Coming back after a long break – UPDATE

Dear Reader,

I’m back! After a long break (a whopping ten months) I’ve decided to try and re-start my old film blog once again. I used to have a real spark for writing about film, but after starting studying film full-time in University the sad truth was that my old passion became my homework, and the desire to do it in my free-time seriously dropped off. I think it deserves another chance though; I want to rediscover that hunger and desire that led me to set up this blog in the first place, even if some of my earlier reviews are hard reading now. I hope my experience in University will have helped my standard of writing, and to potentially make them a more academic, interesting read for everyone. I don’t want to just go to the cinema and write about the latest blockbuster from Marvel, or DC. Instead, I want to talk about the films that I personally am interested in, whether that be very new or very old, a classic or a hidden gem. I’m going to try and stop reducing movies to simple rankings, and instead just analyse and talk about them, focusing on what I think is interesting about them (and mostly ignoring films I don’t find interesting).

I hope you haven’t missed me too much, and I hope I can actually commit to this blog properly for the first time!

Love,

apuffofJack

The Extraordinary Achievement of ‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya’

To witness Takahata’s decade old project seems almost like a blessing unto itself. The charcoal strokes and painted brushes of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya wash over you and immerse you into a startlingly different world where the magic of fantasy is sharply balanced by the difficulties and sufferings of a life on earth, where the wondrous is often undercut by stark, cold reality. It is a strangely harsh film, where the title character of Kaguya is a miracle on earth that has to deal with her own, very human problems, which turn her from an excited child to a world weary adult. As opposed to his Studio Ghibli counterpart, Hayao Miyazaki, Takahata has a history of using the brilliant and often hopeful world of animation to create a bleaker world, as shown in his previous films like Only Yesterday and most famously, Grave of the Fireflies. The end result is no different here, as a simple fable about a girl born from a bamboo shoot quickly turns into a thought-provoking and moving drama about the cold reality of growing up as part of royalty.

However, she doesn’t begin as royalty. Born out of a bamboo shoot and falling into the hands of an amazed bamboo cutter, Kaguya quickly grows up around the beautiful nature of the countryside, making friends and singing songs around the idyllic surroundings of her childhood. Soon however, her father begins to receive new gifts through the bamboo stalks, such as clothes of silk and piles of gold, leading him to believe (correctly or incorrectly) that she needs, deserves, to grow up as royalty, or otherwise she will not be truly happy. So begins a sad and memorable warning of royal life, as Kaguya finds her beauty hidden and her passions denied in order to become the quiet, reserved idea of the Japanese royal woman. It is just as adult and serious theme that any Studio Ghibli film has ever tackled, up there with the horrors of war in Grave of the Fireflies and the means to create weapons in the name of beauty as shown in The Wind Rises. With the unusual but absolutely engrossing style of animation on display, charcoal paints and bright colours, along with juxtaposition between soft and jagged environments makes it a truly unique film on a visual level, totally unlike anything that Studio Ghibli has attempted before. Although it does, to an extent, unfairly romanticise the life of living in the countryside, the beautiful pink strokes of the cherry blossom and the waves of green trees stretching around Kaguya’s house makes it easy to understand why she loves it so much, and how the transition of that to an empty, grey mansion would bring her into a state of near-depression. The two worlds’ are best contrasted in an absolutely extraordinary sequence in which Kaguya, having over-heard horrific remarks about her by guests at a ceremony, runs out into the night, tossing her bright clothes of royalty behind her as she goes. The style of animation immediately becomes rushed and jagged, with a shaky moon hovering above her figure as she races through the ragged, pitch black shapes of the woods, back home to where it all began. It is, potentially, one of the most powerful and jaw-dropping moments of animated cinema I have ever seen; an unprecedented burst of violent emotion, where Kaguya’s sadness and anger is projected onto the world around her, turning it sour and sharp.

Although The Tale of the Princess Kaguya excels in these kind of moments, where the world becomes violent around Kaguya, the film also shines in its quiet, thoughtful moments too. Early on there is a moment much talked about by critics, where Kaguya learns how to crawl, and then to walk, by mimicking frogs around her house. It is a beautiful, serenely joyous few minutes as she imitates their sound, and then their motions before finally discovering how to use her own legs properly, and is a scene rightly admired and beloved by anybody who watches it. However, the scene that sticks in my mind as being both quiet and powerful is much later on, where Kaguya’s mother allows her to escape the mansion for an afternoon to visit a cherry blossom tree in the countryside. Kaguya runs up to the tree, once again at one with nature, and we get a lovely and colourful moment of her dancing amidst the falling petals and around the luscious green grass of the hill. This is interrupted by country folk who accidentally bump into her oblivious dancing form, and treat her like the princess she hates to be, apologising for their mere presence and quickly move away, leaving her alone again on the hill. As she watches them go she sees the children playing along the path and through the trees, just like she used to do, and what was a moment of pure ecstacy soon turns into a deeply personal, important, and sad moment in her life. Despite coming back to the beauty and wonder of the countryside once again, it is clear that her now royal figure is completely out of sorts with the world that she loves. She is part of the rich elite that is now trying to reconnect with the poor surroundings that shaped and sharpened her looks and personality, and in that one moment of apology, she has to face up to the idea that she is no longer part of it. It’s a heartbreaking scene, one which changes emotions like flipping a coin, and gives a real insight into this tragic character in a way that words never could.

This will be Takahata’s last film, and after Miyazaki officially retired last year, the end of Studio Ghibli is looking scarily like a very real possibility. Although The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is now at least two years old, I felt completely compelled to write about it in its entirely, as I fear I may not get a real chance to do so again. I was taught and embraced by the world of Studio Ghibli when I first started loving cinema; they taught me about the possibilities of animation, the beauty of imagination and the pure joy that can come from simple images. It saddens me that this education may have finally ended with The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, but it is as good a farewell as anything I could have hoped for. Like Miyazaki’s emotional farewell, The Wind Rises, this is a deeply personal, more adult endeavour, which still manages to highlight everything that I have loved about their time working in the medium. It is beautiful and heartbreaking, and in true Studio Ghibli fashion it is not only a true and heartfelt story of growing up and facing reality, but it is also a magical dip into the genre of real fantasy. It shouldn’t mean much for me to say that I loved The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, or even that I adored it; I pretty much profess my love for any Studio Ghibli effort, even missteps like Pom Poko and From Up on Poppy Hill. I think it means a lot more for me to suggest, or even predict, that in time this will be seen as one of the greatest achievements in the history of animation, a fitting masterpiece to potentially pull the curtain down on the best animation studio that has ever worked in cinema. This is a once in a lifetime kind of film; unbelievably, Studio Ghibli have given us a lifetime full of them.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – The Review

The protagonist of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Greg, is an awkward, bumbling high-school student who tries to keep at arms lengths with every one of his fellow students, in order to avoid any sense of drama, or any potential for feelings to get involved. When he discovers that a girl he vaguely knows, Rachel, has been diagnosed with leukaemia, he is reluctant to get involved, and once he is forced to, he starts to worry how her illness is affecting not only her, but him. And, strangely enough, the film does too. This indie take on ‘weepies’ like The Fault in Our Stars takes on the interesting angle of asking mainly how Rachel’s illness breaks away Greg’s opposition to the realities of life, and how he has to face up to the real world in a way he has been avoiding his whole life. This unusual focus, one of a number of interesting narrative choices throughout the film, is a perfect example of what sets Me and Earl and the Dying Girl apart from the rest. It is an extremely funny and surprisingly down-to-earth movie that works hard to earn its sentimentality.

The screenplay, written by the author of the original book Jesse Andrews, is funny and thought provoking in equal measure, proving once again after Perks of Being a Wallflower that an author writing an adapted screenplay for their own work is a very, very good idea.  The script treats its own characters like real people; the ‘dying girl’ Rachel for instance is never treated as either a helpless dame waiting for a boy to save her, nor an exaggerated superhero that beats illness through the sheer force of her own optimism. She feels like a real person, unable to totally lift themselves up from the gravity of their problems, but trying to fool others and themselves that everything is fine in the meantime. The plot follows from her and Greg hanging out to the idea that Greg and his friend Earl, who make fake parody movies together, need to make an original movie for Rachel to help raise her spirits. This is another narrative idea that is full of great potential, with wonderfully funny cinematic nods and jibes, plus the harsh realisation that making something original, and feeling the pressure for it to be perfect, is a very real struggle. Again, the mistake Greg makes is thinking it is about him rather than her, another lesson he is forced to learn in what is, essentially, a film about his character having to finally grow up.

The two leads, Thomas Mann and Olivia Cooke, play off each other brilliantly in a charming (but not overly romantic) way.

However, the film isn’t all about being moving and life-affirming. It is also, without doubt, one of the funniest films of the year so far, completely reducing me to tears with a joke about Werner Herzog. As an indie film as well, I would say it also has potentially the best soundtrack of the genre since (500) Days of Summer, which was all the way back in 2009. The film does have its flaws; it does on occasion veer dangerously close to the kind of thing it is trying to stand out from, occasionally turning up the gooeyness and sentimentality up to eleven when in fact the audience were already under the spell. These are just minor blips however of a film that only uses sentimentality when it really earns it, and makes the audience care through more structured and grounded themes.

Best Bit 

Although the Werner Herzog joke made me cry with laughter for about five minutes straight, there is a beautiful, horrible moment towards the end of the film that at once both helped pay off every theme of the entire film, and also (in my opinion) deliver a spectacular, harrowing tribute to Kubrick’s 2001. 

Worst Bit

There are moments, for instance when Greg and Rachel have an argument, where the characters temporarily become slightly exaggerated and momentarily fake, as the film unwisely inherits tropes from films like Fault in our Stars, which it consistently works hard to distance itself from. These moments are only minor, however.

Overall

I don’t think Me and Earl and the Dying Girl will rock any boats in a lasting way, nor will it win over the naysayers who have branded it along with every other quirky, indie dramedy that some cinema-goers are assuredly tired of. For me however, I found the entire film to be a welcome breath of fresh air, a genuinely thought-provoking, small scale piece of cinema that offers a new take on the kind of manipulative, sentimental teen dramas that run out of steam before they begin. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has more to say than any of them, and that ultimately means that when it needs to use slightly clichéd moments to win our hearts, it absolutely works. It deserves every tear it’ll get out of you.

4/5

Ex Machina- The Review

Alex Garland’s directorial début Ex Machina is something of a cinematic rarity; it is a science-fiction film which takes its time. Too many examples of the genre go in with all guns blazing, blinding the audience with CGI before trying to make some kind of philosophical idea that ends up making the whole film look a bit half-assed. Ex Machina hurdles these obstacles with total ease, presenting a cautionary tale that deals with very modern worries in a very human setting. Its special effects are minimalist but spectacular, its acting is consistently superb, and it demonstrates an intelligence and awareness that we don’t see that often in cinema. It is a very early 2015 science-fiction treat.

The story is simple and well contained: Caleb, (Domhnall Gleeson), is a humble programmer who wins a competition to go and visit the reclusive home of his genius boss, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). Once there he is enlisted to an experiment in which he is asked to spend time with Nathan’s latest creation, a beautiful robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander), to determine whether or not Nathan has truly created a free-thinking conciousness. It’s an engaging story, self-contained in this small penthouse in the middle of a huge, woodland clearing. They are completely alone out in this location, Caleb, Nathan and Ava, and their slow progression of relationships, and the breakdown of trust, is constantly making the audience switch their allegiances. Who can we trust? Is Nathan telling the truth about the test, or is he leading both Ava and Caleb along? Is Caleb keeping his judgement, or becoming untrustworthy by Ava’s almost flirtatious behaviour? And can pure, innocent Ava be as good as she seems, or does her intelligence also come with the capacity to deceive? The film doesn’t take sides, which makes it a constant challenge for the audience to decide whose side they are really on.

The film starts off as a futuristic relationship drama, which later evolves into an almost surrealistic horror film, where Alex Garland demonstrates his capacity to unnerve and disturb the viewers. This often comes from Ava, wonderfully played by Alicia Vikander, who is incredibly human despite half of her body being exposed, wires and lights blinking and moving when she does. The very idea that we have this clearly mechanical figure, that acts so perfectly, so humanely, is disturbing in itself. She’s a wonderful creation, with perfect use of CGI making her not just believable, but totally natural to the setting. Vikander herself has been trained in dancing, and it shows through her performance; Ava moves with a meticulous and deliberate grace, almost gliding across floors when walking. She is the focus of the story, and always the focus of the audience; she is consistently the most engaging and interesting character, as we, like Caleb, strive to find out the limits of her humanity.

That isn’t to say that the other characters aren’t interesting. Domhnall Gleeson’s Caleb is a well formed character, an outsider coming into a location that seems out of time, where miracles are created but secrets are kept. Gleeson plays him well, and just like he did in last year’s Frank, he isn’t fearful of the audience not liking him. However, he often takes a back seat to Oscar Isaac’s mad scientist Nathan, a lazy drunk who almost seems to be in control of all the information the world has to offer. He’s a genius, but a recluse, untrustworthy, with a nasty streak which occasionally reminds us and the other characters of a darker nature. Isaac plays him so well, giving us a completely different form of ‘mad scientist’, a drunk genius who, even at his kindest moments, is nothing less than quietly sinister. It’s this three-way character drama that really keeps the story going, and makes the whole film work as well as it does; the intelligence of the script is only heightened by the actors portrayals of three complicated, deep characters. This is hugely impressive stuff from first time director Alex Garland, a directorial science fiction début that rivals the likes of Duncan Jones’ Moon, and bodes very well for the future. It’s confidently made, recycling old ideas with a new presentation, getting excellent performances out of a small cast and posing the audience with relevant questions for today. Science fiction cinema in 2015 could not have gotten off to a better start.

Best Bit 

The individual one on one sessions with Caleb and Ava are brilliantly engaging, as the audience is studying her and her responses just as much as Caleb is. She’s an inherently fascinating creation of a character, and every second spent in her company is totally compelling.

Worst Bit

Halfway through Ex Machina I had the realisation that the film wasn’t offering anything totally new for the genre. These are good ideas, but well worn ones, and perhaps a few new questions would have kept things a bit more fresh. However, this is barely a criticism when the presentation of old ideas is told in such a wonderfully new, unique manner.

Overall

Alex Garland’s first ever effort at directing is a complete triumph, giving us one of the best British science fiction films in years, and reminding cinema just how intelligent and thought-provoking the medium can really be. It isn’t perfect, but it is a beautifully presented, fantastically acted example of the genre, and a real treat for science-fiction fans. It doesn’t get ahead of itself, it takes its time, and it wants to make the audience think. An all too rare example of cautious, minimalist science-fiction cinema.

4/5

Whiplash- The Review

There is a pure power at the heart of Whiplash; not in the conventional Hollywood meaning, but in the ferocious tempo and noise that comes out of Damien Chazelle’s extraordinary film. It portrays the strained relationship between a young and ambitious drummer (Miles Teller) and his tutor, Mr Fletcher (J.K Simmons), who despite being an aggressive bully, gets the very best out of all his students. Their intense struggle against each other turns what could have a simple music based movie into a complex war film, where blood is shed and battles take place on the stage. Whiplash has better action scenes than most Hollywood blockbusters, as more is said through the individual beats of the drum then could ever be said with a script. This pounding psychological battle is sensationally performed through the soundtrack, and the beats of the war resonate with the audience long after the film is over. It is a violently loud, extraordinary film about the means to achieve success and the methods which can lead to it, about the mantra of practise makes perfect, and whether true genius can be achieved through dedication.

None of the film’s achievements would be possible without the central performances. J.K Simmons is revolutionary as Terence Fletcher, bringing back memories of Lee Ermy in Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket with his heart pumping, terrifying ramblings at his pupils, psychologically breaking them into becoming perfect musicians. His performance is extreme, but completely controlled, inhabiting a surprisingly multi-layered character that asks the audience whether he is a brilliant teacher or a repressed bully. Miles Teller is equally as important, pushing himself to impossible limits, bloody hands and all, to fulfil the impossible standards that are set in front of him. The chemistry between the two actors is electrifying, playing off each other to create a relationship that is as memorable as it is nerve-shredding. Both characters have depth, and they share an increasingly complex relationship that threatens to ruin both of them. The editing and pure pace of the movie takes over frequently, grabbing the audience and taking them on a roller-coaster experience of cinema that has the audience holding their breath until the last beat. The way that the film is made, coupled with the central performances, help contribute to an effect of furious speed, of rapid tempo that completely immerses any audience while consistently knocking them off their feet.

Teller is in direct competition with two other drummers, and he must ‘earn’ his place at the band’s core.

The question that can be asked of Whiplash is ‘does it have anything to say?’. Is there any real depth to the film, a meaning, or is it simply a roller-coaster experience that has a deliberately intense pace in order to prevent the audience from thinking about it? It’s a valid question, and one that hasn’t yet been resolved. Whiplash tries to say a lot about fame, success and the means to succeed, but often enough we are prevented from properly thinking about the layers behind the characters by getting caught up in the electrifying, exhilarating of the music. An equally valid question to ask is ‘does it need to say something?’ Can’t a film just be an experience? Whiplash does have a lot to say, if you are interested in hearing it. If not, it will start you off thrilled, and let you go completely exhausted, nerves frayed and heart pumping. It works solely as a cinematic experience, and can pose some very interesting questions to viewers who look beyond the roller-coaster elements. Whiplash avoids all clichés, turns the well-established genre of music in film completely on its head, and makes the audience stumble out of the cinema, pounding for breath. Whether or not Whiplash is deep is up for debate, but is never anything less than an extraordinary cinematic ride.

Best Bit

The finale is a remarkable sequence, cultivating all the best elements of the film and raising the tempo to unimaginable heights, bringing the whole experience to an almighty crash of a finish. Its war disguised as music, a battle in the middle of an orchestra, a finish worthy of any symphony.

Worst Bit

There are early scenes with Miles Teller’s characters girlfriend that did worry me slightly; she felt like more of a device for Teller’s character to spout his troubles than an actual human being. These worries were addressed later though, and once again the film avoided all clichés to deliver truly memorable moments, both loud and quiet.

Overall

Whiplash is a staggering cinematic accomplishment, a fantastic vehicle for both J.K Simmons and Miles Teller that allows them to achieve their full acting potential within the confines of a rapidly paced story. The editing and direction swing the audience around on an unforgettable ride, an experience that will leave some panting and shaking with the total intensity of it all. The debate as to the film’s depth or lack of it may rage on, but there is no denying the real achievement that is before us. Can we have a drum roll for the Oscars, please?

5/5

apuffofJack’s Top Five Films of 2014

It’s been an especially mixed year in the world of cinema. The quality has fluctuated between serious highs and serious lows, between forgettable blockbusters and awe-inspiring independent efforts. In compiling this list I had to exclude a few really wonderful films; 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street won’t appear on this list because they were screened to most critics in 2013, and the fact I only saw them this year doesn’t make them viable for the list. I also haven’t been able to see critic’s favourites such as Birdman or Whiplash due to their later début dates in the UK, after being praised highly over in the US. This is a very personal list, and is the very best of what I’ve seen this year, and what moved, thrilled and shocked me the most.

Number 5: The Wind Rises

Hayao Miyazaki’s (supposed) final movie The Wind Rises is a special film for many reasons. It signals the end of an era, as the master of animation himself finally hangs up his pens and calls it a day, after garnering almost universal acclaim for his magical, timeless masterpieces of the genre. The Wind Rises is the perfect farewell, a more adult tale about a genius war plane-designer who has to wrestle with his morality as his creations are sent off to kill, all while he finds love and suffers heartbreak. In comparison with his other more imaginative, more child friendly films, The Wind Rises is a fascinating change of pace that almost becomes an autobiographical journey from Miyazaki himself. While being both beautiful, tragic and uplifting, I cannot run from the overbearing feeling that this is the final goodbye to one of my favourite ever film-makers. His films have charmed and inspired people for decades, and The Wind Rises epitomises all that was wonderful about his career. In The Wind Rises, Miyazaki simultaneously says goodbye to us all, while fondly reminding us of the journey his animation has taken us on. Magical cinema.

 

Number 4: The Babadook

As a lover of the horror genre, but a great advocate against the modern horror style of film-making, The Babadook is an extraordinary tribute to the greats that made my hair stand up on end. In Jennifer Kent’s début movie, Essie Davis gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a suffering widowed mother, Amelia, who has to tend for her problematic, troubled child Samuel, played by Noah Wiseman. After they read a mysterious book together called ‘Mister Babadook’, their lives plummet into fear as Samuel’s problems escalate and Amelia struggles to retain her sanity as she deals with her son while also fighting the suspicion that his fears are very real. With sound production to equal The Exorcist and atmosphere that rivals The Shining (plus one of the scariest monsters ever to grace horror cinema), The Babadook is a horror film for purists, a movie that relies on pure tension and atmosphere to scare you, bordering the plot so finely between the psychological and supernatural elements as to truly unsettle and disturb. A perfectly executed horror masterpiece.

 

Number 3: Under the Skin

A truly unsettling, visceral take on science fiction, Jonathan Glazer’s tale of an alien both living among us and feeding on us in a bid to survive is a staggeringly ambitious piece of work that is as beautiful as it is haunting. A masterful visual effort, Under the Skin baffles the senses in extraordinary surrealist scenes which depict the alien, played by an almost unrecognisable Scarlett Johansson trap and kill men almost through their own desire and lust in chasing her. She smiles and flirts from her van’s window in the middle of night-time Scotland and then casually takes them back for emotionless, frightening scenes of strange death. At times it is almost erotic, sometimes even quite funny, but most of all it creates a nightmarish atmosphere which really does creep under the skin. Big ideas are explored by Glazer through this incredible tale of a very different type of alien invasion, and Johansson perfectly inhabits a being that is both incredibly appealing and attractive but also strangely off centre, as if out of touch and out of mind with humanity. Wonderfully shot and lifted by the best score of the year, Under the Skin is among the year’s very strangest, and very best films. It works so well because we’ve never seen anything like it before, a truly unique tale of humans told through the eyes of an alien.

 

Number 2: Gone Girl

After reading a great many of critic’s ‘best of the year’ film lists, I noticed an unfortunate lack of David Fincher’s fantastic adaptation of Gone Girl. I’m flying the flag for it now, right into second place for its wonderful mystery, beautiful cinematography and what must surely be the Oscar winning performance of Rosamund Pike as ‘Amazing Amy’. The story of a man accused of his wife’s murder takes every kind of twist and turn imaginable as Fincher expertly crafts expectations and ideas in the audiences’ mind, only to wipe them all away with a slippery plot that sets out only to excite and shock. A wonderfully biting satire of relationships and marriage, plus the media’s influence on our lives, Gone Girl hit a chord with me that I have not quite managed to shake since I saw it. I loved every second of it, from its satirical points, its blackest of the black humour or its nerve shredding suspense. I haven’t always been the biggest fan of David Fincher; I’ve never got the appeal of Fight Club and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was a bloated mess. However, he hit all of my buttons this time around, and I don’t hesitate when calling it one of his finest ever films.

 

Number 1: Boyhood

What else? The presentation of twelve years of a young boy’s life, shot over twelve years using the same actors is not only a wonderful film, but a revolutionary example of film-making. Richard Linklater’s crazily ambitious project will be regarded as a classic for decades to come as it perfectly captures the moments not only of a boy growing up, but of a family breaking off and repairing itself constantly under the strain of time. Even though the film contains terrific acting and direction, the simple experience of seeing a human grow up in front of you is unforgettable, a marvel of the medium. It transcends cinema, becoming not only the best film of 2014, but also one of the best films of the last ten years. It finds something in this simple journey of growing up that we can all connect with; a perfect blend of the highs and lows that almost find the answer to what it means to be human, and what it means to get older. There have been a lot of great films on this list, films that scare, uplift, and excite. But I can’t describe any of them as miracles of cinema. With Boyhood, it almost feels like a duty to lavish the highest praise possible upon it. It perfects everything it tries to do, and infinitely more in the process. It is inescapable and unforgettable; an instant classic that will be revered for years to come.

Why ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ is the Best Disney Film Ever Made

The Emperor’s New Groove is a different breed of Disney film. It evokes pure fun, ditches contrived sentimentality and takes the audience on a ride where the sole purpose is to have fun. While other, more popular films were written by serious, academic screenwriters, you can imagine the writers of The Emperor’s New Groove telling silly jokes, standing on their heads and wearing funny looking hats while brainstorming the most ridiculous of ridiculous cartoon scripts. The film started life as a fable, a sentimental epic like Mulan or Pocahontas, and somewhere along the way it got scrapped and handed to the writers at Disney who just want to have a lot of fun. It has a wonderful voice cast, hysterical jokes and an irresistible sense of mindless joy that should spread to children and adults alike.

Following Emperor Kuzco, an arrogant and selfish ruler (fittingly played by David Spade) who gets betrayed by his royal advisor Yzma (Eartha Kitt) and turned into a Llama. He must use the help of kind-hearted peasant Pacha (John Goodman) to get back to his Kingdom and restore his humanity, while Yzma searches him out to finish him off. It’s a wild ride of a plot, willing to take huge risks with comedy to stand out from the animation crowd. It succeeds; the characters occasionally break the fourth wall to point out plot holes, there are subtle sex jokes a plenty and a memorable sequence with somebody’s shoulder angel and devil. It’s a Disney film that takes creative risks in a way that no other has tried before or since, and should be mentioned as one of the studio’s all time greatest efforts. It has a whirlwind pace that grabs the audience, tosses them around and leaves them feeling dizzy but elated at the end of it. Give me this kind of comedy and pace over The Lion King any day; The Emperor’s New Groove openly rejects the need to bog its audience down with sentimentality. It sets out to have a lot of fun, and I can watch it again and again and still laugh at the same stupid, cheesy, risky jokes.

Did I mention it has Tom Jones in it? Because it does.

Although it did well commercially and has picked up a cult following, The Emperor’s New Groove was never singled out by critics as a true Disney classic. Of course, it has its flaws; a small minority of the jokes fall a little flat, and if you don’t like the eccentric style of the film then you won’t find much to love. However, for someone like me who is constantly a bit sick of such serious, clichéd morality tales from Disney, then take a look at one of the studios’ efforts which tried something a little different, a little new. It rejects the conventions that made Disney the powerhouse of animation it is, it swims against the current to give us something entirely unique, fresh and exciting. For me, it is the greatest Disney film ever made; not because it is flawless (it isn’t), but because it is the only Disney film I can watch and know, with complete certainty, I will have an absolutely joyous experience. You can’t say that about many films in cinema. It inspires fun.

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