Usnavi De La Vega (Anthony Ramos) owns a bodega in Washington Heights, in Manhattan. Usnavi has a suenito, a small dream of going back to the Dominican Republic, and restoring his father’s beachside bar, but he needs money to achieve his dream, so he keeps working at the bodega, with his cousin Sonny. (Gregory Diaz IV)  Usnavi is in love with Vanessa Morales (Melissa Barrera) but is too shy to tell her.  Vanessa works at a nail salon, but dreams of being a fashion designer. Nina Rosario (Leslie Grace) has made it out of Washington Heights, all the way to Stanford in California, Nina’s boyfriend, Benny (Corey Hawkins) is not happy that Nina is so far from home. Benny works for Nina’s dad, Kevin, (Jimmy Smits) as a dispatcher.  Nina isn’t sure she wants to stay at Stanford, does she tell her father how she feels?  Does Usnavi tell Vanessa how he feels, does he achieve his suenito at go back to the Dominican Republic? 

 Is In The Heights an instant classic?  No, but it comes close.  Here’s why it could be a classic.  The music, written by Lin Manuel Miranda is fantastic, and lifts the rest of the material higher than it should be.  The Latino diaspora in the US is well represented, Dominicans, Cubans Puerto Ricans and Mexicans are all represented, or at least sung about.  There’s a very effective scene where Usnavi sends a shout-out to different Latina heroes, like Chita Rivera, Rita Moreno, Celia Cuz and even Sonia Sotomayor, but why no Tito Puente or Carlos Santana?  The film, even though it’s a musical, never loses sight of reality. The jobs that these recent immigrants have are very real, and so are the daily monetary struggles they bring. 

However, the plot elements come together much too slowly.  Some of these elements are either unnecessary or emotionally manipulative, which leads to the second critique, the movie is much too long. A running time of 2 ½ hours is long for any film, for a musical, it’s much too long.  In contrast, the film’s denouement, or resolution, conversely comes much too suddenly, and undermines the reality that the film seeks to portray.  The romance between the main characters, Usnavi and Vanessa falls flat, there is no spark between the characters, and it’s actually overshadowed by the Benny/Nina romance. 

The acting is very good.  Anthony Ramos gives Usnavi an understated, self-deprecating charm with lots of humor.  Melissa Berrera did a fine job portraying a woman with big dreams and small paycheck.  There is no chemistry between Berrera and Ramos, and that really detracts from the main storyline.  Much more convincing as lovers are Leslie Grace as Nina ad Corey Hawkins as Benny.  The have the chemistry that Ramos and Berrera lack. Leslie Grace is also very good in illustrating the pressures of being an overachiever, while Hawkins does a solid job of reflecting the angst of a long-distance relationship, and working for his girlfriend’s father.  Jimmy Smits portrays Kevin as a hard-charging entrepreneur who has tasted a bit of success, and wants even more for her daughter.  Olga Merediz reprises her role as Abuela Claudia, the guardian angel of the neighborhood, who watches over everyone, she also conveys the hardships of a first-generation immigrant well.   

The direction is pretty good.  The musical numbers are staged extraordinarily well, with Busby Burkeley type crane shots thrown in for added effect.  But the pacing of the non-musical scenes drags and thee many disparate plot points come together much too late.  Director Jon Chu gets good performances from a young cast, but he should have cut the 2 ½ hour running time and made the whole movie as fresh and exciting as the musical numbers. 

In The Heights:  The director bites off more than he can Chu 

A Korean man named Jacob (Stephen Yuen) transplants his wife, Monica (Yeri Han) and their two kids, Anne (Noel Cho) and David (Alan Kim) to rural Arkansas because he wants a chance to become a farmer. They make ends meet by determining the sex of baby chicks at a chicken processing plant.  Jacob and Monica fight all the time about finances, so to keep Monica happy, Jacob lets Monica’s mother, Mrs. Oh, (Esther Moon) come live with them in Arkansas.  Mrs. Oh is hardly happy in Arkansas, she curses in Korean, she drinks Mountain Dew, and chides David about his bedwetting. 

The family tries to ingratiate themselves to the rural Arkansans.  Jacob hires a local farm hand named Paul (Will Patton) with a little too much Holy Spirit, Monica joins the local church, and David finds a friend.  Not everyone tries to fit in, Mrs. Oh plants minari a watercress plant she brought from Korea, which flourishes near the stream on Jacob’s land. Jacob keeps farming, and his crops grow, does he sell anything? 

Minari is relentlessly depressing and ruthlessly manipulative, David, Jacob’s son, has multiple physical problems, Mrs. Oh is elderly, and something awful happens to her in the span of this film.   The writer makes the viewer first like the precocious David and the feisty Mrs. Oh, and then the writer makes the viewer feel sorry for them.  Minari treats Christians worse than the kids and the elderly in this movie. Paul, the farm hand, is a barely coherent person, mumbling in tongues and carrying a wooden cross down a dirt road.  That’s worse than cartoonish writing, it’s offensive.  And Monica seems almost apologetic for her faith.  There is no uplifting moment, there is no life-affirming moment, and then it just ends, abruptly.   

It’s too bad of writer/director Lee Chung didn’t have an ideal immigrant experience, no first-generation immigrant does.  Is he arguing against assimilation?  First generation immigrants don’t often have a choice, first generation immigrants don’t often have ready-made enclaves to live in, so they must assimilate.  Assimilation doesn’t mean losing one’s culture, it means keeping what is best of one’s culture and weaving one’s culture into the larger American experience. Minari misses all that nuance.  It speaks in blunt generalities. 

The acting is good.  Stephen Yuen is earnest as a man with a single-minded focus to make his small family farm work.  It may cost him his marriage and his kids, but he pushes on.  Yeri Han is very good as the underappreciated Monica, the wife who tries to be supportive of her husband, but also asserts her view that this is not her dream life.  It’s a tough role but she handles it well.  Esther Moon steals the movie as the cantankerous, but loveable mother-in-law.  Alan Kim steals a few scenes in the movie, and has the requisite cuteness and precociousness for the role.  Will Patton does a good job in humanizing Paul the farm hand, and not making him the caricature he was written to be. 

The direction is so-so, the pacing is slow, but Chung gets good performances from his actors, even the kid actors, which is not always easy to do, The set piece or climax seems unrealistic, and that detracts from its impact on the film. 

Minari: Withers on the Vine. 

Sargeant Manfredi (Michael Moore) and Seargeant Johnson (Peter Baldwin) are planning to break out of Stalag 17, a German POW camp filled with U.S. and Allied sergeants.  Sergeant Sefton (William Holden) draws the ire of all the other POW’s, because he bets against Johnson and Manfredi making it out. Especially irate are barracks chief “Hoffy” Hoffman (Richard Erdman) and Security chief Price. (Peter Graves) Sefton is right, Manfredi and Johnson are killed, and that leads the other men in the barracks believe that Sefton is a spy.  Suspicions intensify when the men hear of all the trades that Sefton has made with the Nazi guards. 

When Manfredi is replaced by Lieutenant James Dunbar, (Don Taylor) Dunbar begins to brag about blowing up a supply train to the men in the barracks.  Soon, word gets back to Oberst Von Scharbach, (Otto Preminger) who interrogates Dunbar for three days without sleep, and plans to send Dunbar to Berlin where he will be charged with sabotage.  Who informed on Dunbar, and on Johnson and Manfredi?  was it Sefton?  Or someone else in the barracks? 

Stalag 17 is not The Great Escape.  Both were set in a POW camp during WW II, that’s where the similarities end. While The Great Escape is concerned with breaking out of a prison camp Stalag 17 is concerned about a spy in the prison camp.  Stalag 17 has a lot of comedy, The Great Escape has very little.  They are both great movies, just very different. 

The theme of Stalag 17 seems to be don’t jump to conclusions.  The film could have been a sweeping indictment of violence against German Americans, suspected of being collaborators, simply because of their ethnicity, or Japanese internment camps, but that might have been too radical a theme for 1953. Actually, it is about a serious theme, McCarthyism, which was ravaging Hollywood during the 50’s, but even that theme is somewhat undercut by the ending, which is satisfying, but could have been more daring. All the same. it is a riveting spy story and whodunnit, with plenty of jokes. 

Was there too much comedy?  Maybe Animal’s Betty Grable fixation was a bit over the top or Sgt. Shapiro in a blonde wig is over the top.  Maybe Billy Wilder should ask himself why he made two movies with men dressed up as women?  Never mind, the comedy serves to ease the tension of the spy drama, and it’s natural for people to joke when they’re in a high-pressure situation. 

The acting is superb.  William Holden is magnificent as Sargeant Sefron, who seems to specialize in getting under his fellow POW’s skin. He’s a smooth-talking, deal-making, jerk, who seems far too chummy with the Nazis, Sefton even gets on the wrong side of Lieutenant Dunbar, who’s a hero to the other POW’s. Holden wasn’t Director Wilder’s first choice or his second. Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas were offered the roles, but Holden was the perfect anti-hero, and took home an Oscar. Don Taylor and Richard Erdman play the more conventional hero types, and do a convincing job, but they have the easier roles to play.  Peter Graves also gives a standout performance in a very complex role.  This was well before his fame on Mission Impossible, or the Airplane movies. Harvey Lembeck and Robert Stauss, provide the very broad comic relief, and break the dramatic tension quite nicely.  Fellow Director Otto Preminger does a good job playing both a serious and tongue in cheek role, but never missing an opportunity to taunt the American in his camp. 

The direction by Billy Wilder is also very good.  He balances comedy and drama very well in this film, the pacing is quick, and the set piece or climax is perfect.  He gets great performances from everyone un the cast, both the serious roles and comic ones.  

Stalag 17: POW! A hard-hitting drama with lots of comedy. 

Joe (Jamie Foxx) is a disgruntled music teacher, who just got a full-time job as a music teacher.  He should be happy, but he dreams of getting an audition with a jazz musician.  Joe gets his shot when an ex-student of his named Curley (Questlove) gets Joe a chance to sit in on piano a saxophonist named Cassandra, (Angela Bassett) This is Joe’s dream gig.  But Joe falls down a manhole, and dies.  Joe ends up on a conveyer belt, and his way to the afterlife, but escapes, and becomes a mentor to Soul 22, (Tina Fey) a soul in the Great Before who hasn’t gotten her spark, despite the attempts of many famous mentors.  Does Joe help 22 find her spark?  Does Joe get another chance at life? 

Animation is a great palette to discuss metaphysical issues.  An animator can draw anything a writer imagines, so the sky is literally the limit.  So, what do Disney’s writers give the audience? A rehash of Heaven Can Wait, a plot twist out of Freaky Friday, and the ultimate insult, the viewer is made to think that the story is about one character, when it’s about another.  The ending doesn’t even let the supposed focus of the film make the most important decision of his life.  There are two or three endings that are better than the one the writers decided on, it was a cop-out and it was incomplete, and that’s the worst of both worlds.  Inside Out was a much better look inside a person’s emotional makeup, and a much better film overall.  There are some laugh out loud lines, but overused premises and an all too conventional ending ruin what could have been an extraordinary film. 

The acting is very good.  Jamie Foxx did a very good job a playing a man who tries to please everyone but himself.  He is believable as a musician, maybe because he’s played one before in Ray.  He conveys Joe’s love of music well. Tina Fey transfers her annoying character from 30 Rock to this movie pretty effortlessly, the character is a bit edgy, Fey seems to want to indulge the edginess, but the writers don’t.  Phylicia Rashad is very good as Joe’s mom, she should have had a bigger role. Angela Bassett is good in a small role.  And New Zealand actress Rachel House stands out as irritating human calculator, Terry. 

The direction is not that good.  The animation of the afterlife is gorgeous, even though the features of the black characters seem a bit exaggerated.  The music by Jon Baptiste and Trent Reznor is very good and differentiates the movie from other Disney Pixar films. However, the plot device is old and hackneyed.  The ending is the real problem, the writers and director played it too safe, instead of going for the meaningful ending, and director Pete Doctor doesn’t let the movie play out, he cuts off the movie before revealing an integral part of the film, leaving the audience hanging. 

Soul:  Fails at its sole purpose. 

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) is a former army Captain who fought for Texas in the Civil War.  He now ekes out a living as an itinerant reader of newspaper stories, going from town to town informing people what’s going on in the states around them.  One day, during his travels, Kidd discovers a 10-year-old orphaned German girl raised by the Kiowa people, named Johanna, (Helena Zengel) and takes her along with him.  He intends to drop her at the Department of Indian Affairs, but when that fails, he tries to leave Johanna with an old Civil War comrade Simon Boudin, (Ray McKinnon) and his wife, Doris (Mare Winningham), but she runs away, so Kidd takes her with him to reunite Johanna with her uncle and aunt. 

In the first town Kidd rides into, he encounters a man named Almay (Michael Angelo Covino) who offers Kidd 100 dollars to take Johanna off his hands.  Sensing Almay’s nefarious intentions for the child, Kidd refuses.  Almay and two others chase Kidd and Joanna down to a rocky outcropping outside of town, but Kidd and Johanna escape, after some quick thinking by Johana.  In the next town, the two discover a demagogue named Merrit Farley (Thomas Francis Murphy) who rules over his town with an iron fist.  He wants Kidd dead for filling people’s heads with dangerous ideas.  Does Kidd get out alive this time?  Does he return Johanna to her aunt and uncle? 

News of The World seems to have borrowed a lot from John Ford’s classic Western, The Searchers, where John Wayne’s character wants to return a girl, taken by the Comanche, to her family.  But this film has a different focus, not finding a missing girl, but getting the girl back to her family.  The sense of excitement is not the same either, because the threat to Kidd and Johanna never seemed existential.  The Farley character may have been some editorializing on our current politics, but it was flat and unemotional There are also lots of scenes where Johanna and Kidd can’t communicate, because Kidd doesn’t speak Kiowa, and Johanna doesn’t speak English, that hampers the narrative a lot.  The ending doesn’t help this movie at all, it shifts the tone entirely, and hurts the overall film.  It’s surprising that Paul Greengrass, who wrote Jason Bourne and United 93, would write such a pedestrian screenplay. 

Tom Hanks tries to play the strong silent John Wayne Gary Cooper type role, but it doesn’t work.  Hanks taking to a volleyball in Castaway is not his best moment.  Hanks is much better with dialogue. Greengrass gives Hanks some dialogue, but Hanks sounds like a snake oil salesman than a news reader, so this is not Tom Hanks at his best.  Helena Zengel does a much better job of conveying the pain of being orphaned twice, and she does it with a paucity of words, mostly with her eyes, and a few words of Kiowa.  It is an excellent performance.  It’s basically a two-person movie, and Zengel not only holds her own with Hank, she betters him. 

Director Greengrass gets a few nice visuals, a cattle drive, a windstorm, and some picturesque views of New Mexico, that hardly makes up for the languid pacing of this film.  And for some reason, at what should be the set piece of the film, he interrupts the narrative and makes the viewer guess what happens next.  News of the World is not Greengrass’ best effort. 

News of the World:  Bad news for Hanks fans.

Owen (Jake Weber) is a forensic accountant with a pre-teen son named Connor. (Finn Little) The D.A that Owen works for has been killed, and now the assassins, Jack (Aiden Gillen) and Patrick (Nicholas Hoult) are after Owen.  They shoot Owen and his car careens off a cliff, but miraculously Connor survives, and runs for help.  Connor finds a smoke jumper named Hannah (Angelina Jolie) who is in a fire tower after a traumatic event involving a fire that she was fighting.  Does Hannah help Connor, can they both evade the assassins, and a growing fire coming closer to both of them? 

This movie is built on false advertising.  Those Who Want Me Dead is billed as an action movie starring Angelina Jolie.  The movie features a forensic accountant, ethical assassins, a hero sheriff, a pregnant sheriff’s wife, and a smoke jumper who does no smoke jumping.  The action seems to involve everyone BUT Hannah, and this is no exaggeration, the pregnant sheriff’s wife is more of an action hero than Hannah is.  Hannah spends most of her time being a mother figure to Connor.  See Brad, Angelina IS a good mom, this film proves it. Worse than all of this, the movie just ends without answering any of the questions it bothers to raise.  Salt is an action movie starring Angelina Jolie, watch that instead of this sentimental drivel. 

Angelina Jolie is to be pitied, even her surgically altered face is to be pitied, it is proof that Hollywood is not interested in actresses over 40.  The pity is, she is a good actress, and she can be an action hero, if given the right script, this is the WRONG script.  Jolie seems like a bystander in her big comeback movie. Finn Little is good as Connor, he shows the right amount of emotion, along with some toughness.  And he does a convincing American accent. Nicholas Hoult is pretty good as the younger assassin.  And it’s good to see him in something besides an X-Men movie.  What is Tyler Perry doing in this movie?  Don’t ask, no one explains his character or his function, he has one scene, and he is gone. 

The direction is poor, the pacing is exceptionally slow for an action film, there are so many disparate storylines that the viewer has to wait for the story to come together and once it comes together, the movie doesn’t get any more exciting.  The set piece or the climax, is almost anticlimactic, and the movie limps to an uninspired ending. 

Those Who Wish Me Dead: Doesn’t Catch Fire. 

Kingsley Smith (Kenya Sandy) is a 12-year-old boy who dreams of being an astronaut one day, but he can’t read, so he acts out, and gets into trouble with the teachers. This behavior culminates in a meeting between Headmaster Evans (Adrien Rollins) and Kingsley’s mom, Agnes. (Sharlene Whyte) Headmaster Evans recommends a special school for Kingsley, and Agnes reluctantly agrees.

There is nothing special about the school that Kingsley attends, the kids are allowed to run around aimlessly, and far from succeeding, Kingsley continues to flounder in school. One day, when things seem hopeless, Kingsley is visited in school by a psychologist named Hazel, (Naomi Ackie) who sees how deplorable his school conditions are. Shortly thereafter, Agnes is visited by former politician, Lydia Thomas (Josette Simon) who tells Agnes about the inherent bigotry of the British educational system, the soft bigotry of low expectations, and implores Agnes to enroll Kingsley in their one day a week school. Agnes’ husband Edmond (Daniel Francis) thinks Kingsley should learn a trade. What does Agnes do?

Even though Education is a fictional story, educational disparities are an ugly reality for many, not only in the UK, but in the US as well. It’s easy for school administrators to label kids special needs kids, and leave them to languish in special education classes, or schools. Unfortunately, many of those labeled as needing special education are minorities, and so they get trapped in a cycle of bad educational choices, low-paying jobs, leading to generational poverty. Before any of that takes hold one or both parents have to act, they have to decide if their child has a true learning disability, or has been mislabeled by the educational system That’s the decision this film so dramatically and powerfully illustrates. It realistically shows the strain that these decisions can have on the family dynamic.

The acting is superb. Kenya Sandy is very good as a child stuck on a system that doesn’t want to help him, Sandy doesn’t say much but the viewer can see the despair in his face and flashes of outward anger, but when he realizes he can’t read, all the emotion of that reality comes bubbling to the surface. Sharlene Whyte is wonderful, at first, she is torn, embarrassed to discuss her son’s problems, even at home, but after she makes that decision, she is transformed, she is a bull in a china shop, and Whyte makes that transformation believable. Naomi Ackie had really good chemistry with Kenya Sandy, it was like they were friends all along, but she also questions the teacher quite sharply, it’s a pivotal small performance. Josette Simon plays a persistently forceful character, and Simon gives a nicely understated performance.

Director Steve McQueen does a great job telling a small story with large implications. As he did before, he takes small, quiet moments in a character’s life and focusses the viewer’s attention on those moments, and let the viewer see and feel the character’s struggles without much dialogue. McQueen is also able to show competing narratives through the father character. The tension builds and is finally released in the climactic scene or set piece. He does this all in an economical 63 minutes. McQueen also gets great performances from a young and unknown cast.

Education: A Teaching Moment

Cassandra (Carey Mulligan) had a promising career as a medical student, until she drops out of medical school after something traumatic happened to her best friend Nina. Now, Cassie spends her days working at a coffee shop with her friend Gail (Laverne Cox) and her nights going on strange dates with even stranger men. It is at the coffee shop where Cassie meets Ryan. (Bo Burnham) Ryan used to go to medical school with Cassie and had a crush on her. They date, but their relationship gets off to a rocky start because Cassie is keeping secrets from Ryan about her nighttime activities.

Through Ryan, Cassandra befriends Madison, (Allison Brie) who went to medical school with both Cassandra and Nina, but she doesn’t remember what happened to Nina. But after Madison finds herself on a compromised position, she remembers some very important information about what happened to Nina, and passes it on to Cassie. What does Cassie do with the information. Do Ryan and Cassandra smooth out the bumps in their relationship?

This is a weird movie. It is undoubtedly a vigilante movie, but it tries to be a strange mashup between revenge porn and a romantic comedy. Imagine a movie that mixes Death Wish, Say Anything, and Misery. As strange as that combination sounds, this movie is oddly dependent on the romantic relationship between Cassie and Ryan. The relationship with Ryan and the romantic tone serve at least three purposes, it serves to normalize the Cassandra character, instead of making her the obsessive, compulsive loner she appears to be, second it gives Cassandra a way to get in touch with old acquaintances in medical school, and third, it lends credence to the movie’s predisposed views about men. But the viewer gets whiplash from the tonal shifts in this film. There is a twist, and it almost saves the film from being another predictable vigilante film, but not quite.

The acting is adequate. Carey Mulligan is nominated for an Oscar, she’s asked to play two roles here, a world-weary woman who has seen the worst of what men have to offer, and a woman waking up to the possibility that she might be in love. It’s a tall order playing two distinct roles in one character, and she pulls off the world-weary woman very well, but doesn’t really pull off the woman falling in love too well. Her American accent is quite heavy, and slips a few times. Bo Burnham is quite convincing as the pediatric surgeon and possible love interest for Mulligan’s character. Laverne Cox, most known for her role in Orange Is The New Black is mostly used as comedy relief and is absent from most of the serious potions of the film.

The director, Emerald Farrell, is also an actress, is also nominated for an Oscar, she shouldn’t win. The pacing is uneven, sometimes recalling a horror movie, sometimes sluggish and slow. She doesn’t control the narrative either, which is all over the map. The set piece, or climactic scene is much too reminiscent of the film Misery, and even though she pulls off quite an imaginative plot twist, it’s not enough to save the movie from its multiple personalities. Regina King should have been nominated for best director and was not.

Promising Young Woman: Carrie’s Mulligan Stew performance doesn’t work for this viewer.

Ariel (Jodi Benson) is a strong-willed mermaid, the 16-year-old daughter of King Triton. (Kenneth Mars) Ariel collects human nick knacks from the surface, even though neither she or her seagull friend Scuttle (Buddy Hackett) knows what they are. King Triton is annoyed that Ariel missed a musical performance, because she was on the surface. Triton asks the royal composer, Sebastian (Samuel E. Wright) to keep an eye on Ariel, but she goes up to the surface again, and sees Eric, (Christopher Daniel Barnes) strapping, young seafaring lad, and Ariel subsequently saves Eric’s life.

When Triton finds out that Ariel has been to the surface multiple times, he gets angry and uses his Trident to destroy Ariel’s collection of human paraphernalia. This rash judgement plays right into the hands of the Sea Witch Ursala, (Pat Carroll) who has been plotting to extract King Triton’s power, and usurp his throne. Ursala approaches Ariel and asks her to make a deal. Ursula will give Ariel human legs in exchange for her voice. Ariel impulsively takes the deal, can she attract Eric without her greatest gift, her voice?

The Little Mermaid is a classic movie for two major reasons, animation, and the music, The animation is beautiful, bright and colorful and makes the underwater look very inviting. After such animated and semi-animated flops in the 70’s like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Robin Hood, and Pete’s Dragon, the animation was refreshing and looked like Disney’s classic animation. The characters were interesting and had their own personalities. King Triton was regal and strong, Scuttle seemed confused, Sebastian was only interested in his position in the royal court, and Ursala was scheming and manipulative, much like Cruella De Vil, she even bears a passing resemblance to Cruella, as well as Pat Carrol, the actress who portrayed her The music takes this movie to another level, “Under the Sea” “Part of Your World” “Kiss The Girl” among others, are not only very entertaining, but they move the story along as well.

There are flaws, Ariel is only 16, she shouldn’t plan to be marrying anyone. Ariel and Eric don’t really get to know each other, Ariel literally can’t speak when they are dating, not a basis for a good relationship, and a lyrical reference to a blackfish in the Under the Sea song, is accompanied by an unflattering caricature of a black female fish. Even with some flaws, this movie became a template for many other Disney classics, a little romance, a little comedy, lots of songs, that’s the current Disney formula, and it’s working. Beauty and The Beast, The Lion King, and Aladdin, to name a few, have all followed a similar formula, without seeming formulaic. There was a sequel to The Little Mermaid, not nearly as good, and there will be a remake, because Hollywood has no new ideas.

The acting is good, especially by the character actors. Jodi Benson gives Ariel that teenage rebellion and stubbornness that Ariel needs and she has a great singing voice. Christopher Daniel Barnes gives Eric a happy go-lucky attitude, and there’s not much else to the character. Samuel E Wright gives Sebastian a Trinidadian accent and a haughty air about him. Buddy Hackett makes Scuttle funny and endearing all at once. Pat Carroll oozes evil just as much as her character oozes black ink, and Carroll seems to enjoy playing the scheming, vindictive Ursula, maybe a little too much. Ursula even gets her own song. Rene Auberjonois almost steals the film in his one major scene as a psycho French chef.

The direction is good, the pacing is fast, the musical numbers are staged well, the animation is stunning. The set piece is set in a storm, which makes the scene much more dramatic, and the directors get very good performances, both directors are veterans of the newer Disney animated films, Hercules, Aladdin, The Princess and The Frog and Moana. A flashback and a small backstory involving Triton and Ursula would have added a lot to the story, but the Little Mermaid made over 200 million, and probably saved Disney as a studio.

The Little Mermaid: Get hooked on it.

Beautiful socialite Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) is in the middle of a hunger strike on her father, Alexander’s (Walter Conelly) yacht. Ellie refuses to eat unless her father lets her marry King Westley. (Jameson Thomas) Ellie’s father thinks King is a golddigger, marrying Ellie for her father’s money, and tries to annul Ellie’s marriage, Ellie responds by jumping in the ocean and swimming away. She ends up in Miami on a bus to New York to meet King Westley.

On the bus, Ellie meets newspaper reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable) who initially doesn’t know who Ellie is. But Ellie loses her luggage, and then Peter finds out her true identity. Ellie also realizes that without her suitcase she has no money, so she and Peter masquerade as husband and wife to stay in a hotel room, while the bus stops overnight. At the hotel, Peter has a proposal, Ellie tells her the story of her and King’s whirlwind romance exclusively to Peter, or he will tell her father her whereabouts. This bit of blackmail makes Ellie think even less of Peter. Peter thinks Ellie is spoiled and childish. But as they spend more time together, they start to enjoy each other’s company. Is Ellie falling for Peter? Is Peter falling for the spoiled little rich girl?

Why is It Happened One Night a classic? Because the time-honored romantic comedy formula started with this movie. The man and woman initially hating each other, the snooty woman, the fiancé or husband being a jerk, a road trip, these were all elements that have been repeated for the last 86 years, with varying degrees of success, but this movie gets credit for being the first. In fact, Rob Reiner’s The Sure Thing borrows a lot from It Happened One Night. Watch the two together and note the similarities. Secondly, It happened One Night is very funny, it is part romantic comedy part screwball comedy, with lots rapid-fire banter between the two leads. The hitchhiking scene with Gable and Colbert has become legendary, and it’s laugh out loud funny. The ending is somewhat predictable, but with movies like this, it’s not the destination, but the journey, and this journey is an enjoyable one.

Most moviegoers wouldn’t picture Clark Gable as a working-class hero, but in this movie he’s a booze guzzling, wisecracking, out of work newspaper reporter, and he is very believable in this role. Mist people wouldn’t think of Gable as a comedic talent either. No, he’s not doing pratfalls, but his comic timing is flawless. He handles the high-volume dialogue effortlessly, and turns himself into a likeable know-it-all. He also puts a lot of male chauvinism into Peter Warne, which was expected at the time, women were expected to sit and take it. A viewer can see elements of this performance, humor, misogyny, playing a regular guy, in another iconic role, Rhett Butler. Gable won the only Oscar of his career for his role of Peter Warne. Claudette Colbert was perfect in the role of snobby socialite Ellie Andrews, she plays a giddy coquettish type at first, but then the writers get wise and give Ellie some snappy comebacks, and Colbert handles the role just fine. Colbert also handles the emotional rollercoaster of the ending quite well. Ironically Colbert did not want to sign up for this movie, as Universal was considered a B-movie studio at the time, so Universal had to give her the ungodly figure of 50,000 dollars to play Ellie Andrews. She also had a bad experience with director Frank Capra in an earlier film, but in the end, she agreed to work on the film. Like Gable, she also was rewarded with an Oscar for her work.

Director Frank Capra had no dramatic set pieces in this film, as he had in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington When Senator Smith embarks on a filibuster, or It’s a Wonderful Life when George Bailey contemplates suicide. But he did try to spruce up the bus scenes with lots of singing, and it works, the singing adds a lot of cheer to those scenes And of course the hitchhiking scene, which Colbert initially balked at, is the scene that movie fans remember. The pacing is good, he gets great performances, even though Gable and Colbert don’t need much help, and Capra does a pretty good job at keeping the audience guessing throughout the film and holding the ending, until the last possible minute. Capra also won an Iscar for this film.

It Happened One Night: Frank-ly, Capra is a great director.