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Entries in Animated (19)

Wednesday
Nov242010

Tangled

Disney has a long history of producing quality animated movies. They’ve stumbled a few times along the way, but their impressive list of bona fide classics that include The Lion King, Fantasia, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi and Beauty and the Beast, among others, keeps most viewers optimistic that their next movie could be something special. Their latest release, Tangled, which also happens to be their 50th animated feature, is not the newest animation classic, but it’s a fun, exuberant joyride that will leave a joyous lump in your throat by the end.

Tangled is essentially a modern, expanded update on the classic “Rapunzel” story. The wonderful Mandy Moore voices the girl with long blonde hair who has been locked up in a tower for her entire life by the woman she thinks is her mother, Gothel, voiced by Donna Murphy. Little does she know, she was actually stolen by mother Gothel as a baby because of her magical golden hair that has healing powers when she sings. Gothel has used Rapunzel’s ability to keep her young, but now Rapunzel is turning 18 and wants to venture out into the world. Every year on her birthday, her true mother and father send up hundreds of lanterns into the sky and she wants to experience this up close, oblivious of the fact that the event is meant for her with the hope that she will someday return. When Flynn, voiced by Zachary Levi, stumbles on her tower, she finds her chance to escape as he reluctantly agrees to escort her to the castle where it takes place.

I consider myself a child at heart. I adore animation and Disney movies strike an emotional chord in me today just as strongly as they did when I was young. There’s a certain feeling of happiness I get when these characters burst into song and the ones here are terrific. Led by Mandy Moore’s downright beautiful voice, they all exude warmth and fun and I found myself loving the movie more and more as it went on.

Tangled is not "adult" in the way a Pixar movie with themes and messages that reach out to the older crowd can be. In fact, there didn’t seem to be any themes and messages outside of the most basic to be found anywhere. But whether it’s the music or the gorgeous animation, which is colorful, rich with detail, and pleasing to the eye, Tangled is charming all the way through. It’s funny, cunning and smart, though it doesn’t quite go far enough with its send-up of the classic “Rapunzel” story, opting merely to use the story as a set-up and then go on a completely different adventure.

As with nearly all animated movies these days, Tangled uses 3D to improve on its animation (and to make more money by charging a premium price for the glasses). But unlike films like How to Train Your Dragon or Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Tangled doesn’t seem to do much with it. While far from bad, the 3D, like most movies in the format, doesn’t enhance Tangled in any significant way, with the exception of one late scene set on a rowboat out on the water.

But 3D is almost never the deciding factor in whether or not a movie is good. With the extra dimension or without it, Tangled works because it doesn’t want to be any more than it is—a sweet, goofy movie for the whole family. There really isn't much to say about it because it is so simple in its purpose. It's that fact that made writing this review so hard, but it’s also what makes a recommendation so easy.

Tangled receives 3.5/5

Friday
Nov052010

Megamind

DreamWorks Animation is one of the most hit-and-miss production studios in Hollywood. When you sit down for one of their movies, you never know whether you’re going to get garbage or quality. Sometimes you’ll get a fun, funny, smart adventure like Shrek or Monsters vs. Aliens and other times you’ll get a vapid, deadening nothing of a film like Bee Movie or Madagascar. Their last effort, How to Train Your Dragon, was more like the former. It was their best and most mature film to date and it had many critics believing that Pixar now had some serious competition in DreamWorks. Those critics may be changing their tune after Megamind.

The movie begins as an homage to (or a rip-off of—I can’t decide which) Superman: The Movie. Megamind’s (Will Ferrell) planet is crumbling and his parents have decided to blast him off towards Earth before they all perish. However, a family on a neighboring planet has done the same thing with their child, a kid who will grow up to be known as Metro Man (Brad Pitt). To Megamind, it seemed like he was always destined for evil. Whereas Metro Man landed at the front steps of a wealthy, classy family, he landed in the middle of the Metro City jail and learned how to be bad. Now he has a rivalry with Metro Man and is determined to defeat him no matter what.

Megamind is a more comedic version of Superman in animated form. It makes no effort to hide the fact that it’s borrowing liberally from that storied franchise, complete with the beautiful Lois Lane like reporter named Roxanne (Tina Fey), who has been kidnapped by Megamind more times than she can count. They even make Metro Man a Christ-like figure, a comparison made subtly in Superman, but harshly brought forward here by giving him the ability to walk on water.

Oddly enough, this is the stuff that works best. The spoof aspect of superhero tropes and traditions is well thought out and quite funny. The knowing references to the witty banter that occurs between a hero and his arch-nemesis during battle are clever, but there’s simply not enough of it.

What the rest of the film resorts to are worn down slapstick gags and idiotic one-liners that I imagine will appeal mostly to the younger ones in the audience. The voice talent is wasted with this silly material and they do little to make the experience worthwhile, with the exception of one particularly funny bit where Will Ferrell mimics Marlon Brando. The rest of the time, he’s mispronouncing words for no apparent reason and raising his voice so we are aware that it is indeed him.

In fact, the funniest parts of the movie are the sight gags, like an Obama-esque poster of Megamind as he rules over the city that says “No You Can’t” and a quick nod towards the original Donkey Kong game, which is a testament to the talented animators at DreamWorks. The problem with this movie is not the animation. It’s the lack of creativity and bland writing. That was the case for many of DreamWorks Animation's previous movies. Such is the case with Megamind.

Compared to How to Train Your Dragon or pretty much any Pixar movie, Megamind is weak. Whereas those movies reached out to the adults, this one is for the kids. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing considering how few choices there are for children at the movies these days, it’s also what keeps it from reaching its full potential. The basic messages about good and evil and learning from your mistakes are noble, but they offer nothing adults don’t already know. Although I don’t judge movies on whether or not they’ll work for their intended audience, I suspect Megamind will, but it didn’t for me.

Megamind receives 1.5/5

Friday
Jul092010

Despicable Me

At this point, it almost seems unfair to compare every computer animated movie to Pixar. Who can compete? Outside of a select few DreamWorks Animation pictures, none have been good to the point where I thought Pixar may have some competition. So whose fault is it? The random assortment of animation studios for putting out less than stellar movies or Pixar for setting the bar so high nobody can reach it? I suppose it doesn’t matter, but after the debut of the recent Toy Story 3, one can’t help but look at Despicable Me with an exhausted chagrin.

The film follows Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), an evil mastermind who has not only stolen the Jumbotron from Times Square, but also the Statue of Liberty (the tiny one from Vegas). He considers himself the most evil of all in the land, but a young villain by the name of Vector (voiced by Jason Segel) has just stolen one of Egypt’s pyramids and replaced it with an inflatable version. The media is calling it the greatest heist ever pulled off. Gru, taking offense, decides to do one better. He plans to steal the moon. But to do so, he needs a shrink ray, the one that Vector has in his palace. After discovering Vector’s love for cookies, Gru adopts three little orphan girls named Edith (voiced by Dana Gaier), Margo (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove) and Agnes (voiced by Elsie Fisher) who have the delicious edible resources necessary to distract him, allowing Gru to break in and snag the device. Little does he know he’s about to face some self discovery and may actually come to love the girls.

When people tell me animation is only for children, I become distraught. They clearly have no idea what they’re talking about. To counter, I point them in the direction of Wall-E, Up or even the Toy Story movies. Those films may be accessible to kids, but those who will get the most out of them are adults. They are about love and loss, identity, holding on to old memories and more. With that said, Despicable Me's messages, however admirable they may be, will only work for those who haven’t yet had the life experience to discover them on their own.

Still, as far as kid-oriented films go, this isn’t so bad. Compared to Planet 51 or the atrocious Furry Vengeance, Despicable Me comes off like a sparkling gem. It teaches kids the importance of family while also showing that it’s never too late to make things right. Children, as rotten as they can be, will watch as Gru finds the value in love, displacing his evil ways in the process, and they’ll take something from it.

It’s simpleminded to be sure, which is why it may not work for the adults in the audience who have already gained the knowledge that family is important, as evidenced by the fact that they’re most likely sitting in the theater watching it with their children. This thematic pandering to the young bleeds through its messages, however, and infiltrates the jokes, most of which go the easy route of making kids laugh, complete with farting, puking and the tired sight gag of a seemingly fragile granny suddenly break her stereotype.

I think children will enjoy Despicable Me. But where it succeeds in hitting its target audience, it fails at notarizing itself as anything more. To put it plainly, it lacks the visual artistry and emotional depth of a Pixar film. It’s hard to criticize a movie for wishing to appeal to kids and succeeding, considering how recent dreck like Marmaduke can’t even do that, but I’m not a child and can only speak for myself. While not a vapid waste of time, Despicable Me is like a fat kid running down the street. It probably won’t get far, but at least it’s trying.

Despicable Me receives 2.5/5

Friday
Jun182010

Toy Story 3

Things were simpler in the early 90’s. Hollywood worked the way it always had. We had our dramas. We had our comedies. We had our romances. We also had our animated movies, a group of films largely meant to be for children. Most were hand drawn with perhaps a few touch ups from our friendly computers. Then in 1995, along came a little company called Pixar with Toy Story, a film that completely redefined what we could expect from animation, making it a smash hit. Being the first fully computer animated movie certainly helped its cause, but it also provided a story that could be understood and loved by any age, finally proving that animation wasn’t just for children. Four years later, Pixar topped themselves with Toy Story 2. Now eleven years later, it looks like they’ve done it again with the marvelous Toy Story 3, which is easily one of the best films of the year, animated or otherwise.

Andy (John Morris), now grown-up since we last saw him, is about to head to college. His toys he used to have so much fun with have sat in a trunk in his room for the last few years. It seems he’s simply outgrown them. His mother (Laurie Metcalf) explains to him that when he leaves for college, she wants all of his stuff out, including his toys. He needs to stash them up in the attic, throw them out, or take them with him to college, so he makes the decision to take his favorite toy Woody (Tom Hanks) with him while his other toys collect dust. He unwisely packs them in a trash bag, however, and his mother throws them out, but instead of being demolished they end up at Sunnyside Day-Care where they are promised attention from a seemingly gentle teddy bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty). But not all is as it seems and the day-care becomes more like a prison. So now Buzz (Tim Allen), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and the rest of the gang devise a breakout plan under Woody’s supervision, hoping to get home before Andy leaves without him.

When I was a child, I had a very active imagination. Just like the kids in these movies, I used to cherish my toys and play with them as if they were alive. They were my best friends. I used to wonder what they did when they were alone. I wanted to believe they had their own little world outside of my playtime with them and sprang to life when I was gone. Therein lies the brilliance of the original Toy Story. Never before had I seen my thoughts and wonders as a child translated so faithfully. Now I’m an adult. I live in the adult world. I have an adult schedule and I have adult bills to pay. I haven’t even seen my old toys in many years, much less played with them, but for the first time in a very long while, I can feel my imagination springing to life. Toy Story 3 is one of those films that reminds you what it’s like to be a child, jumping and running and having the time of your life. This is a special movie.

At a certain point in your life, you are pressured to give away your cherished possessions. All those dolls and action figures you spent countless hours with simply need to go. But if you’re like me, you felt guilty and simply refused to give them away (I have boxes of action figures under my bed). Like the previous movies, Toy Story 3 taps into this guilt, but its meaning goes much deeper. It’s about clinging onto those memories, but also helping others forge their own. It’s about growing up and learning valuable lessons. It’s about identity. It’s about family. It’s about a host of things that all get to the core of what it’s like to come into adulthood.

And it’s like that for all the characters—plastic, plush, furry or flesh. Woody, Buzz and the gang find their own revelations through the events that unfold. They love Andy and want to be with him, but things don’t seem to be going in that direction. The film's not so much about Andy giving them away, but rather them wanting to do what’s best for Andy. The final scene in this movie, a beautiful one that echoes how the adults in the audience will feel while watching it, wraps the trilogy up perfectly. It closes every door while giving just enough of a glimpse into the future so we know that the gang is in good hands.

Of course, everything before this climactic scene is a joy as well. It’s funny. It’s exciting. It’s scary. It’s heartfelt. It’s what every movie should strive to be. It’s a juggling act of fear, anxiety, humor and tenderness and not a single ball falls. The fluidity of that hectic combination is masterful in itself. Add in the charming usage of sub-genres, including a story flip to what is essentially Escape from Alcatraz with toys, and you have a surefire winner for all ages.

Toy Story 3 is a delight, a tour de force of childlike imagination and spirit. This isn’t simply premature praise for what some may call a pleasant nostalgia trip. It’s much more than that. Toy Story 3 is truly terrific and will be cherished by generations to come.

Toy Story 3 receives 5/5

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