sort of groundedness. She effuses gravitas and lightness in the same breath. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of her.

And though we’ve been getting plenty of Johnson in recent years, it’s clear that it’s mostly well deserved. Aside from Moana, the Pacific Ocean, and a carnival-colored chicken, he gets the most screen time. And while the character is obviously written and built around this particular casting, its effective. Johnson’s persona is, despite his hulking frame, largely his voice, and putting that to use to power a larger-than-life folkloric legend is almost too obvious.

Moana

That casting is also important. While a good deal of the cast is of mixed heritage, they also have a good footing in the Pacific Islander camp. It shows, most easily, in the way they actors pronounce certain words or inflect their particular vowel combinations. This diversity is an important step not just for a consistently whitewashing Hollywood but also one of the biggest and historically troubled studios still in the game.

You can see the effort put forth by the studio (and read about it in this Vanity Fair piece) in the depiction of these Polynesian characters and their culture and their physical morphology. They are evocative and indicative of the trademark physical features of these tribes without being derogatory. It introduces a visual-based diversity to many people that they would otherwise get very limited exposure to.

And, of course, you can’t see a musical without talking about the songs, and composers Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina do an exceptional job. From Miranda, you get the tremendously innate understanding and infusing of internal rhyming structures and catchy syncopation. From Foa’i, there is the deeply tribal and prodigiously driving drums of a pan-Pacific soundscape. Mancina rounds the group out by giving a classical flair to these relatively fresh, hot sounds, giving a familiar twinge to the film’s soundtrack.

Moana

It’s not clear if we have another “Let It Go” contender (money’s on “How Far I’ll Go,” though), but they certainly are catchy in the moment and never fall into the trap of musical numbers simply stating intent and function rather than giving reason. But it’s hard to fault a film that does so much right, especially when the only things it really does wrong is borrow from some of the best animated films of the past 20 years. Whether you have the time or not, go see Moana.

Plus, it’s hard to argue against a movie that conjures up the most adorable George Miller, Fury Road-inspired naval battle ever conceived.

Final Score: 9 out of 10