All the Disney tropes used back from the year 1937 (Snow White and Seven Dwarfs) to 2016 are evoked in Moana – the tale of a Pacific Island princess. Like the similar feel-good animated movies of the year, the indigenous cultural references (Polynesian culture) are perfectly blended in with Disney-brand overprotective parents and ambitious girls. Apart from the charming positivity, the script wonderfully satirizes the studio’s fixation on princess and schmaltzy love interest.
Like Frozen or Tangled, the story form is conventional, but there’s enough innovation to make it feel fresh. Moana is a fully-rounded character, unlike many Disney heroines. One of the best elements of Moana is the catchy soundtrack, co-authored by playwright and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Recommended: Moana – How animated can animation get?
6. Pete’s Dragon
I was very skeptical to watch Disney’s live-action remake of Pete’s Dragon. It’s indeed, a standard feel-good Disney story which could have entirely lost its poignant quality in the live-action mode. But director David Lowery surprised me. Pete’s Dragon is immensely satisfying.
In this elegant tale of companionship, 5-year-old Pete is left stranded in the wilderness. The boy encounters a genial, furry-green dragon, whom he calls Elliot. For the next six years, the orphaned boy leads a conflictless, exciting life until he encounters a human family.
Pete’s Dragon is the perfect example of a classic fairy tale, well adapted. Moreover, director Lowery clearly brings across the environmental message. It’s not perfect enough to evoke a unique frolicking mood as Miyazaki’s Totoro. Yet it tries to push the emotional buttons in a graceful manner. Oakes Fegley (played Pete) joins the list of Mille Brown, Ruby Barnhill, and Neel Sethi as young breakout stars of the year.
On the face of it, Zootopia looks a familiar feel-good film made to delight pre-teen audience and toy merchandisers. You could predict the presence of bright rainbow colors, pop jokes, cute characters, etc. Regardless, Zootopia escalates to a highly entertaining, richly-realized animation for all ages.
The protagonist is a bunny cop named Judy Hopps, who hails from a small town. In the mammal city of Zootropolis, Judy pairs with a mismatched Nick Wilde, a wily fox, to crack a mystery involving missing animals.
The plot nicely embeds sociopolitical metaphors and messages of tolerance. Shakira as the singing gazelle comes up with an adorable theme song ‘try everything.’
4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
The joys and pains of being a misfit is the central theme of New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi’s beguiling comedy/drama. With Hunt for the Wilderpeople, he once again and elegantly undulates between laugh-out-loud comedy and sensitive drama. The film tells the story of a troubled 13-year-old Ricky, who comes under the foster care of a genial middle-aged woman Bella and her grumpy bushman husband Hector Faulkner. When Ricky’s brief joyful days at Bella’s farm come to an end, he decides not to return to the stoic social workers. He dreams of an adventure in the woods and to be a ‘gangsta.’
The film smoothly swings between moments of joy and tragedy because the characters are written and portrayed with honesty and emotion.
Few may dislike Waititi’s typical absurdist chases. But, for most part, the film has a poignant and majestic feel-good vibe.
3. Sing Street
John Carney’s characters lay themselves out for love, even if it means being stepped on and hurt by their loved ones. In Once and Begin Again, Carney took us closer to the tangible adult love. With Sing Street, he takes us to a time and age when love doubles up a healing power too.
The year is 1985 and 14-year-old Conor lives with his bickering parents, loving elder brother and a sister. The economic downturn puts him in a local house, full of strict priests and nefarious bullies. Conor forms a band to mainly impress an older girl. Music and love transform Conor to be the person he is destined to be. More than being a tribute to our first-love, Sing Street works as ode to brotherly love. The relationship between Conor and his college dropout brother is so powerfully realized. It genuinely earns your tearful emotions.
This film isn’t as strong as Carney’s previous two efforts. However, the relatable, melancholic layers stay intact plus the wonderful songs leave you humming it for days.
2. Don’t Think Twice
Stand-up comedian, actor and filmmaker Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice is a bittersweet look at six, talented New York comedian friends and their lives. The film is a glaring choice for this list, because it’s sort of sad. Layers of sadness and frustration lie underneath each humorous moment. Nevertheless, the well-written characters and their unfortunate situations are relatable. The narrative provided me the emotional catharsis to provoke a different perception of the unfair things in life. The film may not make you punch into the air with joy, but pervades calmness in your heart, letting you into an introspective mode.
The question of success and failure, plaguing the lives of these six people, is easy to relate by all of us urbanites (even if you have never cared about improvisational sketch comedy).
1. La La Land
The classic Hollywood musicals became victim to changing taste of the audience. Consequently, the versions staged by televised shows and music-video extravaganzas were only the adulterated forms, mimicking the greatness. Rarely do we get to witness the real deal joyous exultation of a musical through bravura feel-good features like Damian Chazelle’s La La Land. The footwork, the grace and the tunes work in a way that push you to break into the song and dance routine. They make you break away from soul-sucking reality. The boy and girl of this fantastical tale are played by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Stars who make up for their lack in singing and dance with bundle of charm and energy. There’s none of the cynicism that’s part of our ‘connected’ world. So for some La La Land may not worth the hype.
I think a great musical’s job is to make you feel alive. And La La Land is the most thrillingly alive film I’ve witnessed in theaters this year.
By Arun Kumar