2021 Adventure Genre

An Overview of the 2021 Oscar-nominated Adventure Films (and a look back to 2020)
Ars Technica

Soul (4.5 * )

The Midnight Sky (4 * )

Da 5 Bloods (4 * )

Wolfwalkers (4 * )

News of the World (3.5 * )

Over the Moon (3 *)

Onward (3 * )

Love and Monsters (3 * )

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2.5 * )

Mulan (2.5 * )

The One and Only Ivan (1.5 * )

It is probably not an accident that there are eleven movies in this year’s Adventure genre.  During a time when we are all locked up in-doors, the thrill of people, or even non-human characters, out having an adventure in the big world is entirely appealing.

But, as usual, some of these adventures are better than others.  A good measure of an ‘Adventure’ might be how intriguing the world is in which the characters travel.  But I also think a good measure is how, and how much, the character changes from their travels.  

By that measure, the best ‘Adventure’ film from this year might just be Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods. Although their travels are ‘only’ in the jungles of Vietnam, what they learn there about their past, and their present, is totally life-changing.  Although this film was not received well by the IMDB public, I think it was one of this year’s best and deserved more Oscar recognition.  (Umm, it is still flawed-see my review.)

One of my top films this year is the animated film Soul which involves an adventure into the afterlife (or maybe the beforelife).  The animation is spectacular, the music is wonderful, and the story will entertain the entire family.  It will also get you thinking about just what is it we do here on earth with our ‘soul’.

The Midnight Sky was another great movie in my mind, although the critics didn’t agree with me.  It actually involves two adventures, one in outer space (ala Gravity) the other on earth, in the arctic circle, (ala the Revenant). Both adventures as well as multiple flashbacks to George Clooney’s character’s earlier life, all come together in the final moments in a great storyline.

Like Soul, Wolfwalkers is an animated film.  But this one tells a tale straight out of Celtic folklore and involves an adventure of a young, red-headed, girl who sets out on an adventure in the woods where she learns more about wolves and the natural world than she ever imagined.  There is a lot of environmentalism emphasized in this film, but it is all grounded and the animation is as gorgeous as the story.

News of the World is a western where Tom Hanks’s character assumes responsibility for a young girl who never speaks.  The story is intriguing and the non-verbal acting from German actress Helena Zengel is amazing. Over the Moon and Onward are animated films where children engage in quests to reconnect with their parents.  Both of them were terrific family films, but won’t provide much gristle the next day for adults to chew on.  And Love and Monsters is a story involving both of those topics although neither one of them is treated all that seriously.  Still, all four of these films are worth a view if you’ve finished the first four.

The last three on the list are, well, bottom-fishing – and there are reasons why they are at the bottom of the barrel.  The latest Shaun the Sheep movie is, to me, somewhat of an embarrassment.  Although I liked the first couple and appreciated the stop-action animation, the lack of understandable dialog, and the sight gags, this one is an over-the-top exercise in mis-appropriation of multiple science fiction themes all in a mishmash of a mess.  Mulan is a Chinese production with fabulous costumes, settings, and fight-scene visual effects.  And the ancient Chinese tale of a woman who hides her identity until she ends up winning the battle and saving the empire is obviously enticing.  But the characters fall flat and are completely undeveloped.  The One and Only Ivan is a talking gorilla.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a whole lot to say to adults except maybe the already-told story of ‘let’s stop displaying animals in inhumane side-shows!’.  If you are really bored, then add these to your list – otherwise, you’ve been warned!.

From the 2020 Oscar season, there are five adventure films that I would add to the list, if you haven’t already seen them.  Toy Story 4 is an animated film, and the adventure is told from a toy’s point of view – and so isn’t exactly as dynamic as an adult adventure might be – but is a wonderful story and resonates with all ages.  The biggest adventure movie – maybe the biggest movie of all time – is Avengers: Endgame.  The adventure in this film operates at an epic, cosmic level and, in so many ways, is like the final movie ever for the entire universe.  So if you are into those kinds of themes, then go for it.  If you are still into the Star Wars saga (after all these years) then pay attention to The Rise of Skywalker.  And a terrific science fiction movie with possibly the best acting ever by Brad Pitt will be found in Ad Astra.  I also loved the Santa Claus origin story in the animated feature, Klaus.

All of these films involve a ‘road trip’ of some sort and, in these days of pandemic claustrophobia, that is what we can all enjoy.  Happy trails!

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