Posts Tagged ‘animated’

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_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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poster_megamindThis was a cute animated movie that didn’t seem to me to appeal to kids. I have three kids aging 5 to almost 3 (my twins). The oldest child stayed interested in this feature, while it didn’t hold the attention of the younger twins.

I mostly think it’s because the story didn’t have enough to appeal to children. The plot included a TON of adult themes and I think it may have gone over at least my kids’ collective head.

Megamind is the story of an antihero sent from a distant planet at the same time a young superhero, much like Superman, is sent to Earth as well; one falls into fortune and becomes Metro Man, voiced by Brad Pitt (Mr. & Mrs. Smith), while the other falls into misfortune and becomes super villain Megamind, voiced by Will Farrell (Stranger Than Fiction). Years later, Megamind finally manages to destroy Metro Man and without his longtime adversary, the evil-doer gets bored and figures out a way to infuse Metro Man’s powers into an average citizen in an attempt to get the fight back in his life.

The subplot of the movie becomes the main plot with this Dreamworks animated attempt. Megamind falls for the tv journalist damsel and disguises himself as a museum curator to get her to return his affection. So basically, Megamind is simply trying to live a portion of his life like everyone else; meet a girl, fall in love, have someone love him for him.

Is this a theme for kids? No. It’s a nice sentiment to learn at any age, but is it material that appeals to toddlers and young children? No. It’s a theme which appeals to adults since only adults can identify with this situation.

Another adult theme is (SPOILER ALERT–even though the film has been out for six years and if you were going to see it you probably already have) Metro Man faking his own death so he can get “out of the game.” His desire to find something more fulfilling and not live his life in circles drove him to fake his demise. Again, can a toddler or young child identify with feeling his or her life is hollow and redundant? No. Again, this is a theme which requires adult level life experience to identify with Metro Man’s inner motivation. A kid doesn’t know what it’s like to be in a ‘rut.’

That’s the fault of this movie as a whole. Too many adult themes for appeared to be an animated film for children. I don’t mind adult gags in these types of movies, because it helps adults enjoy the movies with their kids. However, when the central themes are only things to which only adults can relate, it’s not exactly a “family” picture. Shrek 2 is a perfect example of a story for kids filled with gags to entertain adults.

All that being said, I enjoyed the character writing of Megamind as a different kind of villain. An antihero with a character arc in an animated movie is rare and I enjoyed that part of it. I also enjoyed the twist with Metro Man faking his death. I didn’t see that coming and it’s nice for an animated picture to surprise me when usually they don’t. It’s a different kind of superhero movie and that’s about the best thing it has going for it.

Ultimately, Megamind was decent at best. It may be a decent watch with older kids but for the younger ones I’m convinced it would bore the crap out of them. I found it for $5 in the bin at my local department store. It was marginally worth the buy.

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