Tag Archives: animated movies

Cars 3

Pixar doesn’t have many missteps in its catalogue, but for me, the Cars franchise just never had any traction. I was only just recently able to watch the films straight through, and it made me want to put the Pixar crew on suicide watch. Thanks to films like Toy Story, I already knew Pixar had a real nostalgia fixation, but Cars crystallizes that notion. MV5BZDRiYmQ1MjgtNmNiOS00YTNhLTkwNWMtMjliNWFkYmFkMDc2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjk2MjI2NTY@._V1_The Pixar animators are living for the past. But for the first time, I could also watch the film through the eyes of my  5 year old nephew. He and his younger brother adore the franchise. They have every iteration of every car that got even a fraction of a second’s worth of screen time. Last year for his birthday, I made him a Cars racetrack cake. So even before I’d truly seen the film, I had a kinship with it.

In this third installment, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) hits the racing circuit once again, but it’s been 11 years since the first film made its debut. McQueen isn’t the hot shot rookie anymore, he’s a veteran being challenged by faster, sleeker next generation race cars. Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) is the fiercest of these new competitors, but McQueen isn’t ready to be counted out. Unfortunately, McQueen’s best efforts result in a terrible crash that many believe spells his retirement. You may remember from the first film that his old friend Doc (Paul Newman) suffered a similar fate: by the time he’d healed up\gotten road-worthy again, the racing world had moved on without him, ultimately forcing him into retirement before he was ready.

Two things about what I’ve just written: One, that crash was spectacularly animated. Disney-Pixar’s animation technology has clearly improved by leaps and bounds over the past decade. They work hard to keep the cars we know and love looking like themselves MV5BZGYxZDVjM2EtMWRiMi00MWNlLWE3YWItZTYyNDcwMjQ4NjY3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc3Mzk1NTk@._V1_while still improving the overall quality of the animation. The crash scene is a show-stopper. But, second, so too are flash-back scenes of McQueen and his friend Doc, in a different, more emotional way. Paul Newman, who voiced him, passed away in 2008, and so did the character by the time the sequel came out. But Doc was a formative figure in McQueen’s career, and Cars 3 pays tribute to both the character and the actor in a very satisfying way.

Cars 3 focuses on McQueen’s relationship with a new trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), who is well-versed in all the newest techniques. Old school clashes with new school. In fact, watching it, I wondered if McQueen’s mid-life crisis would resonate with the kids watching it. My nephew certainly enjoyed it, though I don’t think he picked up on McQueen’s fear of being aged out\replaced. What he did like were the repetitive race track scenes, many of which I could have done without. I guess what it boils down to is: Cars 3 panders to its audience. It does not reach the heights we adults have come to expect from Pixar’s best work, but it’s exceptionally talented at marketing toys to children. There are dozens of new characters (65 to be exact) to be bought for Christmas. Is that cynical of me? Sure. Here’s the thing: I admit I was charmed by the ending, glad old McQueen had it in him. If this is the end of the franchise, it’s a pretty noble note to go out on. But as a cynical, toy-buying aunt, I can’t help but feel that this Cruz character has the whiff of spin-off to her, and I’m not convinced that Cars 3 bought into its own message of retiring with dignity.

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My Life As A Zucchini

Zucchini goes to live in an orphanage after his alcoholic mother dies. The orphanage is not a bad place. This is not a bad-orphanage movie. It’s about the broken children who live inside. The kids are there for many reasons (deportation, mental health, abuse, poverty, etc); some can dream of one day returning home, while others know they never will. For the most part the children band together and support one another as they cope with loss.

MV5BMGU1ZDI5Y2ItOTY2OS00ZjBiLThkYzEtZDIxOTA4NmVmMjE3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUyOTI5MQ@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_My Life As A Zucchini is stop-motion animated in a very compelling way. It’s a simple story with colourful characters and a strange title but make no mistake, there’s little silliness awaiting you. It’s a pretty bleak story.

I watched the version dubbed in English, which features voice work by Nick Offerman, Will Forte, Ellen Page, and Amy Sedaris. But even with all this wonderful adult interference, director Claude Barras keeps the story firmly within Zucchini’s corner. The story is told through the eyes of children, almost without taint from the adult world. It is heartbreaking but also tender and compassionate. By focusing on the resilience of children and the difference even one caring person can make, hope shines its rays even on this dark little tale.

I enjoyed this very much. It’s not as heavy on the heart as it sounds, and Barras manages to wrap things up in under 70 minutes. I’m always a fan of the loving work that goes into stop-motion and this one is no exception – perhaps it is exceptional. The expressive characters and honest story give My Life As A Zucchini a sensitivity, like a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. I’m very taken by this and am heartened to see animation tackling such complex characters so deftly. Definitely worth a watch, tissues at the ready.

Cars, Cars 2, and Ultimate Lightning McQueen

My nephews love Lightning McQueen and have about a thousand toys bearing his likeness.  So when I learned about the Ultimate Lightning McQueen, I had to get it, even though I had never seen Cars (or Cars 2 for that matter).  For those who aren’t on Sphero’s mailing list, Ultimate Lightning McQueen is a remote controlled car that costs US$300, and here’s why it costs so much money:

Ultimate Lightning McQueen is not just an RC car.  This is a robot that has animated eyes and mouth, reacts to touch, and can recite tons of lines from the movies either randomly or in pre-programmed scripts.  Basically, it’s the toy robot that little Sean always dreamed of.

With the toy on the way (it arrived last night!), I felt like I should finally watch Cars beforehand so that I knew the basics about Lightning.  So that’s what we did, and it turns out that Lightning is a real jerk.  Like so much of a jerk that he doesn’t have a pit crew because he can win on his own.  So much of a jerk that he doesn’t change his tires, which naturally givecars-movie-disney-pixar_large out on the last lap and cost him a win.  So much of a jerk that when he gets lost in a small town and is pursued for speeding he wrecks the whole main street.

Lightning eventually does redeem himself in a very weird way, but here’s the thing: my nephews have such short attention spans that I guarantee they have not ever watched this movie past the opening race.  They will have watched that race a thousand times but probably have no idea that Lightning ever becomes less self-involved or that he ever needed help.  So it is a good thing that Ultimate Lightning can say so many lines, because I am going to be choosy with my catchphrases.  That way, maybe I can redeem Lightning in real time and teach my nephews that they do indeed need a pit crew (/more applicable sports metaphor), just like Lightning eventually figures out.

For good measure, we also watched Cars 2, which is more Mater’s story than Lightning’s (though Lightning doesn’t miss the chance to be a jerk to Mater in the sequel).  Just like in the first movie, Lightning wins with the help of his friends.  It would be a mycars-2-02172012stery why he is so loved, except that he is definitely the coolest looking racecar in the movies and that’s really all the explanation required, isn’t it?

And now, we have Cars 3 to “look forward to”.  My hopes are not high, because these movies definitely aren’t Pixar’s best work.  Still, it’s something I know our nephews will love and now that they’re old enough to go to the movies, something that we’ll probably get to enjoy with them, and that’s good enough to make me genuinely excited about Cars 3 even though I thought the first two movies were entirely forgettable.

It also makes a US$300 Lightning McQueen toy feel like a bargain, because I know our nephews are going to lose their little minds when they see it in action.  Ultimate Lightning McQueen is everything I could have expected – it blinks, it looks around, and moves as though it is alive.  It is truly animated in every sense of the word.  As a bonus, it is a powerful little car that is really responsive, does donuts on command, and has a turbo button.  Because who doesn’t love a turbo button?  Having tried it out, I am even more excited to show off Ultimate Lightning McQueen to Lightning’s three biggest fans!

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.

 

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. 😉