Breakfast Club, The (1985)
★★★ / ★★★★
Five high school students who personify a geek (Anthony Michael Hall), a princess (Molly Ringwald), a jock (Emilio Estevez), a basket case (Ally Sheedy) and a criminal (Judd Nelson) spent a Saturday in detention under the eyes of a begrudged principal (Paul Gleason). The picture’s argument was the fact that although we label ourselves (or others label us) to be in a specific category in the high school social strata, we can relate with each of the five characters because we share one commonality: in high school, all of us are just hoping to get by and waiting for our lives to actually begin. The film was astute in observing the teenagers while they interacted with each other and when they were on their own. Even if the characters were not saying anything or if they were just on the background, I was able to read them and I thought of things that they might have been thinking at the time. Having been released in era where typical teen flicks were abound, “The Breakfast Club” almost immediately gained a cult following because of its honesty, right amount of cheesiness, and cathartic quality. My favorite scene was toward the end when the five were in a circle and decided to share why they were sent to detention. I liked the fact that it wasn’t a typical “sharing time” where everybody was solemn and serious all the time. They were actually able to make jokes toward and around each other in between discussing their issues. It made me think of me and my friends when would do the same thing. Out of the five, I could relate to Hall’s character the most (and a bit of Ringwald’s because of her slight conceitedness). It made me think of the way I was in high school concerning my penchant (or perhaps even obsession) for getting straight A’s. It got to the point where getting straight A’s was something that I expected of myself instead of something that I had to strive for. I remember being so hard on myself for making small mistakes when, looking back on it, I didn’t really need to. Now that I’m older, I just think of grades as letters on a piece of paper and nothing more. They don’t define us and they certainly don’t dictate what we can offer the world. The difference between me and Hall’s character was my parents did not pressure me into getting the perfect grade point average. However, I can just imagine how it must have been like for other students who were not so lucky–those that jumped off buildings in college because they felt a need to have the “perfect academic record” to have a “secure future.” Written and directed by the legendary John Hughes, I thought he did a wonderful job capturing the essence of teenagers despite their place in the high school hierarchy.
Princess and the Frog, The (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
“The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s return to 2-D animation, was about an extremely hardworking girl named Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) who dreamt of owning a restaurant ever since she was a little girl. But it seemed as though her dream was always out of reach because of issues like not having enough money so she made a deal with a prince trapped in a frog’s body (Bruno Campos). That is, she would kiss him in exchange for a full payment for her restaurant. But it all went wrong when, immediately after she kissed the frog, she found herself trapped in a frog’s body as well. I liked this movie but I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would because the middle portion of the picture was a little bit too messy. It felt like the main characters were in a swamp for so long that the story felt stagnant. Other than the scene when they finally reached a blind old lady’s house, there wasn’t much pay off during the whole ordeal. I thought it had a fantastic beginning, especially the opening scene when our heroine and her rich best friend (Jennifer Cody) were introduced as little girls, and a strong last twenty minutes when the prince, Tiana and a few friends they met along the way (Michael-Leon Wooley as a musical alligator and Jim Cummings as an energetic firefly) finally got out of the swamp. The villian named Dr. Facilier or Shadow Man (Keith David) could also have been much more menacing (he very much reminded me of Jafar from “Aladdin”) considering he knew so much about the dark arts. While he did have his cruel moments, especially toward the end when he subjected the lead character into an illusion, I felt like he was a bit one-dimensional. I did, however, enjoy the musical numbers which consisted of jazz and soul mixed in old school Disney style. Not only were they catchy, the lyrics were quite insightful. “The Princess and the Frog,” directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, was similar to Disney classics not only in terms of animation but the lessons embedded in those stories. Yes, it was nice to finally have an African-American Disney princess but I think it’s more than about color. The writers could have easily made the character as dumb (or “unaware” if one prefers to sugarcoat it) as Snow White (“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”) or as reckless (though very charming) as Ariel (“The Little Mermaid”). Instead, Tiana is a very modern princess who chose to have jobs so she could be that much closer to reaching her dreams. This movie may not be as good as those Disney classics but the princess in this film is actually one of my favorites because she’s more realistic than most of them combined.
★★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, “Ponyo” (also known as “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea”) tells the story of a princess goldfish (Noah Cyrus) who truly wants to become human. After escaping from her father (Liam Neeson) whose job is to maintain balance in the natural world, she meets a five-year-old boy named Sosuke (Frankie Jonas) and instantly falls for him. Although I very much enjoyed this latest film from Miyazaki, I don’t think it’s his finest work. The story is beyond cute, the characters’ motivations are easy to understand, the world has a sense of wonder, and the situations the characters are put in have enough danger in them to make the audiences want to root for the characters to succeed. In a nutshell, it’s the perfect movie for kids and adults because it’s highly entertaining. However, I wasn’t as emotionally invested in it as I was when I saw “Spirited Away” for the first time. It must be noted that I saw the dubbed version of this animated picture in theaters so perhaps some of the dialogue was lost in translation. But I wanted a more insightful story regarding the characters. Earlier in the film, there was this tension between Sosuke’s mother (Tina Fey) and father (Matt Damon) because his father was always away at sea. There was a certain innocence and genuine comedy when the mother and father were trying to communicate in morse code by using lights. I wanted more of those situational family moments because then the film becomes that much more personal. What I really liked was that the message about the environment and how we must do our best to take care of it but it the message was never heavy-handed. Such messages were simply shown on the screen as tons of garbage were being collected from the ocean floor and ocean creatures were suffering in more ways imaginable (including the title character). Despite some of the very small negatives I mentioned, I still think this is a very strong film about a creature who tried her best to reach her dreams. “The Little Mermaid” comparisons are justified because of the premise but one shouldn’t imply that it doesn’t rise above the template. In fact, Miyazaki’s signature style of being unbound by realism was constantly at the forefront here. Therefore, every image we get (and the emotions that come with them) is very inspired and it’s very difficult to resist its charm.