Tag Archives: animated movies

Monsters Vs Aliens Vs Megamind

Susan (Reese Witherspoon) is a blushing bride-to-be until she’s struck down by a meteorite on her wedding day and mutates into a “monster” – a giant who’ll be called Ginormica. She’s transferred to a government “hotel,” the kind with bars on the windows, where she’ll be kept locked away along with other monsters like her – namely, BOB, a gelatinous type who eats\absorbs everything in his path (voiced by Seth Rogen); Doctor Cockroach, now an actual cockroach after unfortunate experimentation (voiced by Hugh Laurie); The Missing Link (Will Arnett); and Insectosaurus, who’s, yes, a giant bug.

Susan is adamant that she will get better and return home, to her “normal” life, but it seems like life has already moved on without her (I of course refer to her scuzzy, self-sMonsters-vs-alienserving prick of a fiance, Paul Rudd). So the monsters basically sit around playing cards until Doom arrives. Planet Earth is threatened by an evil alien by the name of Gallaxahr (Rainn Wilson), so the government reluctantly calls on the very monsters they’ve imprisoned to save them from certain death. This being a kids’ movie, you can be pretty sure that Good will triumph over Evil, and even better, Susan will start to feel empowered in Ginormica’s skin. It’s colourful and rapid-fire so kids will  be entertained. For adults, though this Dreamworks effort lacks the depth of better animated movies of late, it’s got some great satirical references and a stellar voice cast, including Stephen Colbert, John Krasinski, Ed Helms, Kiefer Sutherland, Julie White, Jeffrey Tambor, Amy Poehler, and Renee Zellweger, in addition to those already named.

If the monsters feel familiar to you, they are indeed inspired by classic monster movies: Ginormica and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman; BOB and The Blob; The Missing Link and Creature From The Black Lagoon; Dr. Cockroach and The Fly; Insectosaurus and… Godzilla? Mothra? The T-rex from Jurassic Park? Some delicious hybrid, is my guess.

Megamind is another Dreamworks animated film with its own references, this time to Superman. The whole movie seems predicated on the question: what would happen if Lex Luthor defeated Superman? Not stepping on any toes, the hero in question is here called Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt), and he’s been keeping Metro City safe from inept villain 960MegaMind (Will Ferrell) since they were kids. With an undeniably familiar origin story and a beautiful ace reporter on the scene (Roxanne Richie, voiced by Tina Fey) and a bumbling camera guy (Jonah Hill), you’ll find a whole new appreciate for Superman and his plight.

On a day when the entirety of Metro City is gathered in adulation of Metro Man, Megamind is finally (surprisingly) victorious. Metro Man is dead. The city belongs to Megamind! Everything goes to hell – Metro City is in ruins, but so is, curiously, Megamind’s mental health. Why? Because a villain isn’t a villain without a hero as his counterpoint. In his infinite wisdom, Megamind thus decides to take awkward camera guy and turn him into Metro City’s new superhero, Tighten.

There is no new ground tread in this film, and it’s not as funny as the excellent voice cast will have you believe – Ben Stiller, David Cross, Justin Theroux, and JK Simmons included. Benignly diverting is the best I can say about it – supposedly Guillermo del Toro lent a hand in editing to make it more exciting, and it is that, but for most, I think it will end up being a little forgettable.

 

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Hop

Little E.B. is training to be the next Easter Bunny in a Santa’s-workshop-like facility where fluffy little chicks make all the candy.

Meanwhile, in the live-action realm of the film, Fred (James Marsden) is undergoing an intervention at the family dinner table. His parents (Elizabeth Perkins, Gary Cole) want him to stop dreaming, get a job, and move out of the house.

Back in cartoon land, E.B. (Russell Brand) is about to be crowned Easter Bunny now that hop-movie-image-02he’s a teenager, but he’s more interested in drumming and rock and roll. His dad cracks down hard on his “selfish” son; there are 4000 years of tradition to consider, after all. But E.B. has a mind of his own and he takes off for Hollywood, where dreams come true. Except for Fred’s. His are over, especially now that his parents are kicking him out. But Fred and E.B. are united when Fred hits E.B. with his car, and then takes him in to make up for it.

Back on Easter Island, E.B.’s dad isn’t taking to being openly defied very graciously, and he unleashes the “Pink Berets” on a rescue mission to find and bring back his irresponsible son. Carlos (Hank Azaria), a particularly ambitious chick, is trying to throw his own hat into the ring. I mean, is it absolutely imperative that the Easter Bunny be a bunny?

Turns out, befriending a talking cartoon bunny isn’t great for Fred’s mental stability. To help get E.B. on his way all the quicker, he agrees to get him to the big audition that David Hasselhoff is apparently hosting. Will Hollywood find a place for a cute little bunny with a sick beat? And what will happen to slacker Fred? Find out the riveting answer to these questions and more in the Easter-themed half-animated movie, Hop. It is not remotely good but I bet it’ll be a big hit with kids this time of year.

 

The Boss Baby

A couple of weeks ago Sean and I took our three nephews for the weekend. Brady, our godson, is 5. His little brother Jack is 3. And their cousin Ben is 3 AND A HALF. They’re the best of friends and they idolize their uncle Sean. We were halfway between Build-A-Bear and Fun Haven when Jack spotted a poster for “Baby Boss!” and he didn’t shut up about it for 10 minutes straight. We have very little idea what he actually said but were left with the general impression that he would like to see it.

So that’s what we did on our nephew date this weekend. We borrowed a minivan with three car seats and motored over to their local (only) cineplex. The arcade was popular: Brady played a racing game even though his little legs couldn’t reach the gas\break pedals; Jack played a shooting game even though he couldn’t even reach it without Sean’s assistance; Ben thought a dance game looked interesting until we put the tokens in and he immediately lost interest (and the machine ate the tokens). And that’s BEFORE we even got to the theatre. I stood in line for 3 tiny buckets of popcorn while Sean went to the bathroom to empty 3 tiny bladders. We convinced Jack to get a booster seat but since Brady didn’t need one, Ben didn’t want one, so we watched the theatre seat try to eat him numerous times. Popcorn was spilled.

bossbaby-gallery2-gallery-imageWas The Boss Baby any good? No, not really. Brady’s favourite part was the preview for Captain Underpants. Jack could quote his favourite part directly from the commercial. But listening to them giggle tops even the best movie, so this was an hour and a half that I wouldn’t change for anything.

The movie is about a sweet little family of 3 who’s expecting a new baby, even though 7 (AND A HALF) year old Tim would really rather not. A baby does arrive though – via taxi – but it’s a bit of a shock. While most babies get sent directly to families, a select few get sent up to “upper management” where they drink a special formula to keep them infantile while working feverishly to keep baby stock UP. But tragically, baby stock is falling because: puppies. More and more love is being siphoned off to puppies, so Baby Corp is fighting back. They’ve sent Boss Baby to Tim’s house because his parents work for Pet Co, who are about to unveil a new “forever puppy.” Tim and Boss Baby do not really get along at the start but guess what? Yeah, you know the rest: they dress like Elvis to evade their manny and head to Vegas to save the world. Or something like that. And of course discover that brotherhood is really quite nice. Baby Corp’s baby factory is pretty cute, and when the narrator comments about where babies come from, Ben pipes up with “Where DO babies come from???”

We went out for frozen yogurt afterward, to debrief. Everyone agreed that Ben’s little sister (who’s only 1) is pretty good as babies go, but that at his house, Ben is the boss. Brady and Jack felt that their family’s boss was probably their Mom.

Anyway, I don’t think I would have particularly cared for this movie if I had watched it on my own, but the truth is, any crummy movie can be immensely improved if you watch it with your favourite human beings.

SXSW: Catherine (Short)

This short animated film requires a huge suspension of disbelief: that cats are anything but awful, awful creatures. That said, if you can stomach the premise, you might find Catherine to be quite endearing.

Catherine is a little girl well on her way to becoming a crazy cat lady. It would seem the only prerequisite to being a crazy cat lady is accidentally killing everything else (or driving CATH_A3_poster_v006them to suicide) and that seems about right to me. Even though Catherine’s a bit of a hazard, you can’t help but root for her, root for her happiness. I am completely drawn in by the animation by Creative Conspiracy studios – it looks very picture-book friendly, yet the humour within is surprisingly dark. The colours are like candy and used thoughtfully throughout. I always admire short films because to tell a story well they must be economical and equally strong visually and narratively. Catherine (the film) is all of these things wrapped up in a cutesy little package. Catherine (the character) is not so perfect, nor, it turns out, so cute: Catherine grows up. Into a woman who means well but can’t connect with humans. Wonder why? See the film!

Director Britt Raes was of course inspired by her own kitty, Kato. She’s assembled a terrific little film that you can’t help but be excited about. Special mention goes to Pieter Van Dessel (Marble Sounds) who composed this nifty little score that uplifts and contributes to the story. It’s a very admirable little film that I hope you’ll take the time to see as it makes its North American debut at the South By SouthWest Conference and Festival this Sunday March 12 at Zach Theatre (10:45am slot), and again on the 13th at 8:15pm, and on March 16 at 3pm at Alamo Lamar. Happy watching, cat lovers!

 

 

Dinosaur

I have a brilliant 3 year old nephew named Ben who has been a dinosaur expert for an impressive third of his life. He’s not into silly talking cartoon dinosaurs, either. He knows the real deal, knows their scientific names, and what kind of bastards they were. He’s very smart. And he’s an absolute whiz to buy for. Don’t you just love it when a kid gets passionate about something, and your gift-giving can just coast along on that special interest for ages? I’ve bought him dinosaur toys, stamps, sticker books, archaeological digs, eggs, puzzles, and pajamas. When I gave him an adorable little dinosaur sweater he texted me a picture of himself in it, and then refused to wear any stupid non-dinosaur clothes, which was a bit of a challenge for his poor mother, who was on mat leave with his baby sister, and already had enough laundry to contend with.

I was quite enraptured with Disney’s The Good Dinosaur, a simple but endearing story about, well, a good dinosaur, one who happens to meet a primitive human and befriend him. This was a bit juvenile for 3 year old Ben, even if it did quite suit his 30 year old Aunt Jay.

tumblr_nogmkpsNM21qj5t08o2_500.gifNot to be confused with The Good Dinosaur, Dinosaur came out in 2000 and is about a dinosaur named Aladar who gets adopted by a tribe of lemurs. The film depicts dinosaur end times – we see those nasty meteors hit, and the lemurs’ home is destroyed. They go on an epic trek toward more livable land (does this sound familiar? The Land Before Time anyone?) and encounter a big group of dinosaurs that actually make living a lot less peaceable.

The animation in this movie already looks quite dated, but even at the time it would have looked different from anything that had come before as the realistic-looking but nevertheless animated characters are superimposed onto ‘real’ backgrounds, photos taken in Hawaii and Tahiti. It was the first Disney film to be computer animated, and was also the first of its animated films to get a PG rating. The dinosaurs may look realistic (at least compared to other cartoons) but Michael Eisner wasn’t brave enough to allow the film to be silent, so they do talk. In fact, it has a hilariously-90s voice cast: D.B. Sweeney, Della Reese, Julianna Margulies, and Alfre Woodard just to round things out.

I missed this film in theatres, but it did well enough, recouping its enormous cost (it was the most expensive film made that year), and beating  Mission Impossible 2, Gladiator, and unbelievably, Battlefield Earth in theatres. I’m not sure there’s much use in going back to check this one out. The story is pretty derivative, and the animation just hasn’t aged well. But if you have a budding paleontologist in the family, it may just be welcome canon. I’ll let you know how Ben reviews it, but just a warning: he answers most questions with a resounding “Yesh!”

9

 

Shane Acker made a short, 10 minute film called 9 while he was still a student at UCLA. One wild ride later, it was nominated for Best Animated Short at the Oscars. It didn’t win, but it sure didn’t lose: Acker was offered the opportunity to expand his beloved short into a feature film, and this is it.

Although 9 is an animated film, it may not be appropriate for kids. It’s got a PG-13 rating and it is, frankly, dark. It’s set in a dystopian future in which man and machine have gone 9_movie-hdto war and likely both have lost. Only dust and destruction are left. And these dolls. They’re clearly sewed together with scraps of material and inexpert stitches, made from whatever parts are lying around but somehow injected with pieces of human souls; they’re all that’s left of humanity.

The machines that are still terrorizing them were born of the same scientist who sewed the dolls. They were made with good intentions but an evil chancellor corrupted them. This chancellor has shades of Hitler to him, and there are Nazi references throughout the film.

9 (Elijah Wood), the 9th doll sewn by the scientist, is prepared to die for humanity’s salvation, but he has to convince the 8 others (Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Connelly, and John C. Reilly among them) to join him.

The film definitely has an edge to it, criticizing our blind pursuit of progress. The film’s pitting of the simplest toy against complex machinery is pointed. That said, haven’t we seen this before? Like a million billion times? Perhaps something else could threaten us for a while? Technology is our undoing: we get it. And we’re not going to do a damn thing about it. Acker’s film is beautiful. His post-apocalyptic vision is too tempting to ignore, but I do wish there was a little more meat and a little more originality to go along with it. Maybe this one should have stayed a short.

Storks

As everyone knows, storks used to delivery babies. It was hard work, gross work, and no one is more relieved than storks that they’ve since gotten out of the baby trade and gone into delivering packages instead.

The boss stork, Hunter (Kelsey Grammer), the kind of dick who made his office out of glass thumbnail_24123even though birds can’t see it, is stepping aside, leaving room at the top for Junior (Andy Samberg) to fill his shoes (well, birds don’t wear shoes, though they seem to occasionally wear ties) on the condition that Junior get rid of “the orphan Tulip,” a baby who was undelivered 18 years ago and has been a thorn in their sides ever since. She’s about to turn 18, and Junior’s first job, if he wants the new title, is to return her to the human world.

I’m watching this movie because of a junkie. My sister’s SUV was broken into last month, and aside from the 85 cents in change in a cup holder, the thief got away with their DVD player, used to entertain my 3 year old nephew on car rides. When I was a kid we had to listen to tapes, and play I Spy, or Mad Libs on car rides but apparently these days commuting is unbearable unless everyone has a screen to stare at. My sister, suspecting the thief might be the drug addict across the street (she lives in a very comfortable suburban neighbourhood), magnanimously said “You don’t know his circumstances” and left it at that. Possibly she was just tired of hearing the same 10 minutes of Peppa Pig every day. Anyway, that’s how I came to be watching Storks, even though I firmly turned down the press screening a year ago when offered because it was at 10am on a Saturday morning when in fact I prefer to pretend that there isn’t an “am” on weekends.

Back to the movie: There’s a little boy named Nate who dreams of having a little brother or rawsister. His parents (Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell) are busy realtors who are basically “one and done.” Nate decides to circumvent their fertility plans and appeal to the storks directly himself. Junior is already fucking up after just one day as the boss so of course there’s a spare baby, but he fucks that up too and accidentally delivers her to wolves (Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key) instead.

This movie is perfectly serviceable. It’s not memorable or good in the way we’ve come to expect from Pixar, but it’s colourful and frenetic and will have some appeal for children if not their parents (although I admit I was pretty charmed by the wolf versatility and voice cast). I do wonder if this movie will inspire some follow-up questions about where babies DO come from, so you parents out there will have to let me know. All I have is a Sean, and he prefers not to know. 😉

Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts, 2017

Borrowed Time: a sheriff returns to the site of a crash, the source of his guilt, the symbol BORROWED-TIME-2.gifof his grief. The animation is twelve steps above incredible, from the flecks of gray in his beard to his slightly crooked teeth and the just-noticeable ripple of his mustache in a gentle breeze, the animators clearly know what they’re doing. Directors Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj tell the story precisely and economically, every frame adding a tragic detail. Builds to an impressive emotional valve in just under 7 minutes.

Pearl: told from a hatchback car that has traveled the country with a dream and a song, 3060252-inline-1g-dont-be-surprised-if-googles-animated-short-pearl-wins-an-oscar-this-yearPearl is the story of a girl, her father, and their music, clearly a family gift. We got to see this short in the Oscar package at the fabulous Bytowne theatre, which means we saw it on the big screen, which is actually not how it was intended to be shown. Pearl is the first virtual reality movie to be nominated for an Oscar. Director Patrick Osborne chooses a blocky animation style paired with endearing music that makes me wish that I too had enjoyed the VR experience, because it’s a whirlwind of pride, sacrifice, and in virtual reality, you’re the one with camera: every viewing would literally be a slightly different movie.

Piper: this is the one most of you will already be familiar with, having screened in advance of Disney-Pixar’s Finding Dory. It’s about a baby sandpiper being taught to forage for her tumblr_og1b37dVCN1qd79gyo5_540.gifown food. The beach is not always as serene as it looks and an unexpected wave leads to some PTSD for one cute little birdie. But she learns confidence and resilience, and the joy of helping others, all in less than 6 minutes. The animation is stunning. The ocean’s foam impressed me, the movement of each individual grain of sand. In great Pixar tradition, writer-director Alan Barillaro offers us something truly beautiful.

Blind Vaysha: pictograph-style animation (Sean called it “deliberately ugly”, I would blind-vayshadescribe it more like wood-cuttings, if I was feeling generous) tells a parable of a little girl born effectively blind – her left eye seeing only the past, her right only the future, which means the present is one big blind spot. And guess what? There isn’t any happiness in the past or in the future, it’s all happening right now and if you can’t see that, you can’t really see anything. Director Theodore Ushev has a great theme and plays on it with swirling visuals, challenging the audience to experimentation.

Pear Cider & Cigarettes: after several warnings to remove children from the audience, this “graphic” offering by writer-director Robert Valley is narrated in the first-person about pearcider_a.gifRob’s charismatic but troubled friend, Techno. Techno’s near god-like status comes crashing down as he slowly poisons himself to death with alcohol. It’s definitely the only animated short with full-frontal nudity. It was originally a graphic novel, or novels, comprising several volumes, which is why this short film clocks in at a hefty 35 minutes, every single frame of which is hand-drawn by Valley himself, over the course of half a decade or so.

The verdict: Piper’s going to win. Borrowed Time is probably its only real competition, and I feel they’re both deserving. I’m not sure how many Academy voters will have seen Pearl in VR but even the theatrical cut is immersive and interesting. Can the animation team from Google really win an Oscar? While Blind Vaysha certainly has an eye-catching style, the story didn’t draw me in, and it ended too abruptly and without much resolution. Pear Cider and Cigarettes down right turned me off. If you’re going to bother animating a 30 minute sequence, you should also go to the trouble of writing, then editing your story- the narrative style just didn’t work for me. I feel unpatriotic down-voting both Canadian efforts, but them’s the breaks; Pixar’s still at the top of the heap. Take aim, animators.

 

The Lego Batman Movie

batcaveIt’s hard to believe it was about three years ago that The Lego Movie amazed me with its ability to entertain adults and children alike with the same silly jokes.   Time goes by so quickly!  The Lego Batman Movie is The Lego Movie’s sequel in spirit but is not tied to the first in any way, except that both feature Will Arnett’s Lego Batman, the ridiculous beat-boxing self-absorbed antihero who always succeeds on the “first try”.  Only this time, Batman has to take Michael Cera’s earnest, optimistic Robin along with him on his adventures.robin

The Lego Batman Movie is every bit as good as the Lego Movie, and that’s high praise.  Surprisingly, it is also a remarkably faithful  continuation of, and homage to, the whole Batman cinematic universe, including the silly 1966 Batman Movie starring Adam West.  If you are a Batman fan you need to see this film.  One of my favourite elements was the inclusion of so many forgotten members of Batman’s rogues gallery.  This movie has so many ridiculous villains that you will think many must have been made up, but as far as I can tell, every single silly one has been Batman’s enemy over the last 80 years, and I googled as many as I coulbatman-villainsd remember just as Zach Galifianakis’ Joker suggested.

In addition to the inclusion of so many laughable villains, there are so many other references and in-jokes that it is impossible to catch them all on a single viewing.   One that stood out for me was the inclusion of the Wonder Twins, if only because they are my most hated “superheroes” of all time, and yet I still thought it was awesome they were given a little place in this movie. I can only guess what I missed, though, and want to watch this one again sometime soon (if I can ever find the time!).

The Lego Batman Movie is another sparkling example of a movie that everyone can enjoy, and another that organically incorporates a positive message within its zaniness.   We are in the midst of a golden age for animated films and the Lego Batman Movie is a classic that I will be watching with my nieces and nephews for years to come.  It gets a score of nine cans of Shark-Repellent Bat-spray out of ten.

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The Red Turtle

It’s haunting and beautiful and tragic and oddly seductive. The Red Turtle is the prettiest girl in your class who also happens to pull down straight As: fecking brilliant. I wasn’t sure if it would even earn girl next door status with me – an animated film with no dialogue?

While The Red Turtle has no speech, no words at all, it is far from silent. It has lovely but 1027992-theredturtle-05retiring music throughout, but manages to speak directly to your heart. That’s sort of the catch with this film, you have to let go of the normal film-going experience, and just feel your way through this one.

A man is lost at sea and washes ashore on a deserted island. He makes several escape attempts but his rafts keep getting destroyed. The culprit turns out to be a red turtle, a turtle who just happens to have the power to die and come back a woman, which is a pretty cool power. Imagine how stoked the dude is – doomed to a solitary life but then magically accorded a mate?

Director Michael Dudok de Wit had only a few short films to his name when he got a call from animation superstar Studio Ghibli asking if they could distribute his 2000 short Father And Daughter in Japan, and oh, p.s., would you make a feature film for us? He was floored. Ghibli has never done a non-Japanese film before, but they were clearly entranced with Dudok de Wit’s style and talent. The result, La tortue rouge, is pure visual narrative. It’s extremely simple story-telling, but effective. It laps at you like waves on a sandy beach. Cumulatively, it can knock you off your feet. This may be Dudok de Wit’s first attempt, but he nonetheless has an Oscar nomination to show for it.What do I have? I have a teeny tiny shadow on my heart – a shadow in the shape of a red turtle sliding back into the ocean.