Blu-ray/DVD Review: Justin and the Knights of Valor
Blog, Reviews, Movies
Posted on Sep 13 2014 by Greg


Something strange happens when watching this film. For the first sixteen minutes, there are uncomfortable limitations in the animation that only its spectacular art direction and the detailed textures make it possible to overlook. Too much story information is setting itself up. Far too many characters are introduced. It’s tricky to keep track of who is who. The character’s names, most of them long and complex, are not repeated enough to learn.

Giving the artists the benefit of the doubt, the plasticity of the character renderings is balanced by the expressive nature of the poses, likely a result of very strong storyboards. But relative “weights” of characters and objects don’t always ring true. The story teeters between “been there, done that” and “should I care, since I’m lost anyway.”

But then, 16 minutes and 45 seconds into the film, Justin and the Knights of Valor (available on DVD and blu ray on July 22nd via Arc Entertainment) really begins where it should have. Young Justin (voice of Freddie Highmore) starts on his way to the training grounds, first stopping at a pub housing the film’s most interesting characters—Talia, a likable barmaid (Saoirse Ronan), and Melquaides or “Mel” (Little Britain’s David Walliams), a “mystic” with two personalities.

Mel is the most amusing character in the movie. He talks to his “other self “ like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films, but he can move so fast from one place to another, he often is seen literally as two people. It’s a pure animation conceit, and very clever.

When Justin leaves the pub and resumes his journey, this is where film’s title should come onto the screen. Next, we meet Justin’s trainers, another set of better-realized characters (voiced by James Cosmo, Charles Dance and Barry “Dame Edna” Humphries). Though we’ve been here before in Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon and The Karate Kid, the sequence still works, with amusing side gags including a room sized miniature chess-like tableaux that is constantly in danger of being destroyed.

There is no denying that this film feels derivative of How to Train Your Dragon, but it has no genuine magicians, fairies or dragons (except for a ridiculous makeshift fire-breather). Justin must accomplish his quest on his own. The story puts one more in the mind of The Sword in the Stone (T.H. White’s, not Disney’s).

The film’s “presenter,” Antonio Banderas, gives a fine comic performance in the role of charlatan Sir Clorex, the type of macho buffoon that Patrick Warburton practically patented. But with a few exceptions, the film tends to lean toward characters who are act silly but aren’t largely funny. Considering that this was made in today’s more sensitive age, it’s disconcerting there is such a stereotypical character in Sota (Rupert Everett). Did Everett know that his character would be animated in such a mincing, Monty Python way? Sota continues to be a broad caricature in the second half of the film, but his flouncing isn’t as pronounced.

No kidding, you could cut out the first 16 minutes and 45 seconds and have a very entertaining motion picture in which most of its shortcomings are less pronounced. All the plot points are repeated and clarified, including a very nice two-dimensional retelling of the story of Justin’s grandfather. Characters come along when they should, in due time—and their names are given more frequently as the film progresses.

The climactic battle is inevitable and predictable, but nevertheless exciting and suspenseful. Because Justin has to train and learn rather than get assistance from magic or sidekicks, the movie sends a strong message to kids about seeking goals with hard work and no shortcuts.

Ilan Eskeri’s score is suitably sweeping to buoy the action and breathtaking visuals; a handful of contemporary tunes recall the tunes in Treasure Planet. While incongruous to the storybook setting, the songs are not intrusive. Had this film begun at 16:45, one ballad that provides a “heart moment” would not slow the film at all, but would only make the viewer more invested in Justin’s situation.

Watch Justin and the Knights of Valor from the beginning and it’s a passable diversion with technical issues that are hard to ignore. But watch it from 16:45 and it becomes a more solid film in which its shortcomings are overshadowed by the brisk pace, nicely balanced character interaction, and—while still not an A-lister by any stretch—a handsome and engaging entertainment.






DVD REVIEW: Springtime with Roo & Recommendations
Blog, Reviews, Movies, TV, Music
Posted on Mar 21 2014 by Greg


While practically every cartoon character ever created has, at one time or another, saved Christmas, there are precious few animated specials or direct-to-videos with a springtime, Easter or even an Easter Bunny.

This made-for-TV Disney Winnie the Pooh animated feature is one of the few. It makes sense for spring to be a cherished part of life in the Hundred Acre Wood, with its rolling landscapes, shady trees and colorful flowers.

There is so much niceness among Pooh and his pals -- and this is a good thing in this age of "edgy" cynicism, even in children's entertainment -- we can still look to Eeyore for lovable, relatable gloom and to Rabbit for lovable, relatable angst and neuroses. In other words, they're for us adults in throws of life's drama.

Rabbit adopts a Scrooge-like role in this story, which features original songs and overall is a very attractive production. David Ogden Stiers is a marvelous narrator, by the way. Very Sebastian Cabot.



Only one extra feature is basically a song player -- I would have liked to see a few episodes from the Emmy-winning "New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" series.

Other recommendations for Springtime family viewing:
***** Here Comes Peter Cottontail - Danny Kaye (All-time fave)
***** It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown
***** Easter Parade - Judy Garland and Fred Astaire (MGM classic)
****   The Easter Bunny is Comin' to Town
***     The First Easter Rabbit - Burl Ives, Robert Morse (Mad Men)
**       Yogi The Easter Bear - Hanna-Barbera





Blu-ray REVIEW: The Jungle Book Diamond Edition
Blog, Reviews, Movies
Posted on Feb 08 2014 by Greg


The last animated film completely supervised by Walt Disney, The Jungle Book is a very comedic spin on the Rudyard Kipling. It's not so much that the book was spoofed, but the bare bones of the story were transformed into a lighthearted, character-driven romp.


But it works. The Jungle Book became a smash in its first release and in reissues. The soundtrack album went gold. Somehow taking an atmospheric jungle adventure and adding Phil Harris, Louis Prima and a swingin' jazz attitude resounds with audiences to this day.


What might have been a loose collection of set pieces carefully tie together with the continual introduction of engaging characters that hold interest in a way that is remarkable for such an episodic film. The Disney story department, among them Disney Legend Floyd Norman and Bing Crosby radio comedy writer Larry Clemmons, never allow the proceedings to lag, much as a Pixar film does the same thing.


Most of the songs are by the great Sherman Brothers, including the iconic "I Wan'na Be Like You" and the unforgettable "Trussst in Me," though the Oscar-nominated "Bare Necessities" was written for an earlier draft of the film by Terry Gilkyson (who also wrote and sung the hit, "Marianne").


Richard Sherman and his brother Robert were continually greeted by fans who assumed they had written "Necessities," to the extent that in the introduction created for the Blu-ray, Richard Sherman's appearance is underscored by the incorrect song, rather than perhaps "My Own Home."



If you have the DVD from 2007, you may want to hold on to it, not just because the bonus features are not all on the new DVD but only on the Blu-ray (see below), but also because there are several that did remain exclusive to the 2007 DVD, including the deleted songs.


2014 Diamond Edition Blu-ray-Only Bonus Features

2014 Only:
• Introductions by Diane Disney Miller & Richard M. Sherman
• Music, Memories and Mowgli: A Conversation with Richard M. Sherman, Diane Disney Miller and Floyd Norman
• Alternate Ending: Mowgli and the Hunter
• I Wan’na Be Like You: Hangin’ Out at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
• Bear-E-Oke Sing-Along
• Disney Animation: Sparkling Creativity

From 2007:
• Audio Commentary
• Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund
• Deleted Scene: Lost Character – Rocky the Rhino
• “I Wan’na Be Like You” Music Video – Jonas Brothers
• Disney Song Selection
• The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book
• Disney’s Kipling: Walt Magic Touch on a Literary Classic
• The Lure of The Jungle Book
• Mowgli’s Return to the Wild
• Frank & Ollie: Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston Discuss Character Animation
• Baloo’s Virtual Swingin’ Jungle Cruise
• Disneypedia: Junglemania!
• The Jungle Book Fun With Language Game

2014 Diamond Edition DVD & Blu-ray Bonus Features

• Deleted Scene: Lost Character – Rocky the Rhino
• Disneypedia: Junglemania!

2007 Platinum Edition DVD Bonus Features

2007 Only:
• Seven Deleted Songs
• Art Galleries
• Baloo’s Virtual Swingin’ Jungle Cruise
• The Jungle Book Fun With Language Game

Carried over to 2014 Edition:
• Audio Commentary
• Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund
• Deleted Scene: Lost Character – Rocky the Rhino
• “I Wan’na Be Like You” Music Video – Jonas Brothers
• Disney Song Selection
• The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book
• Disney’s Kipling: Walt Magic Touch on a Literary Classic
• The Lure of The Jungle Book
• Mowgli’s Return to the Wild
• Frank & Ollie: Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston Discuss Character Animation
• Disneypedia: Junglemania!






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