Tag Archives: animated movies

Ne Zha

Bear with me: I am about to attempt to describe the plot of a cartoon, which is deceptively hard work.

A chaos pearl, birthed from primordial essences, manifests as a giant crystal monster, is sucking up energy to feed its seemingly infinite potential for destruction. The Primeval Lord of Heaven, Tianzun, sends two of his disciples, Taiyi and Shen, to subdue it, but it just keeps siphoning energy, growing bigger and stronger, so the Primeval Lord Tianzun has to separate the pearl into two opposite components: a spirit pearl and a demon orb. The spirit pearl is meant to be reincarnated as a son to Li Jing, while Tianzun curses the demon orb; it will be destroyed in 3 years’ time by a powerful lightning strike. Tianzun gives them to the care of Taiyi and promises him a seat at his heavenly table if he performs well. This makes Shen insanely jealous of course, so he steals the spirit pearl, which means that Li Jing’s pregnant wife Lady Yin is possessed by the demon orb instead. Poor Lady Yin has been pregnant for 3 years and now gives birth to a demon child, Ne Zha.

If you’re following even 25% of what I’m saying, you deserve a silver medal (sorry, I’m reserving the gold for Lady Yin’s marathon pregnancy).

Ne Zha is born with unique powers, as you might expect, and he’s known (and feared) in the village as being incredibly destructive, which makes him a lonely outcast. Taiyi brings him to a universe inside a painting to train him and his progress is astounding, even if his discipline is lacking (note: this is an extremely advanced toddler). Meanwhile, Shen takes the stolen spirit pearl down to the Dragon King. The dragons are angry because they’ve been banished underwater as hell’s gatekeepers. The Dragon King believes that a son of his born of the spirit pearl would mean dragons would finally be worthy and could ascend to heaven, so he gives birth to an egg OUT OF HIS MOUTH and names the kid Ao Bing.

Against the odds, Ne Zha and Ao Bing meet and make friends, but as we know, they’re actually enemies, and they’re going to have to meet in battle on their third birthdays.

Written and directed by Yu Yang, the movie starts out with some shaky story-telling, and as you can tell by my synopsis, there’s quite a bit of vital information to parse rather quickly (we had to pause the movie, compare notes, and restart). Once it gets going, the problems get largely ironed out by some pretty compelling animation. The action scenes are of course commendable but I was also rather dazzled by the universe contained within the painting. Yu Yang takes full advantage of the perks of animation, allowing bold action sequences to communicate character, engaging the audience and fueling the film’s momentum. Kids will delight in the low-brow humour (and by low-brow I of course mean disgusting) and everyone can appreciate the visual spectacle of it all.

In China it was released exclusively in IMAX 3-D and I can imagine this would have been an excellent use of the medium. We watched the English dub on Netflix (we also had the subtitles on, which made for a mind-bending exercise as the two NEVER matched); if you do the same, make sure to check out mid- and post-credit scenes which introduce a new character and set up a sequel. The sequel was actually due to be released January 2020 in China but was postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19.

Scoob!

To be honest, neither of us was exactly looking forward to the new Scooby Doo movie. I’ve got nothing against it but I also have no nostalgia for it or interest in it. But these pages don’t fill themselves so we shelled out our 30 bucks(still cheaper than going to the movies) and prepared to be whelmed. But you know what? We were pleasantly surprised.

Or certainly Sean was. We were just minutes into the origin story/meet cute of a young Shaggy and puppy Scoob when Sean was commenting on the interesting animation. He chuckled over many of the references. And he seemed to know some of the characters from outside the Scooby Dooby Doo universe.

Scooby and the gang face their most challenging mystery ever: a plot to unleash the ghost dog Cerberus upon the world! Which apparently would be quite bad. As they race to stop this dogpocalypse, the gang discovers that Scooby has an epic destiny greater than anyone imagined. You’ll recognize Shaggy (Will Forte), Velma (Gina Rodriguez), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried), and Fred (Zac Efron) as Mystery Inc. mainstays, even their inexplicably psychedelic van, but this time they’re teaming up with super hero Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg) and his super dog, Dynomutt (Ken Jeong) against the obviously evil Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs). This movie is intended as the first in a rebooted, shared Hanna-Barbera cinematic universe, which nobody asked for, but I suppose explains the randos. Unfortunately, they distract a bit from what makes Mystery Incorporated so fun in the first place: exciting but wholesome teenage detectivery. And despite some of the callbacks to the original series, Scoob! doesn’t quite justify itself.

While it may not win over discerning adults, Scoob! is probably perfect for kids and Seans alike. It’s got a string of pop songs, some childishly crude humour, and a talented voice cast. Will Forte may not “sound like Shaggy” to some diehard fans, but as a casual viewer, I enjoyed him very much. I even though Mark Wahlberg fit in well, and to my knowledge he doesn’t do much animation. I felt a little sad for the other 3 non-Shaggy members of Mystery Inc who got the short shrift. I missed the chemistry between them, and with the addition of both super heroes and super villains (not to mention super dogs, villain dogs, and ghost dogs), we really got away from the winning formula that fans have come to expect.

The Willoughbys

The Willoughbys come from a long line of impressively mustachioed ancestors as evidenced by the numerous oil paintings lining the hallowed halls of their “old fashioned” home. But the buck stops here, apparently.

Mother (Jane Krakowski) and Father (Martin Short) Willoughby love each other passionately. They are so consumed by their marriage neither can see anything outside it. No wonder Father has such a minimal mustache – and Mother none at all! They have four kids but not a thought to spare for any of them, never mind a care. Tim (Will Forte) is the oldest, but is still a young boy, unmustached and still attached to his head protector (you and I might call it a hat). He corals the other children – the golden-voiced Jane (Alessia Cara), and twin brothers both named Barnaby (Sean Cullen) with only a single sweater between them – and makes sure the kids don’t bother their parents with things like hunger or attention. They’re cold and they’re hungry but it’s all they’ve come to expect. Until they get a brilliant idea: to send their parents on a dangerous and frankly deadly trip cleverly disguised as a second honeymoon.

So off go Mother and Father and the children celebrate – finally, as orphans, they might fill their own bellies and occupy space in the house itself rather than the coal bin. But two strange things complicate matters: a baby gets left on their doorstep, and unable to care for her, they leave baby Ruth on the doorstep of the mysterious owner of a candy factory (best home ever!), Commander Melanoff (Terry Crews), and an unqualified but well-intentioned Nanny (Maya Rudolph) arrives. While the kids are initially wary of Nanny, she soon grows on them by providing the basic necessities of life and caring whether they live or die. It sounds a bit dire, I know, but worry not, this is a very family-friendly animated film by Netflix, and the kids are resilient and crafty, and their neglect never feels so serious that it cannot be overcome.

And of course, there are plenty of childish high-jinks, lots of pranks and booby traps and Nanny catapults, and a whole rainbow candy factory montage where a baby has the time of its life while narrowly avoiding death.

Oddly, and luckily, while the children have dismissed their parents, they learn valuable lessons about family. The Willoughbys may not land on the ending you’d expect, but they get their happy ending and they have an awful lot of fun doing it. This is a pleasant surprise from Netflix and I think your young kids are really going to like it.

Altered Carbon: Resleeved

First let me say that although there’s a lot of Altered Carbon sprayed across various media these days, this is my first brush with it. Anthony Mackie stars in a Netflix series and though this is not that, it does involve the character he plays, Takeshi Kovacs.

What you need to know is that “people” are no longer defined by the bodies they inhabit. Flesh is just a sleeve you slip on and off, discarding it when it’s no longer useful, carrying on via your digital conscience uploaded to a “stack” and potentially immortal if treated right.

In this animated Netflix film, Takeshi is hired to do a job, so his stack is uploaded into the body of a soldier, a body so ripped and primed for combat that his head looks tiny compared to the breadth of his shoulders. Takeshi (voiced by Ray Chase) must protect a tattoo artist while investigating the death of a yakuza boss. Holly (Brittany Cox), the young tattoo artist (to clarify: the flesh sleeve she inhabits appears to be that of a tween, but her consciousness is many times that), is fighting for her life. As the yakuza tattooist, she’s in charge of an integral part of each boss’s death ritual and the succession of the next boss. Takeshi has only the help of CTAC agent Gena (Elizabeth Maxwell), whose motives may not align exactly with his own.

Right away, you’ll notice the anime style is unique, with the characters popping and almost glowing compared to the duller backgrounds. The film’s story is fairly simple, and while it does serve as a bridge between season 1 and 2 of the live-action series, it can also be taken as a stand-alone film. While this Kovacs isn’t quite as brooding or as witty as Mackie’s, the action is just as bloody. Kovacs and Gena team up seemingly every 5-10 minutes against enhanced ninjas. In fact, at one point I realized that this felt like I was watching an intense video game walkthrough. All that was missing was some sort of coin reward for K.O.s. Which means it’s a visual treat with some truly impressive (and numerous) action sequences, but the character development is a little lacking. If you’re coming into this with background you’ve gleaned from watching the series, you’ll might find it all the more rewarding. If you’re a newbie like me, you might just feel sufficiently motivated to take on the series – especially now that everyone’s got some serious quarantine and chill time on their hands.

 

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The Simpsons Movie

They’re mumbling about a sequel – well, I should say, a second movie – so the time seems ripe to review this one, right? We’re quarantined and we’ve been binging The Simpsons since the day Disney+came out (do you know how many seasons those guys have???). Like most episodes, the movies are meant to be stand-alone and self-contained, meaning little if anything that happens during them will affect the series as a whole. Poor Maude Flanders: hers is one of the few deaths that actually took. The characters have remained the same age though more than 30 years have passed since they were introduced. They used to be older than me and now I’m older than Homer and Marge. How did that happen?

At the end of each 22 minute episode or 90 minute movie, everything resets…well, almost everything. Now that we’re catching up on the decade’s worth of shows we missed, we’ve seen Spider Pig pop up more than once – and he’s from the movie!

As you might have guessed (or likely know, this movie being more than a decade old – I had a different husband when we saw it in theatres!), the movie plays much like an episode, with all of the same characters and gags, a little more saltiness than network television usually permits, and a slightly more involved plot.

Basically, Homer adopts a pig and he shovels the pig’s droppings into the local water reservoir, raising Springfield’s pollution level to near-extinction. In response, the EPA lowers a giant dome over the town and leaves the residents to rot. Of course, the Simpsons have managed to escape, and the fugitives flee to Alaska to start over/ lie low. Except then Marge hears that all their friends, neighbours, pets, and Grandpa (!) have been domed and intends to…do something…while Homer plans to do nothing. So she leaves him.

Anyway, if you like the show, you like the movie. It doesn’t do anything differently at all. No risks, no stretches even, just the same old, tripled. It doesn’t astonish and it doesn’t aim to. It’s pretty comfortable with the status quo, and after 3 decades on the air, so is its audience.

Spies In Disguise

I don’t know if you heard, but Special Agent Lance Sterling (Will Smith) is a lone wolf. He doesn’t work in teams, the world’s greatest spy kicks butt solo. He’s a little peeved when he’s in the middle of a 70 on 1 situation and what he thinks is a grenade turns out to be a glitter bomb. It works but he’s cranky about it, and he wants Walter (Tom Holland), the young tech officer involved, fired.

But Lance has some bigger problems: internal affairs accuses him of stealing the very weapon he was in charge of recovering. He knows he’s innocent, but he’ll need to disappear to prove it, and there’s only one person who can help him: Walter. If it’s at all awkward to ask the guy you just had fired for a favour, Lance doesn’t show it. He’s an incredibly cool customer. But Walter, an inventor since childhood, has all kinds of next generation concealment tech at hand. The very future of espionage! Unfortunately, Lance’s arrogance gets him in trouble once again when he accidentally chugs a potion that will turn him into a pigeon. Technically speaking it gets the job done – he’s not invisible but he’s definitely unrecognizable. If you thought dashing hero and geeky sidekick were an odd couple, try nerd and pigeon on for size.

Spies In Disguise is an easily digestible, fast-paced children’s movie with limited appeal for adults. These spies take on villains just like James Bond but unlike 007, they’ll do it without violence; Walter’s gadgets and indeed his personal credo are more about helping people than hurting them.

The film is propped up by an impressive voice cast, including Reba McIntire, Rashida Jones, Karen Gillan, and Ben Mendelsohn. But the major lifting is done by Tom Holland – affable, eager, guileless Tom Holland, who also voices a major character in Disney-Pixar’s Onward, both roles handily done in the gung-ho American accent he’s perfected playing Spidey, much of his fan base perhaps shocked to learn he’s actually English. At any rate, he is indeed the stand-out actor in Spies in Disguise and his character is the real hero, showing the veterans in his field that there IS a better way, which is a welcome message for young audiences.

Onward

Every geek dreams of being able to apply their obscure knowledge to a real world situation.  It hasn’t happened for me yet, but Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt) is about to get his chance. See, Barley and his brother Ian (Tom Holland) live in a fantastic world where magic is real, or at least was real before technology took its place.

As a result, Barley’s favourite fantasy role playing game is not just fiction. Instead, it’s based on historical events, and Barley960x0‘s knowledge of those obscure facts really comes in handy as Ian and Barley embark on a quest to find a Phoenix Stone to power their father’s magic wand which will allow them to bring their dead dad back to life for 24 hours. If those stakes weren’t high enough, Ian and Barley have accidentally brought back their dad’s legs so the clock’s ticking!

What might have been a paint-by-numbers fetch quest in lesser hands is an epic adventure imbued with magic and wonder from Disney-Pixar. The extraordinary attention to detail makes Onward’s world feel authentic and exciting as we follow Barley, Ian and their half-a-dad on their epic adventure. Along the way, their efforts revitalize the world around them and bring back some of the magic that’s been forgotten. By the time we arrive at the final battle, everything has come together just as the prophecy foretold (truth be told, there is no explicit prophecy mentioned but this adventure is clearly the stuff of destiny). It’s a lot of fun to see it take shape.

Onward is more pure cinematic magic from Disney-Pixar. Even though Onward may not quite hit the heights of the studio’s very best, it’s a worthy addition to the catalogue and it will be especially enjoyable for anyone who has slayed dragons as an elf, troll or wizard in their basement (whether in modern digital form, the classic tabletop and 20-sided-die variety, or both).

Playmobil: The Movie

For a minute I wonder if I rented the wrong movie. These are real, human actors: Marla (Anya Taylor-Joy) just finished high school and instead of going off to college she confides in her brother Charlie (Gabriel Bateman) that she’s destined for a life of adventure. But that all ends when a knock on the door reveals a police officer come to tell them their parents are dead. Cut to: a couple of years later, Marla, having put her dreams on hold, is struggling to keep a household going while brother Charlie is disappointed in the distinct lack of adventure in their lives. He runs away one dark and stormy evening and just as Marla tracks him down at some sort of toy convention with a large Playmobil village, they get sucked into it and pop up an animated Lego form.

Marla reanimates as a girl in a sweater set but Charlie is more fortunate, taking the Viking shape he always carried on his bookbag. Landing in the middle of a viking battle, Charlie immediately makes friends but then gets accidentally trebucheted into another land. Marla scoops up some viking gold and chases after him, not realizing her loot makes her a target as well. She hooks up with Del (Jim Gaffigan), purveyor of magical hay, and he agrees to help if she’ll recompense him.

If you walk down the aisles of the Toys R Us Lego section, you’ll find dozens of Playmobil sets, Lego for the younger set. You will find pirates and police officers, dinosaurs and dragons, mermaids and magic yetis. In the film’s universe, all of these disparate sets are connected by a highway. Turns out, a lot of citizens have been going missing lately, so a debonair secret agent named Rex (Daniel Radcliffe) joins them on their quest.

Confused yet? That may be up to 20% my fault but definitely at least 80% the movie’s. Playmobil is appealing directly to small children, dispensing the shackles of story and logic and just hitting them with a spray of a thing and a thing and a thing and a thing. Are they connected? Vaguely, I think. But mostly they show off a wide variety of toy sets available in a toy store near you while keeping up a colourful and frenetic pace.

A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

Shaun is a sheepdog’s worst nightmare. He’s kicking up plenty of mischief on his farm, prompting the poor, overtaxed sheepdog to post signs like: no sheep hot air ballooning, no sheep archery, and definitely no sheep tractor hijacking. But this farm has more alarming things going on than harmless sheep pizza pranks. Shaun has made a new friend, an alien who has special powers. And one of those special powers is for making Shaun’s mischief even more mischievous.

While the rest of the sheep rather obligingly cover for his absence, Shaun goes on an epic journey to get his alien friend back home, all the while evading capture by a certain government agency. Meanwhile, back at the farm, the farmer has had the bright and hopefully lucrative idea to capitalize on the town’s UFO fervor and turn his farm into a Farmageddon theme park – with the poor dog in charge of construction. The film clearly positions the dog as Shaun’s nemesis but you can’t help but feel the dog is given the worst jobs and takes all of the blame. I, for one, feel sorry for him.

Shaun The Sheep is very simple story telling, very charmingly told. There isn’t a shred of dialogue and yet the story is easily communicated. All the gags are visual, and most are aimed at children, but some references to the genre (to XFiles, for example, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), are clearly meant for the adults in the audience.

Shaun and friends provide everything you’d hope for in a sequel, plus a far wider world to explore and enjoy. And as we expect from Aardman productions, the stop motion animation is not only sweet but filled with beautiful detail, a film clearly made with love. The character work is great and the film is gratifyingly simple. What else can you ask for?