Film reviews: Leap Year, The Princess and the Frog, and Ponyo

 
 

Leap Year

Director: Anand Tucker
Cast
: Amy Adams, Matthew Goode, Adam Scott
In Cinemas
: 26th February

Did you know that the tradition which states a woman can propose to a man on February 29th is an Irish one? This reviewer did not, but it did clarify why this romantic comedy about one such a proposal was set in Ireland. Shame, really, since it means that this perfectly serviceable rom-com has been ruined for Irish viewers by a series of the most awful Irish clichés and stereotypes ever seen outside of a Lucky Charms ad.

Starring Enchanted’s Amy Adams and British actor Matthew Goode (who has a daycent aul stab at an Irish accent, to be sure), the plot is fairly simple: Adams is tired of waiting for her high-flying boyfriend to propose, so she takes the opportunity to surprise him at a conference in Dublin on February 29th and pop the question herself. A hilarious series of events sees her stranded in Dingle (which is on the way from America, via Wales. Obviously.) with a hairy Irishman who says he’ll bring her to Dublin. Predictable romantic comedy ensues.

When she wasn’t chasing cows, doing the Siege of Ennis at a wedding, stepping in cow pats, using an old P&T phonebox (apparently we don’t have mobiles in Ireland), or pretending to be married so she could stay in a B&B with Hairy Irishman, Amy Adams proves to be her usual charming and likeable self. Goode plays a passable surly Irish pub owner, attractively scruffy and vaguely endearing.

Unfortunately, not even his smiling Irish eyes can redeem this insult of a film. The geographical ambiguity of the thing is astounding – the Cliffs of Moher are in Dingle now, by the way. In case you’re looking for them. And all the Sunday trains have been cancelled, from everywhere. And it’s now possible to walk from Dingle to Tipperary in a few hours, in 6-inch heels no less. Oh, and the local supermarket in Tipperary is only down the road… in Dublin. The list goes on – suffice it to say that the only authentically Irish moment in the whole thing is when Adams gets polluted on vodka after making a tit of herself at a wedding and vomits all over Hairy Irishman’s brogaí deas.

Och, but sure it all works out in the end. Yer man proposes to herself, only to have yer wan realise that it was the other fella she wanted altogether. Hairy Irishman proposes with a Claddagh ring on the Cliffs of er, Dingle… and they all live Oirishly every after.

In a nutshell: Diddly eye dye dye, to be sure.

Michelle McCormick

~

The Princess and the Frog

Directors: Ron Clements, Jon Musker
Starring: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David

In Cinemas: 5th February

From the Disney Wet-Dream Team that brought audiences the likes of Hercules, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid comes The Princess and the Frog, as Ron Clements and Jon Musker return with a tale of Southern gentry and bayou politics.

The story talks place in the early 20th century around New Orleans. We are handed two families: one is wealthy and white but morally void; the other black, poor, but rich in warm family values. It’s good to see that Disney hasn’t lost its panache for stereotyping.

Roughly based on folkloric tales like The Frog Prince, this family cinematic outing offers much of what Disney’s classics have offered in the past. It begins with a systemic narrative that becomes complicated by a seemingly unusual supernatural occurrence: Tiana, our poverty stricken protagonist, has been transformed into a frog by Prince Naveen in an attempt to cure his own slimy illness, and as the plot progresses, resolution is only found by a journey through the cruel backdrop of the Louisiana bayou.

Here, the primary characters come from the rest of the ensemblem, including a Cajun firefly called Ray, a timid alligator-cum-jazz trombonist named Louis, and an eccentric Voodoo witch called Mama Odie, whose powers are needed to be cured from the reptilian mutation cursed upon Tiana by Dr Facilier, an evil practitioner of the dark arts.

Enough plot: let’s talk criticism. This animated musical succeeds in forcing a smile, with an upbeat attitude and vibrant colour scheme reminding one of an age when things were as simple as rousing musical numbers and joyous resolutions. The narrative, though, could be accused of being too linear – almost too straightforward.

It becomes apparent that Disney has finally begun to set aside their retrospectively bigoted baggage. There is rarely a hint of misogyny, or a whiff of racism. Tiana retains the upper hand throughout, with Prince Naveen remaining the student for almost the entirety of the film. The good-and-evil divide is found between Voodoo practitioners Dr Facilier and Mama Odie, with Facilier filling the devilish shoes and Odie stepping into the angelic.

The Princess and the Frog is an innocent familial jaunt soaked in so much happiness that it can be smelt from this side of the pond. The music is appropriate and the screenplay offers the right balance of humour and plot development, considering its aimed at children.

In a nutshell: A simple return to Disney’s animated classics; great for some, tedious for others.

Jake O’Brien

~

Ponyo

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring
: Noah Cyrus, Frankie Jonas, Matt Damon
In cinemas
: February 12th

This is it: the cute event of the decade. Anyone who saw Miyazaki’s My Neighbour Totoro and has been desperately searching for another cute fix, rejoice! Ponyo is here, and is so fantastically innocent and lovely that no film will ever attempt it again. Pat yourself on the back, Japan, you can all go to sleep – that’s all there is to be done in the field of cute.

Ponyo (Cyrus, younger sister of Miley) is a fish-girl who escapes from her protective father, falls for five year old Sosuke (Jonas, younger brother of the Jonases) and decides to become human. What follows is just big eyes, cuddles and primary colours that somehow forces you to adopt a child’s state of mind. You don’t notice it happening, but by the end you are so full of wonderment and warm feelings that you can’t judge it using conventional cinematic criteria.

The narrative style mirrors that of childhood: everything new is displayed with amazement, conflict is ignored outright, and relationships are formed simply by repeating your name horrendous amounts of times (‘Ponyo!’). The problem with having toddlers in leading roles, however, is that they have very little idea of what’s going on around them – which makes it hard to respect any decisions they might make (though I guess that’s the problem with toddlers in general). Meanwhile, Hayo says he was inspired by The Little Mermaid, but in Japanese the word ‘inspired’ is very similar to the one for ‘took it wholesale’.

Visuals are about as vital to this film as dialogue is in Shakespeare, or Shakespeare is in a book about Shakespeare. Miyazaki clearly had the entire Japanese population animating this film, and they’ve done an incredible job, skilfully melding the film’s themes of innocence and nostalgia with the animation style. From the first frame it is evident that they aren’t taking the easy way out, every image is an ocular treat, maintaining a perfect balance between storybook simplicity and quantumly intricate detail. Yes, a great deal of the style could have easily been reproduced with computers but would have lost the warmth and personality that is the heart of Ponyo.

Fans of Miyazaki’s earlier work won’t be disappointed, but its pure, uncut innocence might be jarring at first. Its lack of cynicism makes it feel-good in a way that we are not accustomed to. Overall it is glorious, and if you find it superficial and shallow otwo recommends at least pretending to be moved, for fear of being deemed inhuman and having your house burned down. What a lovely film.

In a nutshell: The most violent movie of 2010 – or, pure innocence, with all the lovely ignorance that comes with it.

James McDonnell

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