Stuff I’ve Read, Watched, Done – April 18, 2022

There have been a couple of major family events in the last couple of weeks. My wife had surgery–nothing too dire, but still something that she is not fully recovered from. And my youngest daughter is celebrating her 16th birthday!

This is her at about one month.

So I’ve been co-running my online school from my home and spending time when I can with my family, and especially looking after my wife when she needed assistance.

Plus, you know, Easter.

So it’s been a different sort of a fornight, with a lot of time at home and a pretty poor step count.

But it’s included a good round of TV, including a surprising amount of animation.

Brave

This is one of the Pixar films I’d never seen, and that I basically didn’t know anything about. The movie came up in conversation after we watched Turning Red, though I didn’t know why–my girls were pretty cagey about what the plot of the film actually was, and if I ever saw any commercials for it, they are lost in the fog of memory.

The connecting point of course is that in both films people turn into bears of some sort. Brave is about Merida, a young Scottish princess with amazing hair who doesn’t want to get married off according to family expectations in an upcoming ceremony. When she meets a witch, she hires her to come up with a spell which will get her out of her predicament, but it turns out that this gets accomplished by turning her mother, the demanding queen, into a bear. Hi-jinks, chaos and heart-warming life-lessons ensue.

At first I was bit disappointed that the plot of the film was built around a fairly trite “I don’t want to get married” formula, but the movie quickly got past that. And possibly in 2012, such a thing wasn’t so trite yet. Indeed, Brave is the first Pixar film to have a female protagonist (though by no means the last) and after Merida was inaugurated into the halls of Disney Princesses (by no means a small accomplishment, it turns out) she became the first one who is single. She’s also the first one who is Scottish and the first one to be developed by a studio other than Disney.

Anyway, there were some slow bits, but overall I enjoyed Brave. It’s not going to the top of my favorite Pixar movies list (that includes things like Toy Story 2, Up, and The Incredibles, but it is a good movie.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Another Disney film, this time from the studio itself and not Disney, was this movie from 2001. It came on the recommendation of one of my daughters, who was the only one in the family (at least, the family that is around currently) to have seen it. And it is a fun, solid science fiction adventure with an impressive voice cast.

There is a whole sub-genre of stories about worlds and civilizations that exist below the surface of the earth–Journey to the Center of the Earth, Godzilla vs. Kong, etc–and Atlantis: The Lost Empire fits squarely in there. The story is about young Milo Thatch, a linguist with the Smithsonian Institute who believes that Atlantis existed and can be found, who gets his chance thanks to the involvement of an eccentric millionaire. He ends up on a mission with band of colorful supporting characters and a bunch of nameless soldiers to the “Lost Empire” deep inside the earth. There Milo meets and falls in love with the beautiful Princess Kida, whose lack of inclusion on the Disney Princess list shows how hard a gig it is to land.

Eventually, Milo’s compatriots show their true colors, and reveal they are just in it for the money–their ruthless theft of a key treasure threatens the whole civilization. Fortunately, all the likable supporting characters go back to Milo’s side at the critical moment, and everyone works together to save the day. Along the way, lots of people get killed. Even though most of them are generic faceless soldiers, it was still surprising to see in a Disney animated film–it’s a bit more like watching Star Wars than Wreck-It Ralph.

The cast of the film is pretty impressive, and includes Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Claudia Christian (from Babylon 5), John Mahoney, and Leonard Nimoy.

Infinity Train

Both of my younger daughters really like animated TV, and my middle daughter in particular devours content like that quite quickly. She discovered Infinity Train, created by Owen Dennis, a while ago and pulled her younger sister into it. And now, they’ve convinced me.

We watched the first season over the last couple of days, which was easy to do because there are only ten episodes in it and they are only about 11 minutes each. It makes plugging through it quite easy. This is also something you want to do because it’s got such a clever story, a lot of mystery, some outrageous visuals and concepts, and genuine laughs along the way. The story (of the first season anyway) is about a young girl named Tulip who runs away when her recently-divorced parents are unable to take her to a computer programming camp she’s been looking forward to. Desperately wanting to travel quickly over several hundred miles, she finds herself abruptly picked up by a mysterious train.

This turns out to not be an ordinary place at all–each car seems to contain an entire world (different every time) inside of it, populated with all sorts of strange creatures and surprises. She tries to make her way through the cars to reach the front so she can talk to the mysterious conductor about getting home again. Along the way there are many adventures to face and problem to solve. She is joined by a variety of friends who assist her, most notably a helpful talking dog-king named Atticus and spheroid robot called One-One. The show is funny but it also handles quite serious subject matter–Tulip’s parents divorce, for example–with a lot of depth and nuance.

The first season doesn’t ever explain the big underlying questions–like where did the train come from or why it’s there–but it does tell a solid story with great economy and pacing, and which leaves one with a strong sense of narrative satisfaction. There three other seasons out there, all of similar length, and I am looking forward to making my way through all of them. The last one none of us have seen yet, so we’ll be discovering it together.

It’s a little ironic that I just recently finished by list of favorite fictional Artificial Intelligences (see here) because I think if I started the list now, One-One would have been on it.

Tulip is played by Ahsley Johnson who has done a lot of voice work, but I actually remember as the precociously bratty little sister on the short-lived sitcom Phenom from a long time ago. Also, there is a talking cat with an agenda of its own, who is voiced by Kate Mulgrew–Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager.

The Adam Project

Breaking away from animation for a minute is The Adam Project, a cartoonishly-silly Netflix release featuring Ryan Reynolds as a guy who steals a time-traveling airplane and accidentally comes from the future to the present day and ends up meeting his younger self at age 12. The movie is funny and diverting, but ridiculous and a little tiresome. If you are looking for diverting and funny, then sure, give this movie a go. Beyond that there is not much to talk about.

Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Garner, and Zoe Saladana co-star in the film which I feel makes it clear the demographic the movie is shooting for. Interestingly, the plot turns out to be very similar to a film called Time Chasers, which I’m currently watching on an older episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

Star Trek: Picard

I haven’t watched Picard yet this week. Last week’s was ok–the plot contrived to put everyone into tuxedos and evening dresses so they could infiltrate a fancy party. Under the influence of the Borg Queen, Agnes Jerati not only took over the lights at this event (which is believable) but also performed a highly practiced musical number with a live band who are just able to play along perfectly without any practice (which is not believable). And believable or not, the whole scene–which is being done as a distraction but really to get Agnes’ body to release chemicals which will allow the Borg Queen to fully take over–is unbelievably silly.

Soon enough I’ll watch this week’s episode (mostly so I don’t have to catch by watching several episodes in a row), which promises to be a trip in Picard’s psyche after he is nearly killed after being run over by one of Data’s creators ancestors. My guess is that this will give the show the chance to establish all the character-deconstructing material that the show evidently wants to give Picard–the defining incident from his childhood, the revelation about the real reasons he went traveling into the stars, etc. I’m not looking forward to it, and yet I know I will watch it. I think it’s going to be shallow and poorly conceived and executed.

Come on Star Trek Picard, prove me wrong!

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