Tag Archives: animated movies

Ballerina

Victor and Felicie look and sound like adults, but they act like children. They ARE children, supposedly. In fact, they’re orphans in an orphanage who manage to runaway to Paris – she, to be a ballerina, he, to be an inventor.

Once there, they immediately get separated in the most unimaginable way possible, and quickly make a pact to meet on the bridge the next day. Which is incredibly stupid since Paris is like 87% bridge. And yet they do manage to make their rendez-vous, and she’s already enrolled in in the dance academy (under false pretenses, sure), and he’s already met famed inventor Gustav Eiffel (his eponymous tower is visibly half-built).

Felicie (Elle Fanning) makes friends with a cleaner with a limp, Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen), which is how she earns her room and board. Odette is somewhat suppressed herself, by a real evil stepmother type (which describes her general attitude and cruelty, not her parentage). There are several Cinderella types, so I suppose it evens out, but the sheer volume of adults being cruel and hostile toward children is a little alarming. Meanwhile, Victor (Dane DeHaan) is working in Gustav’s atelier, where they’re hard at work on the Statue of Liberty. It defies incredulity that these two parentless waifs have managed to make their dreams come true in under 24 hours with no resources or connections or experience. But let’s sweep that under the carpet for now.

Ballerina, also known as Leap!, has some stunning animation where the dance scenes are concerned. But the story is too familiar. Lazy, in fact. I suppose some little girls who love ballet themselves may be enchanted, but there’s no crossover potential for adults , and little to entice other kids into giving this a passing chance. I found it boring, and I’m what might be described as a grown human adult person. The movie veers drunkenly from heavy-handedness to negligence, from unabashed cruelty to unmitigated forgiveness, both unearned. To call it inconsistent is to besmirch the word. And then there’s the not inconsequential fact that a mother tries to go all Tonya Harding on a kid with a sledge hammer. That’s dark, y’all. I’m glad I didn’t spend any money to see this movie, but I’m a little sad that my taxes went toward making it. Canada makes some truly beautiful films, but this isn’t one it’ll be remembered for.

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The Secret Life of Pets 2

Let me ask you a question: are you a sack of shit? Yeah, I didn’t think so. In that case, it’s pretty safe to say you’ll find this movie enjoyable. Like the first one, it’s not going to rock your world. It’s not going to usher in a new era of animation. It’s not a story that will be passed down generation to generation. It’s a just-funny-enough, tug-on-the-old-heartstrings, relate to humans through their better counterparts kind of thing.

The best kinds of people are dogs. That is a FACT.

Max (this time voiced by Patton Oswalt rather than the sex offender Louis C,K.), the very good boy from the first film, is back again. He and his very good boy brudder Duke (Eric Stonestreet) are welcoming yet another new addition to their family: a human baby named Liam. Yes, owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) has met and married a human man and produced an heir. We still don’t know what it is that Katie does to afford her very nice Manhattan apartment, but her life is very full. And Max, initially quite ambivalent about human children, grows to love Liam very very much. The feeling is mutual. But just loving Liam is not enough; Max feels he must protect him from the world. Max, normally a happy-go-lucky dog, is now a bit of a nervous nelly. The behaviourist outfits him with a cone of shame, and then his owners pack him off to the farm. Oh gosh, not the proverbial farm, an actual farm, where he meets rough and tough farm dog Rooster (Harrison Ford), who is determined to cure him with tough love and hard work.

Meanwhile, back in the city, old friends are up to new tricks. Fuzzy bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart) is helping new pal Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) to, believe it or not, rescue a tiger from a circus. And sweet little fluffball Gidget (Jenny Slate) has her own little rescue mission going, and enlists Chloe the cat (Lake Bell) for her particular brand of expertise.

This movie caught me right in the feels on at least to parts: a) My sister had a lovely good boy, also named Max, who got a little “overprotective” during her pregnancy, and through the birth of her first child, and he had to go to the proverbial farm. We all miss him to this day. b) My own little Fudgie is himself a bit of a nervous nelly and is newly on anti-anxiety meds actually called Clomicalm. He is not yet calm, but he is definitely not unhappy. He mostly worries about stupid stuff like: am I posing with my toy in exactly the right way to impress Sean when he comes in? How about now? How bout now? Now? NOWWW????

And of course, as pet owners generally and dog lovers specifically, and people who are just plain old not monsters, you can’t help but melt a little when you recognize a bit of your own four legged friend up on the screen. When Daisy made her mad face, I saw my Herbie. And when Max learned how to howl, I heard my Bronx (though Bronx does more of an “Awuuuuu.”)

So no, it’s not a terrific film. But it’s a sweet film, a cute film, it’s the film I wanted to see tonight and I’m glad I did. Awuuuuuu.

The Lion King (1994)

Disney is releasing a whole slew of “live action” remakes of its most beloved classics, so Sean and I are taking a stroll through the Disney vault to revisit movies we haven’t seen since childhood. So far, the only one of these that I’ve genuinely enjoyed is Cinderella; the others – like Beauty & The Beast, Mary Poppins, and Dumbo – have missed the mark, and I downright disliked The Jungle Book. And unfortunately, I’ve tended to assume that I’ll feel the same about The Lion King, mostly because I don’t approve of calling this “live action” when it’s clearly also animated, just animated in a more realistic, CGI-style. But it’s still just computers. In real life, lions don’t sing and dance and cuddle up to warthogs in a strictly platonic, non-hungry way. BUT it does have an AMAZING voice cast that I admit intrigues me. More on that later.

The Lion King (1994) doesn’t need improving upon. It’s quite a lovely film. The animation holds up. The songs are part of our cultural lexicon. We all know the story: Simba is a young lion prince who will won day rule the pride lands when his father Mufasa passes. But Mufasa’s death is hastened by evil uncle Scar, who wants the seat of power for himself. Scar murders his brother and exiles his nephew. He giphyallows his pals the hyenas to share hunting grounds with the lion tribe, which totally fucks with the circle of life, and pretty soon they’re all starving. Meanwhile, Simba has grown up with a sweet gay couple, Timon and Pumbaa, who adopt him despite their initial misgivings about him being a meat eater and all. Their worry-free existence is pretty sweet until Simba’s past shows up to shame him into returning. And once he knows how bad things are, he can’t help but engage. He returns, but he’ll have to face his uncle Scar if he wants to take his rightful place as King.

As a kid I didn’t pick up on the Shakespearean undertones of this film because I was just a dumb, Sesame Street watching baby. It’s definitely Hamlet-adjacent. But as an adult, I have so many more experiences that are informing my viewing.

Like any good Canadian who often escapes the winter by going down south, I first saw The Lion King musical experience at an all-inclusive resort where they pirate 1Vzuthe heck out of anything they can and squeeze it until the lawsuits come. The first time I saw it, it was an excellent production (I think I was in Mexico). It made me want to see the real Broadway version, so when it came to my city, I saw it with my in-laws, and it was even better than I’d imagined. Then I saw several low-rent versions at less ambitious resorts – my favourite at a Cuban hotel where my friends got married and their young daughter was cast as the baby Simba.

Hakuna Matata (such a wonderful phrase!) was a full-on craze in the 90s. People cross-stitched it onto pillows. Nothing trendier than that! It means “no worries for the rest of your days” and was lampooned by Matt Stone and Trey Parker in The Book of Mormon. In that Broadway musical, which Sean and I were lucky enough to see with its original cast, Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells), the phrase they pick up is Hasa Diga Eebowai. It inspires its own musical number which is every bit as perky and upbeat as Hakuna Matata – only imagine the little Mormons’ consternation when they find out it means Fuck You, God. Oops.

Last month Sean and I took the niece and nephews to see Disney on Ice, and they  had quite the generous Lion King portion, no doubt to generate interest for a movie hitting theatres later this year. But the original film is also celebrating its 25th anniversary, and sure, you could figure that out with simple math, but we found it out at Disney World, where they’d outfitted Animal Kingdom with photo ops celebrating it. We also frolicked at the animation hotel, where an entire branch of the resort is dedicated to the film, its rooms are movie-inspired and the grounds are full of scenes from the movie. I turned to Sean and said: “Hey, remember when YOU played in an elephant graveyard?” and I kid you not, he responded “At the hotel?” Now, like most (all) men, Sean is an idiot. But he’s also the King of Stupid Questions. Now let me ask you, perfect stranger: how many times do you think Sean has played in an elephant graveyard? We’re CANADIAN. I think the fact that he’s done it once is remarkable. Why, then, the clarifying question, as if he’s done it so many times he’s not even sure to which one I’m referring. Hasa Diga Sean.

When Scar undertakes to kill his brother, he orchestrates the murder so that it looks like an accident. He plants Simba in a gorge and then sparks a wildebeest stampede. It’s a frantic, pulse-pounding scene that took 3 years and the invention of new software to animate the thing. Musafa of course saves his son, but Scar pushes him to his death. In the aftermath, little Simba finds his father’s body and curls up next to it, wrapping his father’s dead paws around him. It’s a very tender scene of course, but it reminds me of my nephew and something he once said. This kid loves his family and insists he’ll never marry and never move out – he simply can’t imagine a time when he won’t be vitally attached to his parents. He’s even insisted that when he dies, he wants to be buried in his father’s arms. These are soul-destroying words to his sensitive aunt’s heart. I wept over it then, and I wept over it again when Simba all but reenacts the scene.

So there’s no doubt, really, that Scar must be among Disney’s very worst villains. But there’s a secret (or not so secret) side to Scar that I never considered as a kid. The LGBTQ community has adopted him as a coded-gay character. Of course it’s problematic as hell because he’s a reprehensible guy, but when you were gay in the giphy (1)90s, you didn’t exactly have a lot of choice. Scar IS slightly effeminate, I suppose. And he’s camp. He’s snide. He slinks around. He has a goatee! He’s scrupulously correct and he’s British for christ’s sake. Is he a mean old Queen? Possibly. He’s definitely the bachelor uncle who, while inheriting his brother’s kingdom, has absolutely no interest in the pride’s lionesses. He spends his time with a singing parrot. So when people saw the trailer for the “live action” Lion King, fans of Scar were dismayed. In the cartoon he comes off as very vain and very feline, but in the trailer for the new one, he just looks emaciated. Anyway. I think we can do better than Scar for gay icons, but so far Disney really hasn’t. There’s a void there, and a gaunt, bedraggled Scar isn’t going to fill it.

Anyway. Jon Favreau’s The Lion King will hit theatres in July, with James Earl Jones providing continuity as the voice of Mufasa but Jeremy Irons has been replaced as Scar – and so has everyone else.

Simba: Donald Glover

Nala: Beyonce

Scar: Chiwetel Ejiofor

Pumbaa: Seth Rogen

Timon: Billy Eichner

Zazu: John Oliver

So it’s not The Lion King of your childhood. But might it still be good?

Aladdin (1992)

Of course I watched Aladdin when I was little. Disney’s renaissance era was such a great time to be kid: The Little Mermaid, Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King. Instant classics, all. I remember my aunt giving my little sister Jana a pair of Princess Jasmine pajamas – gauzy and midriff-bearing. They were an instant source of jealousy (we were four little girls, but Jana was the smallest and the blondest and the default cutest, and I suppose the rest of us felt that our chubby little bellies were not deemed worthy).

MV5BMTYwODYyMzY5OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzg4MjY5NzE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1710,1000_AL_But I hadn’t watched Aladdin since I was young, on VHS, naturally. On DVD I’ve fallen in love all over again with the movie. Gosh it’s crisp, the animation looks beautiful. I find that I still know every word to every song (it probably helps that I have the soundtrack on vinyl).

It’s a sad story if you stop to think about it: Aladdin is a homeless youth who is so hungry he resorts to stealing even though the punishment is having your hand chopped off. Jasmine, the resident princess, has never been hungry a day in her life, but is far more eager to escape her life of confinement in the castle and the pressure to marry a prince before her next birthday (at which time she turns all of 16). The two meet in the market where they also get in some trouble. Jafar, the nefarious vizier to the sultan, tells Jasmine that Aladdin has been executed (to death!), but actually he’s going to use him to break into the Cave of Wonders and steal the magic lamp.

As you know, Aladdin does get his hands on the lamp, and imagine his surprise when out pops a big blue genie (voiced by Robin Williams). Genie turns Aladdin into a prince so he can court and marry Jasmine, but there’s a lesson in there about being your true self, and the lesson must be taught.

Anyway, Robin Williams recorded his part while on breaks from Hook and Toys. He’d call up Steven Spielberg, who was filming Schindler’s List at the time, and make him and the cast and crew have a much-needed laugh. So much of the movie was ad-libbed by Williams, it no longer qualified for best adapted screenplay at the Oscars. Not that anyone complained: animators literally added whole scenes just because Williams said something too brilliant not to use.

Robin Williams was reluctant to even do the movie. He wanted to try his hand at voicing an animated character but he balked at the whole Disney merchandising machine. Eventually he agreed to do the film for scale (!) on the condition that his voice not be used for merchandising, and that the Genie not take up more than 25% of space on posters, billboards, and trailers. The idiots at Disney did not abide his rules so Williams was actually mad at them for years. Michael Eisner even tried to apologize to him with a Picasso, but Williams turned it down. Only when Jeffrey Katzenberg was fired and replaced by Joe Roth did things thaw: Roth apologized publicly.

If Jasmine and Aladdin look familiar to you, you’re not wrong: Jasmine was modeledMV5BMTgzNDI3ODUyMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDg4MjY5NzE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1416,1000_AL_ after Jennifer Connelly, and Aladdin after Tom Cruise, which has to make you wonder – does Tom Cruise not have nipples either? I met Princess Jasmine recently. I was having dinner at Cinderella’s castle (at Disney World), and quite a few princesses drop by to say hello. She asked me if Sean was my diamond in the rough and I must have scrunched up my nose quite skeptically because she amended it to “Diamond in the scruff?” – in fact, Sean has a no-razors-on-vacation policy, so I let that one stand even though it wasn’t the rough I objected to.

Anyway, we gave this one a re-watch because Guy Ritchie is doing a live-action remake hitting theatres later this month (May 24). Although I was disappointed by both Mary Poppins Returns and Dumbo (both of which I’d hoped would be good but weren’t quite) already this year, I’m going to go ahead and reserve some moderately-sized hope for this one. They can’t all be bad, right?

 

Missing Link

Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) is an investigator of myths and monsters but his charismatic exploits have failed to yield any actual proof. There’s a boy’s club of pompous explorers Frost would kill to be a part of, but they won’t have him. In fact, Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) would kill to keep him out – and unfortunately, he means that a little more literally than does Frost. Frost feels like his best and last chance is to go to America to find the elusive Sasquatch, and Lord Piggot-Dunceby sends Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) to make sure he doesn’t.

Frost does indeed meet the Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis), who turns out to be rather a MV5BNDFmMjlmNjEtN2RhNS00NWNhLWFjODgtN2IxYTY1NzExYWZlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODEwMTc2ODQ@._V1_pathetic figure. The last of his kind, “Mr. Link” is lonely, and hopes Frost will help him find long-lost cousins, Yeti said to live in the Himalayas. With the help of Frost’s friend Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), who hikes the mother fucking Himalayas in heels, they have an adventure worthy of even the greatest explorer, facing adversity bigger than even Big Foot himself.

Laika’s last effort, Kubo and the Two Strings, is an absolutely incredible feat of animation and story-telling. It looks and feels like something truly special, almost magical. Missing Link, while quite charming, is no Kubo. Which is not to say it’s bad, not at all. It’s sweet, actually, and its straight-forward plotting is kid-friendly and accessible. The animation is what we’ve come to expect from over-achieving Laika, and the voice work is first-rate. The film manages to be funny and heart-warming throughout. But it doesn’t have that edge, that sliver of darkness I’ve come to expect from Laika.

Missing Link is a nice movie, a genuinely nice movie, but it’s less sophisticated, less complex than Laika’s usual fare, so for me it fell short of the high bar set by Kubo.

Space Jam

It’s fitting that LeBron James is taking the Space Jam reins from Michael Jordan, since last week James passed Jordan in career points scored and the two have always been compared since James was in high school.  Jordan would have scored many more points if only he hadn’t taken two years off in his prime to try his hand at baseball.  Rumour has always held that Jordan went to play baseball in order to avoid a gambling suspension, mainly because it made no sense at all for the notoriously competitive Jordan to have “retired” at age 30 (Jordan would retire twice more before his basketball career was over).

Jordan’s baseball career features prominently in Space Jam’s loose plot, as if he had been playing basketball at the time, the evil aliens from the Moron Mountain amusement park would have taken Jordan’s skills and he never would have been able to help the Looney Tunes gang.  But because Jordan was retired, the aliens had to steal other NBA players’ talent, space-jam-bill-murrayincluding Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues and Shawn Bradley.  Jordan is then recruited by Bugs Bunny to play with a bunch of other cartoon characters, with some help from Bill Murray and no help at all from Wayne Knight, as the cartoons take on the aliens in a basketball game to determine whether the aliens will enslave those loony ‘toons as an amusement park attraction.

This movie was probably never any good but it has been made worse with age.  The animation is dated, the green screen work is horrible, and worst of all, the “stars” involved in this movie, other than the great Charles Barkley, have been forgotten by all but the most attentive New York Knicks fans (who would punch me in the face for saying anything bad about Ewing and who will never forget LJ hitting a clutch four-point play against the Pacers in 1999’s Eastern Conference Finals).  Space Jam also really highlights how much the Looney Tunes feel like variations of one another (cat/duck and man/pig in particular) and pale imitations of their Disney counterparts.

Even with only a 90 minute run-time, a significant part of the movie feels like filler, including an opening scene with a 1- year old Jordan, about 5 minutes of Jordan highlights during the opening credits, and a subplot of sorts that features some really terrible acting by the three kids playing Jordan’s family (like so bad that you figure they have to be Jordan’s real kids, but they’re totally not – I checked).

lebron-vs-mjIf LeBron’s career arc is any indication, the next Space Jam is destined to be technically superior to Jordan’s original but lacking the same emotional core.  That doesn’t bode well for the reboot when there was no substance or emotion to the first Space Jam at all.  Watching it again only makes one wonder why anyone bothered to make it in the first place, as well as why James would want to invite any more comparisons to Jordan’s six for six NBA Finals record against LeBron’s three wins and six losses in his attempts (which I don’t begrudge but I’m in the minority on that point).  On the other hand, since the original Space Jam has nothing to offer, the reboot can’t possibly be worse!

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

With two feature films and countless Netflix series under their belts, the creative team behind the How to Train Your Dragon franchise is very comfortable. They are content to spend as much time as they need on their story, resulting in what may be the world’s first dragon-centric rom-com.

Toothless, the black dragon from the first two films, is back and gets his own story thread, as he meets a lovely white dragon and is instantly smitten. She’s not so sure about him at first, and his courtship attempts are more than a little awkward, but we all know he’s going to win her over eventually. The outcome of that romance is also obvious to his best human friend, Hiccup, the leader of the dragon-how-to-train-your-dragon-3-headerriding Vikings that live in the island village of Berk, and that’s where things get interesting.

In addition to figuring out how to deal with his dragon’s dating, Hiccup and his Vikings have their own problems. They’re being pursued by the drsgon hunter Grimmel and his massive fleet. Against some resistance, Hiccup decides that the Vikings’ best chance to survive is to find the hidden dragon world located beyond the edge of the world.

Hiccup and Toothless have both grown up a lot over the course of the trilogy, and they grapple with some fairly complex relationship-related issues in this third instalment. The result is an emotional third act as life pulls Hiccup and Toothless in very different directions and they have some hard choices to make.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World shows that we are still in the midst of a golden age for animation. The Hidden World is full of beautifully animated scenes, with particularly amazing lighting effects, but more importantly, it’s a story that my 40-something self could relate to, engage with, and be moved by. It’s a satisfying conclusion to a very enjoyable series.