Don’t Look Up

Every end of the world movie I adore gives almost no detail as to what will end the world. These movies are more about watching the characters deal with their own existence in the face of a shared extinction. Don’t Look Up spends the entire film talking about the fact that the world is going to end, and barely scratches the surface of the characters. I was hoping for something closer to Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and instead we got Mars Attacks.

Don’t Look Up starts with Kate (Jennifer Lawrence) discovering a new comet, which becomes a celebratory event for the observation centre. The celebration ends abruptly as Dr. Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) calculates the size and trek the comet will take towards Earth. Within hours the two are flown to the White House after the revelation that the comet will become a world ending event on impact. President Orlean (Meryl Streep) refuses to take action after hearing the facts as she is more concerned about re-election. So Kate and Dr. Mindy take it upon themselves to get the news out to the media. Roadblock after roadblock, it’s a fight to be heard so action can be taken throughout the movie and essentially the rest of the film.

Kate and Dr. Mindy are the only characters that share any relatable qualities, as everyone else is purely a satire of the role they are playing. It leaves no surprises and doesn’t play as well as I think it’s supposed to. With every one of these roles filled by star power and over the top acting it seemingly resembles Mars Attacks. By the end every character shows so little intelligence, you may wonder if they’re even worth saving.

In the end, Don’t Look Up is just another film about the government not listening, it’s just the stakes are higher in this one. The characters spend the film shouting to be heard, but we just want to know what they are thinking. It’s fine and forgettable after you see it. It would have been good if the material was thought provoking enough to carry conversations about it long after the film, alas it won’t.

Robert Ring

Hotel Transylvania: Transformania

Ten years after the first Hotel Transylvania we have a fourth and (for now) final instalment. In terms of animated franchises, I have enjoyed this one. For children it’s an animated adventure with monsters, and for adults it’s a parody of the Universal Monster movies. I absolutely chuckle to the jokes that poke fun at holes in each monster everyone has always taken for granted.

Unlike the previous films, Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is skipping theatres and is available right now on Amazon Prime Video. This must have cost Amazon a lot, considering the last film grossed over $500 million at the box office. As a new parent this was a good move for both parties as parents are more afraid to take their children out into public during the pandemic which ebbs and flows. You won’t see this happen with Minions 2 however, as that first film grossed over $1 billion at the box office and they’re waiting to recreate that once more.

Transformania once again is about Dracula’s coming to terms with moving on. And this time it’s about him retiring and passing on the hotel to his daughter Mavis, and son-in-law Johnny. Dracula being afraid of the hotel turning into a chaotic “surfer dude” paradise reverses his decision and tells Johnny that it simply cannot happen because Johnny is not a monster. Now we come to the Transformania part of the movie where Johnny succeeds in finding a way to turn into a monster. The device for turning into a monster can also turn monsters into humans. Dracula and most of the Transylvania gang find themselves turned into humans. For what was simple to become human, becomes a quest to reverse.

The transforming gimmick was a great way at making some of the retreading plots feel fresh this time around. The anchor of these films has always been Adam Sandler voicing Dracula, yet you wouldn’t know that he was absent from this film, as well as Kevin James. If it was because of contract disputes he was easy to replace as Sandler has always played Dracula with a somewhat parody voice of Dracula, so it never felt original to begin with. Besides everyone has always used that Dracula voice at every costume party.

Overall Hotel Transylvania: Transformania is another solid entry in the franchise. It doesn’t give a satisfactory end to the franchise as a whole, but who is to say another one won’t be made in a few more years. It’s worth the watch with your family on the weekend for the price of an Amazon Prime Video subscription and they even have the older entries on the service too.

Happy watching,

Robert Ring

Marriage Story

Life is full of relationships that at the time feel as if they will last a lifetime. As is natural, things change and people are pulled in different directions. These people we once knew intimately become distant and sometimes better off left as memories. This happens with friends and family, but the one we gamble on is the one we want to spend the rest of our life with. A relationship with a partner you love can go the same way and under the same roof. It’s here where love becomes complicated and leads to the divorcing of two people now out of sync. Divorce easily becomes about two perspectives that turn quickly into two different narratives exaggerating the essence of what was essentially the drifting apart of two people. And this is what Marriage Story is about.

Marriage Story begins with Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) both talking about what they appreciate about the other. They say these things as if they’re still together, but we find they are actually separated. It’s amicable and without bitterness. Nicole moves to LA from their New York home with their son Harry so she can shoot a television pilot. While there people around Nicole move her in the direction of divorce lawyers. So Nicole meets with a divorce lawyer and Charlie, blindsided, gets served with divorce papers. The narrative of Charlie and the narrative of Nicole are presented with drama to which Charlie expresses that he feels like a criminal. The gauntlet gets worse and worse of a cautionary tale that happens to many people every day. This isn’t a story of two people that get together in the end, instead, it’s a look at two people transitioning through the ugliness of divorce. There is a lot of heartfelt moments, mixed with humour and sadness that will keep you endeared all the way to the end.

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Marriage Story is a likely Best Picture candidate for all the right reasons, and Laura Dern seems like a lock for Best Supporting Actress. This film will be healing to anyone that has experienced a divorce. The only successful marriage I’ve known in my years comes from my grandparents. Seeing the divorce of my own parents and many others makes you privy to vile perceptions given from each side. Quite often there is a villain in divorce, yet in Marriage Story I think seeing both perspectives shows it’s just about a relationship that has become distant like ones you’ve possibly experienced yourself.

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Marriage Story is available on Netflix and well worth your time.

Robert Ring

Crawl

Horror is that dime a dozen film genre where there is maybe one out of a hundred exceptional films. It’s a genre that can be experimented with by wannabe filmmakers trying to make a name for themselves, but very few succeed in making a career out of them that people actually like. You can name the few that do it with consistency and I think by now we can add Alexandre Aja to that list. Because Crawl is really quite exceptional.

The premise of Crawl sounds as if it’s been made before, but it’s original. The plot sounds ridiculous, of a gator film in a hurricane. And yet, we are carefully pulled into the story feeling the claustrophobic spaces in the basement as our two protagonists try to outrun and outsmart gators. Even when the ridiculous, and I mean ridiculous third act begins we buy it because the filmmaker cared to make us really believe this world in the beginning. Crawl is a tense film that will inflict jump scare after jump scare on you. It was a great experience when I saw this on the big screen with an audience that was screaming, and it worked just as well again at home.

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Apart from the horror, the story surrounds an estranged father and daughter relationship. The daughter was a champion diver trained by her father to go the distance, but we see that in time the coaching seemed to strain their relationship and she doesn’t seem him until he is in life-threatening danger during the hurricane. This gives us people to care about, which is the hardest thing for most horror movies to give an audience.

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I hope we get more monster films like this that have so much care attached to them. If you happen to catch the special features on the Blu-ray disc you will find the set is almost entirely practical, which blows my mind as I thought for sure it would require plenty of CGI. I recommend checking it out when you’re next looking for a monster movie.

Robert Ring

Frozen 2

Frozen was a mega-hit for Disney in 2013. It almost tripled the box-office of Wreck-it Ralph, the previous Disney animated title in 2012. And at the time of its release, it was the fifth highest-grossing film of all time. Therefore it was clear as day that we would get this inevitable second title.

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Anyone that is a parent has no doubt been at the mercy of their children as they play Frozen on repeat and hear the song long after the credits roll. Even Tangled which may have been a better film didn’t catch on like Frozen. Frozen success could be attributed to the release window as it fit the Christmas holiday aesthetically, and the catchy smash hit song Let It Go. I think it may have been the way it broke the traditional mould of seeing a damsel in distress. Frozen is not a film about saving a Princess, it’s about saving a sister. I think the family bond enriched the staying power of Frozen between audiences young, and old. The two sisters also show unique perspectives for empowering women, whether they’re strong or meek.

Frozen 2 takes place maybe a couple of years after the first film. Everyone we grew to love in the first film are all happily settled now in Arrandale. All except for Elsa. Elsa has again become distant as she begins hearing the sound of a lullaby calling to her like a Siren at sea. Elsa’s journey takes her on a discovery of the past and into where her magic originated from. Alongside Elsa is Anna who won’t let her journey alone, while Kristof tries to propose to Anna throughout the movie. The proposal is something that never holds any real drama because we know she would, of course, say yes. What Frozen 2 does is opens the mythology of the story tenfold.

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Overall, Frozen 2 continues the story in a competent way. In my mind, the movie sets itself up for a third movie and that one could potentially rival the first one whereas this one is trying to add too much new stuff. It is still a good time, but I question whether scenes were cut near the end and replaced with some hastily written songs.

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Frozen 2 is good and has already made an incredible $740 million within the first ten days of release. These records if anything has greenlit a third theatrical movie. Hopefully, you enjoy this slightly darker and more mature Frozen 2.

Robert Ring

Disney Plus

Disney Plus is finally here in Australia, and the age of the Disney Vault is behind us.

The line-up available mirrors most of the Disney Plus US titles. There are heaps of 4K titles on here and the price is covered in the subscription at no extra cost. I watched my Blu-ray edition of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace last week, so I scrubbed through the 4K edition on Disney Plus to compare and it absolutely pops in 4K. All the movies appear to be presented in at least High Definition while there are Standard Definition showings in the television series from the 90s.

They have already begun putting some of the Fox films into the Disney library like The Sound of Music, and Home Alone. I’m sure we’re going to see a lot more of these make the move over in the next couple of years. There is also a slew of classic live-action Disney films such as Babes in Toyland, Treasure Island, and The Shaggy Dog (1959).

Anyway, here are a few movies and shows that have me excited to revisit.

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First of all, I think everyone that has not seen the documentary Free Solo should make it their first pick on the platform. There is usually one stand out documentary every year, and last year it was Free Solo. The film is about a rock climber that dares to climb without the use of a harness and it’s an incredibly gripping watch that will have your body tensed to the max in that last half hour.

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Heavyweights is that movie alongside Good Burger that I loved watching on repeat. I haven’t been able to see it since I was a child, so I sure hope it holds up, and it’s the first movie I’ll be watching on there. Basically, this one is about a group of overweight kids that are sent by their parents to a “fat camp,” but it’s a fun, laugh-filled ride.

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DuckTales The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp is another hard to find gem, I purchased the DVD from the UK because it hasn’t seen a release here since the original VHS. It is probably my favourite straight to video movie from Disney. This one is a movie to the tv series DuckTales and it involves Scrooge finding a genie in a lamp.

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The Love Bug is the classic live-action Disney movie that stands out to me the most. It’s been so long since I’ve seen it now, but I’m looking forward to seeing it again, and perhaps even the sequels too. It’s titles like these that I’m happy that children today will get to experience on Disney Plus.

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Return to Oz is one of my favourite childhood films. It’s the darkest take on the Oz story as Dorothy returns to find Oz in ruins. I own this one on DVD, but scrubbing through this HD version is like getting to watch it all again for the first time and I can’t wait.

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Quack Pack, like most of the television shows on my list, was a part of the Saturday Morning Disney in the 90s. Starring Donald Duck and his three nephews. The nephews are all teenagers here so they are even more mischevious then they were in DuckTales.

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Goof Troop is another terrific show that even spawned two Disney movies. It seems like an odd choice to have made a show about Goofy with a son, but it works.

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DuckTales is something I never really saw although if it’s anything like the movie I’m going to love it.

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Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears is another show with a peculiar premise that I adored as a kid. I’m not sure if my nostalgia for it matches how it’ll be for me today, but you never know. Get this, the show is based on the Gummi Bear sweets, and you wouldn’t know it because that’s as far as it goes, the name of the show.

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The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was something I watched on LaserDisc and it’s just charming.

The problem Disney faces with Disney Plus is the lack of content for adults. However, that will likely change in time as they begin feeding more Fox films into the mix, as well as the other film studios they own under the Disney umbrella. For now, this bodes well for Netflix and the rest of the streaming platforms as it becomes clear that Disney is not competition in the streaming space, just yet. The one gripe I have is how The Simpsons has been handled as they’ve zoomed in on the image to fill the screen. Since the outcry was overwhelming in the US they have decided to give us the option to watch it in 4:3 at a later date. The other problem I have is with the censorship of Stark Raving Dad in The Simpsons, by not having it available at all because of the presence of Michael Jackson. That one I’ll discuss at a later date.

Also, I’ve been reviewing some of the classic Disney Animated films listed on this page HERE.

For now, hopefully you enjoy the library from Disney Plus

Robert Ring

Dumbo (1941)

Dumbo is one of the most beloved Disney animations. It was also the movie to help Disney out of its run of financial losses. This is somewhat surprising due to the team working on the film were the B-team, as the A-team was working on Bambi. Dumbo was a more economical film to make after the excessive budgets that weren’t profitable in Pinocchio and Fantasia. It helped that Dumbo was only sixty-four minutes long. Audiences loved Dumbo for its simple storytelling and emotional attachment. Considering it was a financial success without much international distribution says something to the impact it had at the time.

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Dumbo starts with a moving scene showing cranes delivering babies to all the animals, all except Mrs Jumbo. Sadly, Mrs Jumbo gets on the train the next day along with the entire circus to move onto the next location. By luck, the crane that was carrying Mrs Jumbo’s baby spots the train and unites the two. Once the bundle is unwrapped revealing the young elephant the cute ques turn quickly to dismay from the crowd of elephants once they see his ears are huge. The name Dumbo is given by those elephants quickly to the tears of Mrs Jumbo, who loves her baby wholeheartedly. The teasing soon proves to be too much for Mrs Jumbo as they open the circus at the next town and Dumbo is teased relentlessly by the visitors. Mrs Jumbo in a fit of rage tears the place down and earns herself exile from the show and away from Dumbo. Like Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio before, Timothy Mouse makes it his mission to help Dumbo through these hard times and tries to excel him. After a bad start, Dumbo ends up as the star in a clown act that mocks him further. In one of the most memorable scenes, Timothy Mouse and Dumbo try picking themselves up, however, the pick-me-up seems rather literal as they become intoxicated and see “Pink Elephants”. The morning after they find themselves at the height of a tall tree that they realise Dumbo flew up. And here our story ends with Dumbo’s ears being the most incredible trait as he can soar through the air, and finds himself in stardom and reunited with Mrs Jumbo.

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After what has come before, Dumbo is cheaply made. The story may be rich with merit, however, the animation is largely simple and undetailed. There are massive blocks of scenes that are as if they could have been coloured in by the way of a colouring-in book. For example, a scene where all the elephants are gossiping is filled with just flat grey bodies, with only minute detail on the trunk and face, leaving no detail of depth to the body. Dumbo by today’s standards would be a straight to video release, much like the Disney animated sequels that were plentiful in the 90s and 2000s.

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The story to this day has continued to resonate with audiences and just this year a live-action film was released. However, time has not been completely kind to the film as more and more critics find controversy in the crow sequence near the end (atop the tree with Dumbo), for portraying African American stereotypes. It’s easy to see why Disney is the target of this sort of thing when they are by all purposes a family-friendly company. I have no qualms with it as it is timely to that era. With the release of Song of the South only a few years later, critics have reason to criticise the scene. The scene was going to be cut or reconfigured to edit out the crows with the release of Disney Plus, and thank goodness they had the sense to not go through with it.

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Dumbo is a really short story that goes by in a breeze, but I think more could have been added to the film, so I’m curious what they added in the live-action film to almost double the screen time. Whatever the case Dumbo is a good wholesome film.

What do you think of it overall?

Previously The Reluctant Dragon

Next Bambi

Robert Ring

Splash

Quite literally a fish out of water tale.

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The classic tale “Den lille Hayfrue” by Hans Christian Andersen, or as English depicts it, The Little Mermaid is a remarkable tale beloved by children since it was first published in 1837. The story is about a young mermaid searching for a life above the sea amongst people, where she proceeds to fall in love with a prince and makes a Faustian bargain with the sea witch to continue out her days as a human. A statue inspired by The Little Mermaid story was unveiled in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1913. The statue represents a mermaid looking longingly across the land, longing to be human. It has been a subject of vandalism over the years, from decapitations to paint jobs. Like the Hans Christian Anderson story, The Little Mermaid has been retold time after time, in some respect, the vandalism represents the times of change in society and this is seen through each adaptation. The fairy tale has been retold and modernized to this day, with the most iconic being Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Before the heralded Disney animated film was Splash.

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Splash is the first Disney movie created under the Touchstone Pictures banner in 1984, as Disney wanted to produce more content for adult fare. These films would still be generally wholesome movies, however, they contained suggestions of sex, booze and sometimes drugs. You certainly wouldn’t find these ideas in the live-action Disney films before it. Splash was also the movie to get Tom Hanks out of television and into stardom.

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The movie starts twenty years in the past with a young Allen on a trip with his family at Cape Cod. Allen jumps overboard to see a young mermaid before being ripped back onto the boat by the crew. Now in the present Allen (Tom Hanks), works a successful job with his brother in the shipping of produce goods, but his love life is in shambles. Allen can’t seem to find commitment in any of the women he has relationships with and they eventually leave him because of it. After a big bender Allen decides to travel back to Cape Cod to perhaps find himself, but when he’s knocked out of his boat and drowning she finds him instead. The mermaid played by Daryl Hannah watches Allen awaken on the beach and there ignites the romantic spark Allen has been missing since he first met her as a boy. When Allen approaches her she kisses him and leaves by the sea. It later becomes apparent that Splash is The Little Mermaid story without any of the context. Instead of showing us the sea hag granting her a wish, we understand that she has been given a week’s time frame for being on land. Allen and the mermaid now called Madison experience a romantic and comical relationship as she hides her true identity from him. What may seem like a happy ending is only just the beginning as Dr. Kornbluth tries to uncover who she is, while Madison must eventually confront Allen before its too late.

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Splash was a fresh take on The Little Mermaid story at the time and is still holds up great. What works best is the relationship between Hanks and Hannah. Madison is a much stronger character than Ariel and heads towards society head-on in search of Allen. Allen isn’t a Prince Charming character either but a sweet down to earth guy that she shares a spark with. While these two carry the bulk of the film, the supporting characters in John Candy playing Allen’s brother, and Eugine Levi playing the villain brings a lot of wholesome laughs and fun to the screen. Splash is a good romantic comedy that doesn’t drown you in fantasy but makes the film feel like a believable tale in the present day.

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The ending is spectacular and I don’t think you would see it done like that today.

Robert Ring

The Reluctant Dragon

Walt Disney was on an upward projection as the success of Snow White allowed for his studio to relocate and become a haven for Walt. The idea was to make the best environment for all of his staff with living arrangements, entertainment, gymnasiums and anything that Walt found would be endearing to everyone. The problem is that the amazing facilities were not available to everyone, it was a faulty system based on hierarchy. Before Snow White, the studio offered bonuses to the staff when the animated shorts proved successful, but these bonuses went out the door to allow for the development of the new studio. Staff at the top were awarded wages as high as $200-$300 per week, while at the bottom staff were earning $12 per week. The staff at the top could get their meals provided for free throughout the day, while the rest had to pay absurd prices. It’s no surprise that after the successful unionization of other animated studios that Disney would be next.

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Disney was the best-animated studio to work for before every other studio became unionized, but times were changing. From within, employees started becoming disgruntled and went on strike. After five weeks Disney had to give in to them. Walt felt betrayed as he spent so long creating what he thought was an idealistic career path for his company that he thought he knew better. Even after things began to settle Walt would always remember that his people turned on him, and he would always carry that from then on and seek to slowly remove those that fought for it in the strike. Walt would go so far as saying that the strikers were communists and some of who would be blacklisted. During the strike Disney released The Reluctant Dragon, and the entire film is essentially an advert for the amazing way of life and work for the Disney studios. In the end, The Reluctant Dragon was slightly profitable, although it probably did more damage than good releasing it in the middle of the strike.

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The Reluctant Dragon starts with a husband and wife that come up with an idea that they think is a great idea for an animated feature after reading a book entitled The Reluctant Dragon. The movie then follows the husband as he travels to the Disney studios to pitch the idea. Along the way, he experiences nearly all manners of production to create animation at Disney. Between that, we get to see various animated shorts such as the animated work-in-progress “Baby Weems,” followed by a Goofy short, and finally “The Reluctant Dragon.” All the animated shorts are entirely mediocre, even for the time. It’s the live-action segments that become charming the longer you spend going through the Disney studios that make the film watchable.

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Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this feature. It was clearly made as a way to generate some income to keep the studio afloat after experiencing financial losses with Pinocchio and Fantasia. The Reluctant Dragon segment is the most boring segment of the entire thing. The live-action components seem to be the seed that generated plenty of straight to television live-action features, that Disney would produce after the second world war. This feature, however, would have worked much better as a prime time feature on television. It must have been a great disappointment for many going to see this at the cinema after seeing such wonderful productions in Snow White, Pinocchio, and Fantasia.

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I don’t even know if hardcore Disney fans would enjoy this feature in its entirety. I recommend skipping it or checking it out on Disney Plus for a few minutes.

Previously Fantasia

Next Dumbo

Robert Ring

Batman: Under the Red Hood

This is one of the very best Batman films ever made!

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This animated film from the beginning starts with the Joker hitting Jason Todd, the second iteration of Robin with a crowbar. Robin is beat senseless before he is blown up by a bomb killing him just as Batman approaches the scene. The start of this film alone is the darkest opening of an animated film I’ve ever seen. Five years pass and Batman is still haunted by the memory of the event. Batman is more withheld and unwilling to take on help from Nightwing because of the loss of Robin against his new foes the Red Hood and Black Mask. The Red Hood is another mysterious figure that brings to light some twists in the Batman mythology, one that will shock you if you go into this film blind.

You will not forget this film because of the twists and turns, but you will also be surprised by the amazing performances in it too. John DiMaggio does an impressive take on the Joker that I’m surprised isn’t brought up when people are ranking the different iterations of the Joker character. I mean this Joker is intimidating in size and looks. With as much drama there is in this film, it’s surprising how dramatic it is throughout the entire runtime. It seems like they really perfected the form of these animated features with this film, and every film after should aim for this quality. The Red Hood is a key figure and watching this film as a companion to the video game Batman: Arkham Knight would be a real treat.

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Without spoiling any more on an animated feature with a runtime of 75 minutes. Batman: Under the Red Hood is a fantastic Batman one shot and the best DC animated film I’ve seen to date. You MUST check this one out!

Previously Batman: Year One

Robert Ring