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Archive for the ‘animated’ Category

poster_moanaI love where Disney is going with its animated films. For years the mega studio has been allowing room for its material to address themes kids truly need to be exposed to, much like the Disney films I remember seeing when I was young. Moana fits into this category; however, when you’re trying to climb to new heights with your material, sometimes, you stumble.

Moana, being less than perfect is that stumble.

Since being an infant, Moana has been drawn to the sea beyond the reef of the island she calls home. Later in life, driven by her father to take over rule of the island, Moana, voiced by Auli’i Cravalho, still finds the sea beckoning her for a mission. On the advice of her estranged grandmother, Moana sets out to complete the story of an ancient Polynesian legend of how a demigod named Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson (Central Intelligence), stole the heart of the life goddess Te Fiti which was lost in the ocean during a great battle between Maui and the lava god. Moana sets across the ocean to find Maui and force him to replace the heart to save her island from a mysterious darkness slowly killing it.

With every new major Disney release, one thing is guaranteed; songs. You basically have to expect a musical. Why wouldn’t you? And that’s fine. While the musical movie genre is practically dead once again, Disney has been the only company to continue producing them and have success. My problem this time around is the songs lacked the spark which I expect from most musicals.

Maybe it’s just the theatrical training I received in college, but I’ve always felt and been told songs in musicals are generally ways to express a character’s inner motivations and conflicts, while book scenes focused on the main plot points and outer motivations and conflicts of its characters. Many cast musical numbers express the collective conscious of the group. For example–for those of you who have seen Little Shop of Horrors movie musical with Rick Moranis as Seymour–the opening number of Little Shop had the characters singing about what life is like on skid row, setting the tone for the movie. The musical Rent is the same example; the characters all come together to sing about how broke they are and what they are aspiring to be in general.

For the most part, the musical numbers in Moana do the same; a musical number about how life on the island provides and there is no need to venture out, another number for Moana expressing her need to be whom she knows she is inside, yadda, yadda, yadda. However, the musical numbers themselves lacked the spark other Disney musicals have nailed in the past. It simply didn’t have melodies which people could take home with them. Mulan’s musical number expressing her inner desires, that is memorable. Moana’s, I can’t even recall how it goes at the moment and I just saw the movie a couple days ago. A Whole New World, Beauty and the Beast, Just Can’t Wait to be King; these are all memorable musical numbers which stay with you in a time tested fashion. Moana’s numbers lack that and dare I say are even cheesy in spots.

The only numbers, albeit still not that memorable, which I thought were at least effective where Maui’s introduction number “You’re Welcome,” and the “I’m Shiny” number from the massive monster crab Tomatoa, brilliantly voiced by Jemaine Clement (Rio). These numbers were fun and expressed exactly what the viewer needed to know about these characters.

As far as the placement of the musical numbers, and I’m sorry to spend so many inches on this aspect of the movie, if you couldn’t tell from my tone in previous paragraphs, tend to make the movie very formulaic and not so original.

The only other aspect of the film I did not like is what came after the climax. The movie came to a climax which included a strong plot twist–no spoilers here–but after that climax, the denouement of the film fell into the deadly realm of the hoakey. Seeing Te Fiti at long last was so less strong than any adverse character Moana and Maui faced to reach her. It really hurt the film. There were so many book scenes which were executed so strong that when we come to Te Fiti scene, it fell so short the standard the film otherwise established.

That brings me to the strengths of the film. There were several. The theme alone is always one kids need to be hearing on a regular basis; be yourself. The characters were also strong, well written with clearly defined motivations and conflicts, inner and outer. The adversity scenes were extremely strong and effective which helped keep this thin folklore storyline afloat and moving forward with the viewer engaged. In fact, I don’t remember a single scene without a musical number that wasn’t necessary. That fault came with most of the songs.

Disney’s formula for success also comes with an emphasis on the breakout sidekick characters. For Moanna it looked like it was going to be a pet pig, but soon it turned out to be a mentally challenged chicken which provided some laughs but had a little too many of them for what the film needed at the bird’s expense. However, uniquely presented for Maui, that character’s sidekick was an ongoing tattoo of himself on his chest which served as his conscience at times. This animated tattoo was a great addition to the Maui character which gave a sponge bath to an otherwise flat-footed formulaic Disney vehicle. 

In closing, I liked the movie as a whole. It disappointed at the end and the songs didn’t exactly elevate the story as anticipated, but it’s a quality tale of folklore for the whole family. 

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poster_polarexpressEver since I got married, you have no idea how much I’ve been immersed into the spirit of this advanced capture animation production from producer/director Robert Zemeckis. I’ve seen it countless times now. We’ve read the book which inspired it to our kids. We’ve even been on a train which was modeled after the movie with our kids and my immense extended family. All this, inspired by a film that was utterly delightful but slow.

The best thing about the film is that not only do we get one Tom Hanks, we get six. What better title for me to write about during a month when we select Tom Hanks as our theme.

Based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express is about a young boy who decides to get on a magical train which stops on his front lawn, claiming to head to the North Pole. He finds his journey joined by a handful of children who each need a renewal of the Christmas spirit in their own ways. The boy is guided through his journey by a train conductor, a hobo and Santa Clause himself, each played by Tom Hanks as well as a couple other small roles.

First off, the computer technology for this film was amazing. The motion capture really managed to represent Tom Hanks’ facial features and unspoken ability and convey them through his animated characters. The capture for the children characters were equally impressive.

The film also had numerous sequences which were both thrilling and heart-warming, at times. Obviously a theme of about believing in Christmas and Santa Clause has been done several times over, but getting to that point is what makes the film unique. The story begins with a train coming out of no where and stopping on a kids lawn. That alone sets the pace for the magic that is to come.

My most favorite sequence was the train’s attempt to get across the frozen lake and it begins to crack. It was intense and exciting and comical to boot. It also was shot-selected extremely well because sequences like this tend to get muttled if the shot decisions aren’t exactly crafted to show each beat of the scene. This is credited to Zemeckis (Cast Away, Forrest Gump) as a director.

Here’s what I didn’t care for about the film. It was slow in most spots, or slow in getting from its strongest sequences to the next. I think the lack of decent pace could be blamed on the lack of music score behind most of the slower scenes. The action sequences had plenty to enhance the intensity, but the slower dialogue scenes had none. I’m not saying a film has to have wall-to-wall orchestra, but some of those dialogue scenes felt like they were taking place in a library because of how quiet it was. It just seemed odd and a little off for a “magical” story.

I also hate the hot chocolate musical sequence. It was well done, but I just felt it was out of place and far from as strong as other scenes of the film. I also felt it served no real purpose, and if you read any of my posts about film, than you know I hate unnecessary screen time.

However, the film has enough excitement, intensity, magic and eventually finishes strong to say this production was well worth my time, and the multiple times I’ve been forced to watch it.

Just a little pool of tidbits about this film, the hero boy protagonist was never named in the movie, but the book refers to him as Chris, the first name of the author. In the film, the looks at a photo of himself of Santa’s lap outside a department store named Herpolsheimer’s, which was a store in the author’s childhood hometown in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is where the film’s premiere was also held.

The actual train captured in the film is modeled after the Pere Marquette 1225, a restore steam locomotive which runs through parts of Michigan during the holidays. The film used audio effects in its sound design captured from the real-life train to use in the sound effects editing.

The film is awkward in spots, but it is a true gem.

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poster_storksThere’s a trend of animated movies for the whole family. The trend is a tendency to slip in laughs for the adults who have to endure all the calls from their children for potty breaks and popcorn refills.

However, with this instance for the latest from the studio which created The Lego Movie, now there is a new trend of producing animated movies for adults, to which they can also bring their children. I haven’t held back as far as which movies I show my kids. With Storks, given the amount of violence and basic meanness, I felt guilty for bringing my kids to it.

Ah well, it’s for the future and all their murder victims’ families to decide if I did the wrong thing now. As for the movie…

Storks is about a company of baby-delivering storks which underwent a retooling into a competitive package delivery service like UPS. However, with the ineptitude of Tulip, a teenager who was raised at the factory after her delivery stork went rogue, a new baby was accidentally created and it is up to Tulip and Junior, voiced by Adam Samberg (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping), who has been selected to take over as the managing director to deliver the new baby before any of the higher ups find out.

For the most part, this movie was pretty damn funny. My favorite aspect of the film was the adversity provided by the wolf pack which falls in love with the “little thing” Tulip and Junior were attempting to deliver. When the wolves constantly joined forces to create a new mode of transportation, “In the form of, a submarine,” I couldn’t stop cracking up.

The level of mean from the stork characters towards Tulip, the stork boss Hunter towards the little angry bird looking birds, etc. it all left me embarrassed watching it with my three kids under 6 years old. I certainly didn’t want them picking up any lines of dialogue from those moments and using them with each other. However, if my kids were not with me, I would have laughed my ass off. It’s basically what you would expect from the dialogue out of a Adam Sandler produced Grown Ups movie.

For the array of vocal performances, my favorite came from Stephen Kramer Glickman as the Pigeon Toady, that person we have all either worked with or have been friends with out of pity. Jennifer Aniston (TV’s Friends) shows up as well, which was a nice surprise but she hardly makes the movie worth it just by her vocal presence.

What does make the movie worth seeing, outside its adulterated humor, is the messages it attempts to convey, particularly when it comes to the storyline of the young boy Nate enlisting the help of his workaholic parents to set up a catch-all for his impending baby brother delivery from the storks. This movie wasn’t enough to choke me up or anything, but at least from the screenwriting standpoint, it tried.

If the movie had a fault, it simply didn’t deliver a cohesive production. Inner motivations from characters were muttled at times. It was difficult to swallow Tulip’s backstory. Outer motivations were clear, but the supporting cast of characters weren’t nearly as developed and strong as the principals, Tulip’s backstory aside. It’s also difficult to understand a fictional world where Tulip can arrive on the doorstep of the family to which she was supposed to be delivered 18 years prior and for them to know exactly who she was when they answer the door.

The story simply had too many weak plot points and development to say it was great. It’s a Redbox rental for a decent laugh, but it’s going to be forgotten fast enough.

 

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poster_findingdoryFinding Nemo (2003) has to be one of the greatest Pixar movies ever produced, if not THE best. So it is not difficult to imagine any follow up sequel would have a lot of pressure to be even a fraction as good as its first installment. That’s pretty much what we have with Disney/Pixar’s latest Finding Dory; a sequel which albeit good does not even have close to the level of magic Finding Nemo brought to the screen.

Finding Dory revisits the title character, Marlin and his son Nemo one year after Nemo’s epic rescue. Except this time, we learn Dory, still plagued with short term memory loss, is struggling to remember something on a much larger scale, her parents and their whereabouts. With Marlin and Nemo’s help, Dory ventures back across the ocean to find her parents in a marine preserve in California. Dory gets separated but finds friends at the preserve including the escaped octopus Hank and short sighted whale shark Destiny.

The movie had its moments, especially as Dory came closer to finding her parents. But when you have Finding Dory to live up to, you’re practically doomed from the beginning. I didn’t care for how quickly this new film jumped into things without development of where characters were in their timeline. Nemo set up characters so well that if it weren’t for that film, there would be no character development in Dory.

I loved the entire marine preserve as a setting for the story. That “world” they created, voiced by Sigourney Weaver (Aliens), was superbly thought out. It was easy for me to understand where in the preserve the characters were and where they were trying to reach. Sigourney Weaver voicing the public address fact relay for the park truly gave it a mode of realism only hiring Richard Attenborough or Morgan Freeman for the same task could have achieved.

Ellen DeGeneres (Finding Nemo) returned to voice Dory but nothing new came from this performance besides consistency. Vocally, Dory responded to everything in every way we have come to expect. Albert Brooks (Defending Your Life) offered the same with his performance as Marlin. Nothing new to it but consistent to the previous production.

The vocal performance of the show came from Hank the octopus, whom at first I thought was voiced by Lewis Black. I mean why not. The character was almost Lewis Black to a pinpoint. However, the credits rolled and I was overjoyed to discover Ed O’Neill (Tv’s Modern Family) was the voice actor providing his take on the character. The fact that ol’ Al Bundy himself was the voice of the best character in the show really pleased me to no end. The animation on Hank was also impressive, and on a side note, Hank was the one character my kids came out of the cinema truly loving. So much so, my oldest stated she wanted to ask Santa for a Hank toy this Christmas.

The other aspect of the film I enjoyed was Dory remembering bits of her past as the movie went on, giving us a little more insight on Dory. Not that there was more character development, as in learning what makes her tick, but rather where her nuances were created, like her compelling mantra “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.” Enjoyed those moments in the film as well.

The best analogy I can give as to how Finding Dory is good but not as great as Finding Nemo is a diamond necklace. While the necklace itself is well crafted, nice to look at makes you feel good, it’s the sparkle of the diamond pendent. Dory is the necklace but Nemo was the diamond.

Overall, the kids and I all enjoyed Finding Dory. I just didn’t think it carried the same magical feeling from Finding Nemo. Starting from that first scene in Nemo, you knew you were in for something truly special. In Dory, I struggled to find that same moment…at all.

 

 

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This is a first for me. In the same day, I watched a Disney animated classic that morning and that afternoon watched Disney’s live action remake of the same title. So this is the first time I’m writing up a tandem review of both versions. Now let me be perfectly clear. I have no emotional attachment to the 1967 version from seeing it re-released to cinemas when I was a kid. The are some Disney animated classics which I DO have a heavy emotional attachment to like The Fox and the Hound (1981), The Rescuers (1977) and The Aristocats (1970), but this movie wasn’t one of them.

For this tandem installment? Disney’s The Jungle Book; both the 1967 and the 2016 versions. The reason I wanted to clarify how unattached I was to the original was because of how terribly disappointing the newer live action take was for me.

The Jungle Book, both based on the classic work of literature from Rudyard Kipling, tells the story of Mowgli, a human boy separated from other humans and was found by a jungle Panther named Bagheera who turned him over to the protection of the local wolf pack. Eventually, the regional bully Shere Kahn the Tiger discovers a “man cub” living among the animals of the jungle and follows jungle law stating human among them are simply forbidden at any age. Kahn then is obsessive in hunting down and killing the boy.

The wolf pack kick Mowgli out and Bagheera attempts to help him find a new pack who can help protect him. Along the way, Mowgli runs into the loveable Baloo, a crafty bear, Kaa, an anaconda with false intentions and King Louis of the Apes, who intentions of his own.

Undeniably, whatever age your are, the best aspect of the 1967 animated take on The Jungle Book is the songs. The animation is fine for being pre-1970. It isn’t so bad it distracts from the great qualities of the production as a whole like Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). The songs however are time tested. So many adults know musical numbers like The Bear Necessities, Trust in Me and my personal favorite I Wanna Be Like You, which was later given a swing spin by the and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy which I blast in the car when it comes up on my iPod shuffle.

The songs are ridiculously catchy and the choreography of the animated characters truly heighten those scenes in the original.

The live action version of The Jungle Book presented two of these original songs with new versions. Bear Necessities was so contrived with Mowgli riding Baloo down a river. New lyrics were added, but up until that point in the movie, no character broke into song. So when it happened in that scene, it was completely out of place. The same goes for I Wanna Be Like You, the other revival of one of the older numbers. The only thing amusing about this version was it was sung by Christopher Walken (Click). However, again, even with change of lyrics to suit the new adaptation, the presence of the song was absolutely useless and out of place.

If you want to be a musical, be a musical. If you aren’t, don’t put a musical number in your stupid movie. There’s no middle ground on this. Be or be not; there is no try, as Yoda once stated.

The other part of the 1967 movie I appreciated was the exasperation of Mowgli. By the time Mowgli met the barbershop singing vultures, you could really feel this little animated boy’s distrust and utter exhaustion with the animals of the jungle had reached its pinnacle. Not that he ever said it, but by the time the man cub had his big fight with Shere Khan for the movie’s climax, he almost had this “I just don’t give a fuck anymore so bring it”-vibe about him. I’m not sure if it was the vocal performance of Bruce Reitherman or the animation itself, but that aspect of the conflicts of the Mowgli character were done very well.

In the live action version, Mowgli’s inner conflicts were no where present. In fact, I had issues with Mowgli the entire time. One, a toddler raised by wolves would have SOME sort of survival instincts rather than just RUN. However, I did enjoy the additional material of Mowgli catching shit from Bagheera for figuring out ways of making life easier for himself and others by human instinctual crafting and engineering. That felt reasonable.

Two, in the 2016 version, Mowgli seemed completely unaffected by the fact Shere Kahn was the one who ruined his life as a human but when ape shit over his wolf father being killed by the Tiger. This was so much so, once Mowgli learned Kahn killed his wolf father, he stole the Red Flower (aka fire created by the human village) and ran all the way back to the wolf den (which was weird cause it took him the entire movie to get away from there AND it was made clear earlier he was lost, so how would he know how to get back?) while accidentally setting the jungle on fire. Whoops. Maybe the action itself wouldn’t have been confusing, but the dialogue he had in that moment he found out was terrible. “Somebody has to do something!” he screamed. So Mowgli is gonna go kill Shere Kahn himself when he hadn’t killed a thing in his life and barely had any survival skills? Right. Okay. There was simply nothing in the material which indicated that action was a choice for Mowgli’s character. The writing was a fault in this entire movie.

Another instance of crappy writing for the new version, Shere Kahn as a character was presented intense and effective in backstory and visual effects, but he simply wasn’t menacing entirely. Mowgli is trying to escape him to the human village while being told the Tiger is “hunting” him, but every time we see Shere Kahn, he’s hanging out in the wolf pack’s den. He isn’t hunting SHIT, so why was there a sense of urgency? Maybe for Mowgli, yes, but not the viewer.

I did like the story additions of the Red Flower in general in this 2016 version, and having King Louis kidnap the man cub thinking, being human, he had the ability to create the Red Flower (fire), it would make Louis’ ape kingdom rule the jungle completely. The sequences involving King Louis were the best of the entire movie. It was also the first part of the film which started to scare my kids. The big fight against Shere Kahn for the climax was also a point where my three-under-six cuddled up a little closer because of the intensity. Otherwise, parents, unless you’re raising a total sissy, you’re kid should be fine with seeing this movie in the cinemas.

The visual effects in this latest version were the greatest brag of production. Some of the animals completely looked real and I don’t think a single one was. There were some scenes were you could see the visual effects “seams,” but overall it was very well crafted visually. It’s also a credit to young actor Neel Sethi (big screen debut) as Mowgli who probably shot the entire film on a green-screen stage and all by himself. Don’t get me wrong, Sethi’s performance was terrible; stiff and contrived. However, I have to respect what the production asked of him.

The 2016 remake was a serious disappointment overall. We all know movie trailers are designed to make the movie look far better than it actually is. That’s what ultimately brings people out to see it. But I hate, hate, HATE it when a movie trailer completely makes a movie look like one genre and it turns out to be another. I was sold and excited on THIS Jungle Book being some large-scope action/adventure film. Instead, it was this light-hearted dramedy which was even boring in some spots. I felt cheated.

Overall, to be completely honest, the Disney’s 1967 version of The Jungle Book was a more complete picture. The plot was better. The characters were better developed over the course of the film. That version also knew its place. It’s an animated musical. Period. The 2016 live-action production was a sham, boring and had some nice tries to update things but failed terribly.

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poster_turboWhat a complete cliche from start to finish. And it’s a snail. How many kids do you see going to bed with a stuffed snail toy tucked under their blankets? It’s. A. Snail.

Turbo is a wanna be snail, voiced by Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool), who dreams of being as fast as race cars and through a series of events is infused with nitrous oxide and he suddenly finds himself just that fast. He is later discovered by a hapless food truck driver who fights for Turbo to race in the Indy 500 as a promotional stunt for his brother’s taco shop.

This movie is so high concept for me, it may as well have been written by John Waters. I just couldn’t wrap my imagination around the fact that the main character is a snail attempting to race humans in one of the fastest racing events in its sport. That being the core of the main plot for this movie makes the movie itself so stupid it attracts flies.

I dug a bit into who made this pile of steam dung and behold the talents of director David Soren who was responsible for another notorious fuckball of an animated feature Shark Tale (2004). He also penned the script which was hopelessly reworked by two other writers with far better talents and credits than him. I’m not impressed with any of them.

The worst part of this film is it uses every animated cinematic convention established since the millennium. The end of the big race and the races have to push, pull or drag their way across the finish line. The hapless loser reflective character, in this case Tito, voiced by Michael Pena (World Trade Center), who always means well but can’t do anything right. A variety of stereotypes supporting characters which prove to offer nothing to the story. It’s all there. Again.

On a politically liberal note, having young kids myself, I get aggravated to see animated movies revel in stereotypes especially ethnic. And I’m not talking about the hip-hop stereotypical snail character voiced by Snoop Lion (Dogg at the time). Stereotypes created by a culture surrounding a musical influence is usually prone and deserving satirical representation. I’m talking about the Hispanic, Korean and French stereotypes involved in highly ethnic characters. It’s simply not needed to represent even animated characters in embarrassing representations like that.

Overall, this was a waste of time from start to finish. The sad thing is my kids seem to enjoy it. Their stupidity detectors are still developing though.

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by Schultz  C.epsI giggled constantly through this odd vamp of Charles Shulz’ classic characters, but I also constantly felt I’d seen it before.

The Peanuts Movie follows the core plots points of several Charlie Brown television specials but the main stories for this full length movie is Charlie Brown embarks on a quest to better himself as a branded winner to impress the newest kid in class, the infamous Little Redhead Girl. Meanwhile, Snoopy uses his master’s efforts as inspiration to write a novel about his own flying ace persona and battles against the fiendish Red Barron.

Here’s what was good about the film for me. Once the main plot dug into Charlie Brown and the Little Red Head Girl, the film became somewhat different than most Peanuts television specials. There was also a variety of sight gags and one liners which had me cracking up fairly regularly.

The other main reason I liked this was the music. Christophe Beck composed the score which at times was worthy of a grandiose period film with an epic love story, but at other times, the score incorporated bits of the Vince Guaraldi Trio which recorded many of the infamous Peanuts themes over the decades. The music was nostalgic for me and comforting on many levels.

Also, despite being choppy following the two plotlines, the movie at least had something to say. It wasn’t anything not said before by every third episode of every family sitcom of the 70s, 80s and 90s, but at least it had a message.

My problem with this movie was the fact that many scenes and general comedy writing were moments ripped from the trail of television specials given to us over the decades. If you’ve seen the Peanuts shows dusted off for every major holiday, you’ve seen at least half of this movie. So, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve seen the movie before.

It’s good for kids of today who haven’t seen many of the specials their parents grew up on to see this. The material is innocent and they would probably find more of the redundant gags fresh and funny. However, my five year old thought it was good but said she doesn’t care to have it in our collection, so that says something. My three year old twins didn’t make it through to the end. They lost attention to it in the last 20 minutes.

Overall, this was a nice trip down memory lane with a handful of new gags to giggle at, but for the most part I’m more excited to own the soundtrack rather than the DVD.

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