Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

I feel like Pinocchio is a difficult story to get right, because it’s so unstructured and episodic in its adventures. Guillermo del Toro’s version similarly struggles to create an end-to-end, engaging narrative. The middle of the movie in particular really drags, and I had to start skipping ahead through the overlong musical montage that’s supposed to encapsulate Pinocchio’s time at the carnival. Everything carnival related represents the weakest aspects of this movie. It’s when Guillermo del Toro strays from the more classic Pinocchio story beats that the movie shines. For instance, replacing Pleasure Island with a fascist youth camp was an interesting choice. You don’t get the same body horror of watching a young boy transform into a donkey, but the war setting still adds some serious gravitas. This is a movie where Pinocchio is literally executed at gunpoint, after all.

Yes, the movie is dark, but maybe not as dark as you might expect from a Guillermo del Toro film. Pinocchio repeatedly dying, visiting limbo, and coming back to life was another fun directorial choice that is both macabre and silly. I appreciated how naive and childish Pinocchio was, especially in the beginning. I do think he grows up too fast, though, given that Sebastian (this movie’s Jiminy Cricket) stops influencing him after the first day. The ending of the movie hinges on Sebastian getting his wish, having fulfilled his responsibility to make Pinocchio a good boy. But Sebastian spends the majority of the movie separated from Pinocchio, and so he really didn’t do much and definitely didn’t deserve a free wish to Deus ex Machina us into a happy ending. Well… semi-happy. The final moments are still pretty sad and do solidify this as a poignant (and beautifully animated) take on a familiar story.

Time on Frog Island

After playing Clouzy, I was left wanting in terms of a combat-free adventure. Clouzy’s biggest drawback was its vagueness. Time on Frog Island, however, is vagueness done right. It’s a similar type of game, though. You’re plopped on an island with basically no guidance other than the obvious main goal: fix your boat somehow. There are frog folk on the island that you can talk to, but who knows which ones can actually help with the boat. Plus, all dialogue is presented as icons instead of text. So a frog might just shout, “Image of a blue bug!” at you, and then you have to figure out 1) where such a bug is and 2) how to make it blue. Needless to say, there’s a lot of running back and forth across the island, looking for whatever a certain frog wants and then returning it. And, sure, that sounds tedious, but it actually works.

What helps the game is that a lot of quests are optional. Once you learn which frogs can actually help you, you can pretty much ignore the others. And there are sometimes multiple solutions to a problem, as well. But, of course, there’s still incentive to help everyone on the island, if not for the achievements, then for the extra perks you can get in the game. Like, I didn’t realize there was a power-up that would let you swing from certain cliff edges until long after I’d already fixed the boat. And you can build a house, too?! The house doesn’t change much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s little touches like this that make Time on Frog Island a fun, relaxing experience. I’d probably rank it close to A Short Hike and Haven Park, considering the length it takes to complete it and the general vibes it gives off.

Clouzy

Clouzy is a relaxing, combat-free adventure game with the added gimmick of caring for little clouds. I think the developers themselves admitted that Slime Rancher was a major inspiration for this game, though Clouzy is very scaled back in comparison. The structure of the game is fun, though, where you have a small world to explore and a home base to raise clouds in. Parts of the world are off limits until you complete a puzzle elsewhere, and resources can be gathered throughout that go towards making items and food dishes for your clouds. In theory, this should work just fine. In actuality, Clouzy makes some truly awful design decisions.

This is another case where it wouldn’t take much to “fix” the game, but what’s broken is broken. First, the game is way too vague. I always appreciate when games lay off the hand holding, but this is taken to the extreme. I shouldn’t have to fumble for ten minutes trying to figure out how to turn in a quest item. I was about ready to quit at one point, because I had a sick cloud and no clue how to make medicine for it. The list of recipes didn’t have labels on anything, so I just started crafting everything I could until other useful recipes started to unlock. But after this crafting spree, I was left with a bunch of junk that I had nowhere to put.

And that’s the second design mistake that Clouzy makes. Inventory management is a pain… in… the… ass. You can only hold five items on you at a time, and you cannot drop items willy-nilly. You can only put them in a chest or discard them in a trash can. But your starter chest only has five slots, too! You have to earn money to be able to upgrade the chest. You can also buy a backpack, which increases what you can carry on you. However, the backpack is a separate UI from the main five items you’re carrying. Why did they over-complicate this?! It ruins any fun you might have running around the world, because you’re never sure what you should pick up and put in your extremely limited inventory. I just can’t understand hindering your players like this.

She-Hulk: Attorney At Law – Season 1

I’ve followed all of the MCU movies so far, but this is the only Disney+ TV show I’ve had any interest in. I just really like Hulk as a character and feel he constantly gets done dirty in the movies. So a TV show centered around a different Hulk sounded promising, especially with all of the other subtexts it has going for it. She-Hulk not only has to live in her cousin’s shadow but has to navigate life as 1) a woman hounded by incels, 2) a superhero whose identity is not a secret, and 3) a superhero living in a world that, frankly, has as much superhero fatigue as we have MCU fatigue. I also appreciate the show’s attempts to give us a more lighthearted side of the MCU. And not lighthearted in a “Thor + screaming goats” sort of way but lighthearted in that Jen/She-Hulk doesn’t have to save the world every week.

Alas, She-Hulk sometimes suffers from the same critiques I threw at Ted Lasso. If the stakes are too low, it’s hard to stay engaged. Like, there’s an episode where Jen goes to a wedding, and that’s… it. That’s the conflict. These weaker episodes also highlight just how pointless and dumb the B stories are. I really don’t care what Jen’s co-workers are up to when they aren’t interacting with Jen. The best parts of the show are when Jen still has to do her normal job (lawyering) but in a superhero-driven world. It’s fun to see her take on super clients and try to rein in their ridiculousness even as she, herself, is seen as a ridiculous “monster.” Speaking of, the episode where she loses her temper and “Hulks out” to stop a sex tape from playing highlights the kind of stakes this show can and should do.

Of course, there’s a lot that doesn’t work. The CGI is distracting, which is not good for a show where your main character frequently has to be CG. A lot of the humor falls flat, too. I understand the She-Hulk comic frequently broke the fourth wall, but the show doesn’t do it enough for it to feel natural. I think some episodes only had one quick aside to the audience and that was it. So it felt particularly silly when—major spoiler, by the way—the finale sees She-Hulk literally climb out of the Disney+ menu screen and into another thumbnail, where she berates the writers of She-Hulk. It’s funny once you get onboard with what’s happening. The self-digs at the state of the MCU are cute, after all. But we needed to be eased into this over-the-topness, much like how Jen needed to ease into her new alter ego.

Very Very Valet

In the wake of Overcooked, there’s been a rush to capitalize on what I like to call co-op busywork games. That is, games that sensationalize otherwise mundane tasks like cleaning a house or, with Very Very Valet, parking and returning cars. Very Very Valet is actually one of the better entries in this genre, though. You don’t have to juggle and mix a bunch of small objects or ingredients, as is usually the case. It really is just about managing parked cars, and that simplicity does wonders for the game. Even in the more chaotic levels, it never gets overly stressful, because the job itself remains so focused: park car, eventually return car. And they get a lot of mileage (ha!) out of this simple idea, too. Levels continue to introduce new gimmicks and obstacles, and each world has a completely separate trial area where, for example, you’re picking up garbage instead of being a valet.

The controls have had a lot of thought put into them, too, which is surprising when you consider that “wonky controls” are frequently a selling point. The default driving controls are pretty intuitive, and I envision non-gamers being able to pick it up quickly. As a seasoned gamer myself, the default controls felt a little odd, so I switched to the more traditional “use the triggers to move” option. After only a few minutes, I went back to the default mode. It just works so much better for what this game is. Seriously, these are developers who know what they’re doing. It’s refreshing to play a game that doesn’t mistake gamified busywork for actual busywork. Sure, parking cars might not sound exciting, but the exaggerated physics and overall silliness of it still make it fun. My only issue is that the four worlds are way too short. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the developers did that on purpose to prevent us from tiring of a good thing.

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers

This was a very strange movie, but not for the reasons you might think. It honestly felt like whoever wrote the script was taking the piss out of older animation styles. In the movie’s universe, 2D animation is seen as outdated. One of our main characters, Dale, even gets “CGI surgery” to keep with the times. But it doesn’t stop there, as our heroes visit the “uncanny valley” and meet a 2000s era, Beowulf-looking character who repeatedly gets made fun of for the remainder of the film. In theory, I don’t have a problem with lampooning how far technology has come. But they really did not do 2D animation justice in this movie. Most of the “2D” characters are actually 3D models that have been cel-shaded. And their attempts to make the actual 2D characters look like they’re interacting with the real world are extremely lazy, especially when you consider how well Who Framed Roger Rabbit pulled this off thirty years ago!

Story-wise, it’s fine. I like the idea of going meta and having the Rescue Rangers characters simply be actors who struggled to find work after the original cartoon ended. Unfortunately, the real rescue mission that they now find themselves involved in has hardly any meat to it. The Rescue Rangers movie suffers from Ready Player One syndrome, where references to other pop culture are the sole point of its existence. And yeah, it’s fun to see some of the cameos—like Ugly Sonic and a handful of DreamWorks characters—but none of them are used in any creative ways beyond just, “Look who we got!” There is still some decent humor in the movie, but the script has a habit of over explaining its better jokes. For instance, a clay-animated character smacks his head on a newspaper, which leaves an imprint of the words on his face. Funny, but then he says, “Hey, it’s stuck on my face like Silly Putty. You remember Silly Putty?!”

I really want to know what headspace the creators were in when making this, because, on one hand, it feels like they didn’t trust the audience enough to get some of the references. However, they overstuffed each frame with so many other references that you have to pause the movie to catch them all. Then for other things, they didn’t even get the references right. Pogs, for example, are a plot point, but they keep referring to the missing “slammer” from the Rescue Rangers set as just another “pog.” Like, did you even 90s, bro? And, of course, there’s the general disdain for all animation that isn’t cutting edge 3D. Maybe the oddest choice of all, though, is that they made Peter Pan the villain. If you know the story of Peter Pan’s original voice actor, Bobby Driscoll, then this comes across as being in very poor taste. So the creators either didn’t do their homework (and don’t care about animation history), or they were being purposefully cruel. Not a good look either way.