What If…?

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Animated;
Not rated.
Voices of Jeffrey Wright, Benedict Cumberbatch, Hayley Atwell, Lake Bell, Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Chris Hemsworth, Kurt Russell, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson.

This Disney+ animated series explores what could have happened to the Marvel Cinematic Universe had certain moments gone differently.

The nine episodes are narrated by Jeffrey Wright as The Watcher, an omniscient being of immense power who observes the various worlds of the multiverse (which was supposedly created by the events of “Loki”).

Most episodes offer the creators a chance to indulge themselves with references to the comics they couldn’t make before, or just have fun with character confrontations that haven’t been seen before (such as an epic battle between Thor and Captain Marvel when the Asgardian wants to turn Earth into a 24-hour party planet).

The first episode offers a fun twist on Captain America: The First Avenger, as Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) ends up as the super soldier, while still-skinny Steve Rogers gets a massive Iron Man-type suit of armor.

Another episode is a dark tale about a man’s inability to let go, as it shows how dangerous Doctor Strange can be if he turns his powers toward selfish interests.

Other episodes feature alternate versions of The Avengers, and of course there’s an episode (based on a popular comic book storyline) that basically turns all the heroes into zombies.

Among the most bittersweet episodes are those that feature Chadwick Boseman in his final performances as T’Challa, recorded prior to his death from cancer. One speech in particular hits hard as he discusses the afterlife as a new beginning.

The animation style is crisp and colorful, though not always the best in capturing the appearance of the actors who play them in live-action.

Overall, the show is mostly a love letter to longtime MCU fans, who should appreciate the mostly fun but often dark chance to see the franchise in a different light.

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Christopher Robin

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 11/6/18;
Disney;
Family;
Box Office $98.87 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG’ for some action.
Stars Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss.
Voices of Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett, Nick Mohammed, Peter Capaldi, Sophie Okonedo, Toby Jones.

Disney’s live-action version of “Winnie the Pooh” takes a cue from Hook in a child revisiting a fantasy realm after he’s grown up and discovering it’s important to never let go of that childhood sense of whimsy.

The film picks up as Christopher Robin preparing to go off to boarding school and saying goodbye to Pooh and his other pals of the Hundred-Acre Wood (depicted at the conclusion of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh). Then the film gives us a taste of Christopher Robin’s life as he was growing up by cleverly presenting moments of his young adult life as new chapters in a book of his continuing adventures. He eventually marries, has a daughter and begins to forget all about Pooh.

The adult Christopher (Ewan McGregor, who’d be making an Obi-Wan Kenobi movie by now if the stubborn bosses at Lucasfilm figured out how to decipher their audience) becomes absorbed in his work as an efficiency expert at a luggage manufacturer and becomes isolated from his family. When tasked with spending a weekend finding a way to cut costs to keep the company open, he is forced to stay behind as his family goes on vacation to the family cottage of his childhood. But his daughter (Bronte Carmichael) has discovered his childhood drawings of Pooh and friends, and the old memories seem to stir Pooh from a long slumber.

Not finding any of his friends, Pooh journeys into the real world to ask Christopher Robin for help.

The live-action designs of Pooh are somewhat of a cross between how they looked in the Disney cartoons and the vintage stuffed animals that originally inspired the stories. Thanks to some terrific visual effects, they are textured and unmistakably doll-like in their appearance, but just as lifelike as they ever were in animated form.

The storyline veers into some darker tones as it establishes Christopher Robin’s grown-up troubles and how sad it makes Pooh and the others that their old friend seems to have drifted away from them. But then they find his daughter, and she whisks them off to help Christopher Robin solve his problems at work (even if the ultimate solution turns out to be rather simplistic and a bit bizarre).

There are chases and mischief and the usual laughs to be expected from transplanting these magical living dolls into a real-world setting. Really, though, the film is at its best when it’s focused on the fun times to be had in the Hundred-Acre Wood and is basically just the live-action version of the old animated shorts.

The Blu-ray is rather light on extras, including just four behind-the-scenes featurettes that run about 15 minutes in total.