Tag Archives: animated movies

The Addams Family (2019)

Tired of being chased with pitchforks and fire, Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (Charlize Theron) find a perfectly horrible asylum to convert into their matrimonial home shortly after their wedding. Thirteen years later, their family resembles the one we all know and love: creepy daughter Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz), bumbling son Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard), faithful servants Lurch and Thing, indefatigable Grandma (Bette Middler), and a pet tiger. Out of fear and caution, Gomez and Morticia have kept the gates to their home closed, so their children have never seen the world outside it – have never breached the gates certainly, but an enveloping fog means they have also literally never seen beyond their own property.

Which means they don’t know that at the base of their hill, a new town is flourishing. A home renovation guru named Margaux (Allison Janney) has been building a town called Assimilation for her TV show, and besides her own daughter Parker (Elsie Fisher), several homogenized families live there as well – the rest of the homes will be auctioned off during her show’s season finale. But when Margaux drains the marsh, the fog lifts, revealing an unsightly castle on the hill filled with undesirables. And it’s not just the immediate Addams family but the whole clan: uncle Fester (Nick Kroll) leads the way, but soon everyone will be assembled for Pugsley’s rite of passage. Margaux protects her investment the only way she knows how: to cultivate fear among the existing residents, and to start sharpening her pitchfork (or catapult, if that’s what you have handy).

The new Addams Family movie combines elements from the original source as well as the beloved 90s films, so lots will be familiar, but there’s still enough new ground to keep you interested. It’s not quite as dark or as morbid as other iterations, which means it’s not quite as spooky as you’d like, but is probably safer for small children. The voice work is excellent; Theron and Isaac are nearly unrecognizable below the creepy accents they’ve refined. Wolfhard is perhaps the only one who doesn’t distinguish himself and sounds a little out of place – he’s just doing his regular little boy voice while Moretz, for example, is doing some very fine work as deadpan little Wednesday.

The movie does offer some fun little twists: the TV host’s daughter Parker makes friends with Wednesday when they unite against the school’s bullies. Parker decides to go goth to her mother’s complete horror, while Wednesday experiments with pink and unicorns and her own mother struggles with acceptance.

The animation is also quite well rendered and I appreciated the little details that make such a movie unique: Wednesday’s braids ending in nooses, Gomez’s tie pin a tiny dagger, the gate to their family home looking vaguely like metal teeth and opening like a set of jaws. The critics seem not to have loved this one but Sean and I found it quite enjoyable, definitely a fun Halloween outing for the whole family.

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Monster Family

Emma (Emily Watson) is a hard-working mom who wishes her family had more time to do fun things together. It’s been a while since they were all happy. In an effort to reconnect, Emma plans a fun Halloween night out but the party is a bust and instead of growing closer, they get cursed by a witch, who turns them into the monsters inspired by their costumes – Emma into a vampire, husband Frank (Nick Frost) into Frankenstein’s monster, daughter Fay (Jessica Brown Findlay) into a mummy and son Max (Ethan Rouse) into a little werewofie.

Being turned into monsters is an inconvenience, certainly, but not without its upside as well: little Max uses his fearsome fangs to confront his bullies. Fay tests her boyfriend’s superficiality. Frank, well Frank has so little personality he just continues to fart a lot.

This is a kids’ movie, so there’s a lesson to be learned about making time for what’s important (and secondarily, weirdly, that our abusers were perhaps abused themselves). There’s some sympathy for the Yoda-speaking witch, though less for her boss, the creepy incel Dracula (Jason Isaacs). Mostly there’s just a very confused plot, the result of a screenplay that’s just not concerned with giving good story. I think you’d get more satisfaction from the story arc in the lyrics to monster mash than you do in this movie which pays lip service to family bonding while utterly boring us to tears.

Kids might like the bat sidekicks and the hazy green fart jokes, but there’s so little in between that attentions will wander. The lips don’t even match the voice work, if you can even call it that when poor Nick Frost is relegated to grunts. I mean, he’s probably pretty expensive for grunt work. You might have gone with no-name grunts and saved yourself a pretty penny, which then could have been invested in better writing or more compelling animation. Too late now – the movie is what it is, and what it is is entirely missable.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

I was babysitting my nephews this weekend, and after dinner we got a big bucket of popcorn, drinks in spill-proof containers, and crawled into bed to watch some “scary” Halloween movies together. Brady is newly 8 and Jack is 5 and two thirds so I didn’t want anything that was inappropriately scary, but I wanted to give them a taste of Halloween and who better than Tim Burton to do just that. We watched Frankenweenie, a favourite of mine, and Jack now has some very pervasive ideas about reanimating dead pets with electricity. I suggested to him that this was something that might only work in movies, but no, he assured me, this was not so. Apologies to my sister’s dog, whose corpse may suffer any range of indignities.

Interestingly, The Nightmare Before Christmas didn’t go over quite as well. It wasn’t too scary for them, but it was perhaps too boring. The fault is perhaps mine: they watched it fairly attentively until Herbie The Wonder Dog came up for a cuddle, and then they discovered some of the tricks he was willing to do in order to earn popcorn treats. So that did pull them away from the movie a bit. They were also taken by surprise by its ending – not the content of it, but the timing. And though I hadn’t remembered it being rather short, it is – only 76 minutes, and that’s counting credits. So we may have to try again next year to really give it a fair shake because this movie is quite beloved and dare I say almost cult-worthy…although, is that just among adults?

Jack Skellington (“Is he made of sticks?” Jack asked, and I didn’t exactly want to say bones, so I called him a skeleton and that seemed to appease him) is the pumpkin king, a resident of Halloween Town, where every year they put on a lavish but repetitive display of ghoulish horror. Jack Skellington is bored. So when he finds a clearing in the forest with portals to other holiday towns (and don’t you wish we’d gotten even a glimpse of some of the others?) you bet he opens up the most alluring and steps into the wonder of Christmas Town.

Now, very likely there are residents of Christmas Town who are every bit as bored of doing the same old thing every year as old Jack Skellington is, but we don’t hear from them. Instead we watch Jack’s eyes go round as he is mesmerized by all the merriment. When he eventually returns home, he conscripts Halloween Town’s citizens to put on their own Christmas…but a bunch of ghosts and monsters don’t quite pull off the winter wonderland of Jack’s vision. And the ways in which they get it wrong are quite endearing. Until they kidnap Santa Claus (Sandy Claws, as they mishear the title) and Jack steps into the role clad in trim red velvet suit. (“I’d punch him right in the nose,” says little Jack, quite perturbed by the Santa imposter).

Tim Burton has said that it was a shopping mall that sparked the idea for the film – watching as the Halloween merch gets taken down the day after the holiday and immediately replaced with Christmas stuff (of course, that was back in the 90s when we still had a modicum of decency…today both holidays exist commercially in tandem, as early as August).

Our kids may not have been big fans of the film, at least not yet, but there’s something about it that appeals to many others. Matt, Sean and I are headed to Disney World in a few weeks and we’ll witness Magic Kingdom go from Mickey’s Not So Spooky Halloween to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas, literally overnight. And the great thing is: Jack and Sally, rarely seen in the parks otherwise, make special appearances over this holiday time. Disney Land’s Haunted Mansion gets a Nightmare before Christmas makeover, and you can purchase specially themed ears to match, and treats too of course, because Disney is a master at getting you to part with your money.

Chicken Run

Mr. & Mrs. Tweedy are modernizing the farm, which is a euphemistic way to say they’re installing a chicken pot pie factory on premises, which might make for savoury dinners, but it spells utter disaster for the farm’s chickens, who are, after all, our beloved protagonists.

Yes the chickens didn’t know how good they had it. Sure there was the stress of not laying enough eggs and having your head cut off as a result, but that felt like only a remote possibility, whereas the chicken pot pie machine has an actual conveyor belt built to render chickens into cutlets in mere seconds. If you thought the chickens had hustle before (and there’s a couple of excellent montages that suggest they do) boy are you about to see the ante upped now that there’s REAL motivation on the line.

Ginger (Julia Sawalha) is a natural leader of chickens and perhaps a little too bright for her lot in life. But good news: she and all the other chickens believe they are saved when a suave flying rooster named Rocky (Mel Gibson) lands in their yard. He’s grounded with a broken wing, but he promises to earn his keep during this tumultuous time by teaching the chickens to fly. Thus the great chicken rebellion of 2000 is staged, and one of the most ridiculous escape attempts every committed to celluloid is born.

Which is not a complaint. Rather, Chicken Run is quite good fun. And though this film is nearly 20 years old, it’s aged quite well (I suppose there are limited advancements in clay). You all know by now how partial I am to stop-motion animation. It’s the details that get to me. Babs is a clucking little hen who likes to sit and knit; the knitting is real, done with toothpicks. Someone did that! The chicken’s bodies were molded with wire and covered with silicone, but their faces, which changed constantly to reflect their speech, had to be done in plasticine, which is much less durable; halfway through the shoot they’d already gone through 3,370 pounds of it!

With joy sprinkled liberally throughout, this movie has something for everyone, and makes for easy family viewing.

Coraline

It’s actually nearly impossible for me to believe I haven’t reviewed this one here yet because it’s such a treasure, one that continues to impress me in new ways every time I watch it. Coraline is 10 years old now and it’s safe to say the world of animation has changed in its wake. With Coraline, Laika showed that animated films could be more than just cartoons for kids. With gorgeous, artful sets, thoughtful stories, and dark themes, Laika has distinguished itself as a cut above, and Coraline has set the bar for so much that has come since. They weren’t the first to do this, of course, but they’ve certainly made the biggest impression on American box offices.

I happen to love stop-motion films because it feels like we’re so much closer to the artwork. 24 character puppets were constructed for Coraline, which kept 10 artists busy for four months. The Coraline puppet at one point shows 16 different expressions in a span of 35 seconds. When you stop to think about what that series actually means, the careful minutiae, the attention to detail, the willingness to expend so much work for a few seconds of film, you start to really appreciate the possibilities of stop-motion. Of course, there was no single Coraline puppet, there were 28 made of her alone, in different sizes for different situations. Her face could be detached and replaced as needed. The prototype would be molded by a computer, and then hand-painted by the modeling department. Each jaw replacement was clipped between Coraline’s eyes, resulting in a visible line later digitally removed. There were exactly 207,336 possible face combinations for her character. Just her character! Over 130 sets were built across 52 different stages spanning 183,000 square feet – the largest set ever dedicated to this kind of film.

I like to think about the different people on the set of a movie like this. One person was in charge of making the snow (the recipe calls for both superglue and baking soda, if you’re interested; leaves are made by spraying popcorn pink and cutting it up into little pieces). Someone laid 1,300 square feet of fake fur as a stand-in for grass. Another was hired just to sit and knit the tiny sweaters worn by puppets, using knitting needles as thin as human hair. You have to really LOVE doing this to dedicate your life to knitting in miniature. Students from The Art Institute of Portland had the opportunity to help out – what an amazing induction to a burgeoning industry.

Coraline is an 11 year old girl, recently moved to a new home, and her parents have little time for her. So perhaps she can’t entirely be faulted for falling for a grass-is-greener situation when she finds a secret passageway in the new house and follows it to an alternate universe where her Other Mother is attentive and loving. Of course, all is not as it seems – the Other Mother is trying to keep her there, permanently. It’s dark, but also magical, spell-binding. It absorbs you into this world, which remains in a state of disorienting metamorphosis. The Other World seems inviting at first – utopian, even, to a young girl. But as it unravels, the world looks and feels increasingly hostile; Other Mother herself begins to wear clothing and hairstyles more forbidding and harsh. It reveals itself in a dizzying, undeniable way, the best use of the medium, an unforgettable piece of film.

UglyDolls

Uglyville is home to some fairly upbeat if misshapen dolls – they’re missing eyes or teeth or limbs – but most seem content. All but one doll, Moxy (Kelly Clarkson), who dreams of going to the “big world” and living with a child who will love her. She gets together a band of misfits (truly the only kind of band that CAN be assembled on this island of misfit toys by any other name), including Lucky Bat (Leehom Wang), Wage (Wanda Sykes), Babo (Gabriel Iglesias) and Uglydog (Pitbull), and together they stumble upon the Institute of Perfection, the last stop between the best dolls and their forever homes.

The Institute of Perfection is run by Lou (Nick Jonas), an alarmingly blonde-haired, blue eyed bastion of excellence. He gets all the beautiful dolls ready to run the gauntlet, the final hurdle to be cleared before being placed in a home. Moxy and gang find these perfect dolls to be outwardly pretty but inwardly ugly – they soundly and definitively and in many cases quite cruelly reject Moxy and friends for looking different.

From the very first frame, you know where this film is headed. We’re teaching kids to embrace differences and to accept imperfections. Sounds nice. But this movie takes an uncomfortably long time getting there and goes through too many catchy songs about the importance of beauty on the way. It makes you really start to sweat all the Hitler references.

In the end, the Uglydolls meet a perfect doll named Mandy (Janelle Monae) who (you may want to sit down for this) wears glasses. And through that hideous physical defect they’re able to bond and together they realize that not only is being weird okay, maybe it’s even possible for a kid to love you that way, in all your freaky glory.

UglyDolls plays like a watered down Toy Story, appealing to only the very youngest of children (my 5 year old and 7 year old nephews preferred to pick up live-action Dumbo over this for a recent car trip, but it was Sean’s recommendation of Shazam that really impressed, which meant we just spent 10 days sequestered in a cottage with kids who couldn’t go more than 5 minutes without singing “Lightning with my hands! Lightning with my hands!” and requesting this new band they’ve just been introduced to through the movie – Queen). Its fuzzy feltness and bouquet of primary colours should serve as a warning that this movie is nothing but saccharine and if you have any other requirements from a film then this one is not for you.

 

Wonder Park

June and her mother (Jennifer Garner) have expansive imaginations. Together they created a pretend theme park called Wonderland, a special place that peopled by June’s favourite toys: a warthog named Greta (Mila Kunis), a hedgehog named Steve (John Oliver) a blue bear named Boomer (Ken Hudson Campbell), and brought alive by the pictures and blueprints that June and her mother draw together, wallpapering June’s room with their designs.

But then June’s mother gets sick, and June can’t bring herself to play their favourite game without her. June’s dad (Matthew Broderick) thinks it’s a good idea that she spends her summer at math camp, but halfway there, she gets cold feet and heads back. But she gets so turned around she ends up in – Wonderland? But how is the amusement park in her imagination a real place? And how are her toys talking, breathing characters?

One thing’s for sure: Greta the pink warthog and friends feel abandoned by the “voices” who inspired their adventures and brought life to their home. June realizes that she’s been so afraid to lose her mom that she’s somehow lost herself. But in the meantime, saving Wonderland presents itself as a real thing. We don’t know how June has wandered into the actual iteration of the park, but she’s there, and must contend with the consequences of her neglect. Luckily, as the inventor of Wonderland, there’s no one better to fix it up and save it from the darkness.

It’s hard to make a movie with colourful, talking stuffed animals in a fanciful amusement park address grief, so the script does not, not in any meaningful or profound way, even though grief is the catalyst for June’s neglect, and her need for escape, and for pretty much 80 of the film’s 85 minute runtime. It also talks about the nature of play, and what happens when you shut down an integral part of yourself, but without really saying anything about it. The movie is really content just to a diversion for kids than to be something with a moving story or a plot that makes sense. But it’s fun and full of energy and perfectly likable if you’re 5 and think bendy straws are the shit.

Sidebar: it’s shocking how many animated kids movies have erection jokes in them. Like, it’s pretty much all of them. This one’s no exception. In fact, it’s not exceptional in any way.