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Feb 12, 2024 09:54AM ● By Jenniffer Wardell

Lisa Frankenstein (in theaters)

Oh, Lisa. I hoped for so much more from you.

On paper, “Lisa Frankenstein” seems like the most fun you could have at the movies. A teenage girl in the 1980s, played by the normally delightful Kathryn Newton, ends up reanimating a Victorian zombie she has a crush on. The hijinks that follow are written by Diablo Cody, who turned “Juno” and the criminally underrated “Jennifer’s Body” into masterclasses of killer dialog.

In reality, nearly every part of this movie is a swing and a miss. The story focuses as much or more on random high school drama than the actual zombie running around, copying at least three different better known movies. Lisa treats him as an embarrassment, making it hard to like her when Cole Sprouse tries so hard to make the zombie adorable. Characterization seems almost random, along with the movie’s focus. Even worse, none of it is funny.

There are some fun, dark romances out there. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of them.

Grade: One star

Turning Red (in theaters)

If you missed “Turning Red” on Disney+, or even if you didn’t, now’s the time to give it some big-screen love.

The warm-hearted 2022 Pixar movie is finally getting its big-screen debut, and the beautiful animation and sweet story will look even better movie-sized. The growing pains of a teenage girl-turned-panda is a wonderfully engaging coming- of-age story that deftly captures both a specific cultural experience and feelings so universal we can all recognize them.

Though the red panda is most obviously a metaphor for puberty, it’s also a fantastic metaphor for all the messy, complicated parts of ourselves we often try to hide. It’s a beautifully well-rounded picture, portrayed in such a fun way that you probably won’t even notice how many important things it’s saying. The movie’s gorgeous animation adds an extra layer, combining CGI’s incredible detail with the elastic, goofy freedom of anime. It’s an extension of the movie’s main themes, honoring the past while continuing to move into the future.

Grade: Three and a half stars

Orion and the Dark (Netflix)

It’s not enough to have a good idea. You also have to know what to do with it.

DreamWorks’ answer to the more intimate movies Pixar has been doing the last few years, “Orion and the Dark” has imaginative characters that will forever change the way you see nighttime and all the little things that happen in the dark. It also touches on several interesting themes ranging from anxiety and loneliness to family legacies. If you were an awkward kid, or if you have kids, there will be moments that hit you right in the heart.

Unfortunately, the movie ends up not being able to handle all the things it’s trying to do. A unique story structure that isn’t set up well enough starts getting too ambitious, trying to do more and more until it ends up collapsing completely by the third act. Too much is happening all at once, none of it well explained, and by the last stretch you just kind of have to hold on and let things happen. It does land in a nice place in the last few moments, a sweet grace note that technically closes out both major stories, but the road there is an absolute mess.

Grade: Two and a half stars

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