Moana

Moana

Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker

2016

Moana is a computer-animated musical about the eponymous daughter of a Polynesian chief and Maui, the Polynesian mythological figure. Everything about Moana – the music, the plot, the animation – is slick and polished, but while the song lyrics, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina, are sometimes clever, the story is rote and the animation sports a sheen of dead-eyed flawlessness. The movie is depressingly watchable.

Would not see.

The Red Turtle

The Red Turtle

Directed by Michaël Dudok de Wit

2016

The Red Turtle is an animated fantasy film. The film uses a blend of hand-drawn and computer animation and has no dialogue. The visuals are stunningly lavish, and the story is an enigmatic fairytale. The film, though, somehow, always appears on the verge of achieving something more than it does.

Would see.

Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are

Directed by Spike Jonze

2009

Where the Wild Things Are, based on Maurice Sendak’s 1963 book of the same name, is a drama about a child, Max, who goes on a fantastical journey to an island populated by wild things. The film is an excellent adaptation and an excellent film. It captures the intensity and abstractness of childhood emotion, recognizing Max’s sincere fear as well his unencumbered joy. Where the Wild Things Are looks honestly at the frustration and freedom of being a child.

Would see.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Directed by Isao Takahata

2013

The Tale of Princess Kaguya is an animated film based on the folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. The film is stunningly animated, even by the high standards of Studio Ghibli. Unlike some Ghibli films, it is better seen subtitled than dubbed into English due to lackluster English voice acting. The Tale of Princess Kaguya’s lyrical images, well-crafted score, close attention to emotional detail, and strong thematic voice allow the film to effortlessly transcend its expectations.

Must see.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Directed by Wes Anderson

2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox is Wes Anderson’s distinctly personal adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel about a clever fox who outwits three mean farmers. Fantastic Mr. Fox has meticulously animation, an unobtrusively sincerity, and a feeling of effortlessness that greatly belies the rarity of the film’s accomplishment.

Would see.

The King and the Mockingbird

The King and the Mockingbird

Directed by Paul Grimault

1980

The King and the Mockingbird is a French language animated film, loosely based on “The Shepherdess and the Chimneysweep,” that follows a king, a chimneysweep, and a shepherdess, who walk out of their paintings and take life, and a bird who tries to save the chimneysweep and shepherdess from the malicious king. The film has been cited by Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki as an influence, and it often shows. The animation is somewhat simplistic, but The King and the Mockingbird is a whimsical, funny, and delightful, if slight, film before its weightily philosophical, and wholly unexpected, ending.

Would see.

Being John Malkovich

Being John Malkovich

Directed by Spike Jonze

1999

Being John Malkovich is a comedy about a puppeteer who finds a portal that allows him to be the actor, John Malkovich. The film is surreal, unique, engaging, jarring, off-putting, and very funny. Full of unexpected turns, dense symbolism, and dark insights, Being John Malkovich defies category and expectation.

Would see.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Directed by Gore Verbinski

2007

(Guest reviewer)

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is the third fantasy film in the Pirates of the Caribbean series; it wraps up the conflict begun in Dead Man’s Chest. At World’s End could become tiresome to anyone not fully enamored of the franchise because it builds inward on prior jokes to such an extent that many lines would be otherwise unintelligible.

Would see.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Directed by Gore Verbinski

2006

(Guest reviewer)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is a fantasy film that returns to characters from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, uniting parties formerly at odds against new villains, while simultaneously maintaining an interplay of individual motives. The film builds on The Curse of the Black Pearl‘s success by using a similarly fast paced script and becoming, if possible, even more self-referential. It is a sequel that gives fans of Curse of the Black Pearl more of what they love, but it also adds depth to the franchise by introducing development to one-sided characters.

Would see.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Directed by Gore Verbinksi

2003

(Guest reviewer)

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is a fantasy film that unravels the conflict between parties of pirates, navy officers, and civilians, against the backdrop of a pirate crew that tries to return treasure it pillaged to revoke a curse. Improbably well written and executed, subtle plot points and self-reference cause the film to improve with each viewing.

Would see.