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Entries in Animation (5)

Friday
Sep282012

Hotel Transylvania

Hotel Transylvania may pretend to be something other than an Adam Sandler movie, but make no mistake, it is an Adam Sandler movie from beginning to end. It stars all of his usual movie pals and has the same obnoxious toilet humor he always seems so drawn to. If you haven’t liked his other recent films, there’s really no reason you’ll enjoy this, but I’ll give it one thing. At least it doesn’t hide under the guise of adulthood. The immature humor and forced messages are still here, but at least they fit the targeted audience. Aimed largely at children, the film stresses the importance of accepting others regardless of their differences and if lowest common denominator humor is the only way to get that point across to the little ones, then I guess it succeeds.

Dracula (Adam Sandler) is an overprotective father. His daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), wants nothing more than to see the world, but he insists leaving will only bring her harm because the humans she’ll run into are evil. To protect her, he has built a giant mansion (that doubles as a hotel) far away from humankind and protected on all sides by haunted forests, zombie graveyards and more. Only monsters, ghouls and goblins can get in and boy, do they. Mavis is about to turn 118 and monsters from all over flood in to celebrate. There’s Frankenstein (Kevin James), Wayne the werewolf (Steve Buscemi), his wife Wanda (Molly Shannon), Griffin the Invisible Man (David Spade), Quasimodo (Jon Lovitz) and many more. However, a human named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) has somehow infiltrated Dracula’s hotel. His presence threatens to ruin both his daughter’s party and the hotel’s patronage, given that he promised security from those awful human beings.

If Adam Sandler’s movies could be judged solely by how few poop and fart jokes they contain, then Hotel Transylvania would be his best in quite some time. It has, I don’t know, probably less than ten (and at least four in the first ten minutes) in the entire movie, which may be some sort of record for the man who is seemingly obsessed with all kinds of bodily fluids and secretions. Luckily, the movie has more merits than its reduction of poop jokes (in comparison). It may have a simple premise like many of Sandler’s other movies, but the idea of bringing classic monster movie creatures together into one building allows for more creativity than the one-joke idea of slapping a wig and some make-up on Sandler and trying to pass him off as his own sister.

Hotel Transylvania, though hardly visionary, at least manages to make good with its source material, in particular evoking memories of “fire bad” from the Frankenstein monster (which is more a reference to a Frankenstein spoof on Saturday Night Live than the actual Frankenstein movies themselves) and having fun with the whole idea of the Invisible Man, like the question on everybody’s mind: if you put your hand in the Invisible Man’s mouth, would it disappear? Further fun includes pantsing the Invisible Man, which exposes his invisible genitals, and a Twilight reference (“Is this how we’re represented?” asks Dracula) that’s bound to make the more cultured movie fans chuckle.

But aside from those humorous moments that spoof classic monster movies, there isn’t much here for adults. Hotel Transylvania is a kids movie through and through. It’s one of the more tolerable ones, mind you, and it teaches a valuable lesson that is too often ignored in a world full of hate: none of us are monsters and we all deserve love and respect. You could do a whole lot worse this weekend than taking your kid to see it, but despite its good intentions, it feels too much like mild spoof when it should be intelligent parody to be recommendable.

Hotel Transylvania receives 2/5

Friday
Mar022012

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from recent movies like Cars 2 and this week’s Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, it’s that creating an environmentally friendly message is very hard to do without coming off as preachy. If Cars 2 shoved its message down your throat, The Lorax beats you over the head with it. While there’s certainly something to be said about industrialization and its negative effects on the environment, The Lorax fails to bring it forth with resonance.

The film follows a young kid named Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) who lives in the town of Thneed-Ville. In his town, no living trees exist and to survive, air must be bought from business mogul and mayor, Mr. O’Hare (voiced by Rob Riggle). Ted has a crush on a pretty girl named Audrey (voiced by Taylor Swift) who longs to get away from the artificiality of their town’s blow-up plants and see a real tree. Perhaps naively, Ted figures the only way he’ll get Audrey to reciprocate his feelings is to find one, so he ventures outside of his town, which has been closed off from the rest of the world. Out there, he finds nothing but environmental destruction and eventually runs into a man called the Once-ler (voiced by Ed Helms) who recounts his introduction to the guardian of the land, the Lorax (voiced by Danny DeVito), and how his invention began the destruction of what used to be a lively paradise.

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax has good intentions, as most kids movies do. It tries to entertain the young ones in the audience with songs and colorful visuals while also, in its own goofy way, opening their eyes to the beauty of nature and the dangers of deforestation. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that and while I certainly don’t feel adamant enough about it to tell you not to take your child to see it, The Lorax over-emotionalizes its message to an intense degree. In an early scene, for example, after the Once-ler cuts down his first tree, the animals of the forest place symbolic mourning rocks around the tree and hold hands while slow, somber music begins to bellow from the speakers. Though it still would have been too much later in the film, it would have fit more appropriately after the full destruction of the forest. Its placement at such an early stage and after one tree is cut down is more comical than it is sad.

When not shamefully overstating the loss of a tree or laying on thick the destruction of a whole forest, The Lorax tries to be funny, but most of its humor consists of something or someone running into or hitting something or someone else. If you counted the number of times something like this happened to a character, be they human or animal, it would easily reach double digits by the halfway point, perhaps even sooner (much sooner) than that. Here is a movie that aims to tackle a real world problem, albeit in an emotionally over-the-top way, but then dumbs down everything surrounding the problem, essentially making a mockery of it. In simpler terms, the film’s message is too heavy while its humor is too light and those two extremes simply don’t work well together.

What really hurts the film, more than its stupid humor and overwrought themes, is its surprising lack of imagination, especially considering the name attached to it. For example, in the forest that is eventually destroyed, exactly three species of animals exist: geese, bears and fish. That’s it. All the wonderful creativity from other Dr. Seuss stories is missing here. The movie’s world isn’t vividly realized, the forest’s inhabitants are bland and the story, which consists mainly of flashback and little present day conflict, isn’t good enough to make up for it.

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax isn’t a terrible movie. It’s just an extremely bland one, which is sometimes worse. Some talent went into its making, for sure, but that same talent was put to better use in 2010’s Despicable Me. There’s no reason why that film should be more inventive than this (because, after all, who’s more inventive than Dr. Seuss?), but it lacks in all fields and its message, despite being the entire point of the movie, is misplaced. There’s nothing inappropriate about The Lorax, so if your child wants to see it, there’s no reason not to go. Just be prepared to sit through what it is rather than what it could (and should) be.

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax receives 1.5/5

Friday
Jun242011

Cars 2

Throughout the years, Pixar has come to be the most reliable production studio in Hollywood. Their movies have been so good, the fact that they’re animated has meant little. Animated or otherwise, Pixar films rank among the top movies of the last 16 years (going all the way back to 1995’s Toy Story). They have had a perfect track record, eleven for eleven (or more if you include their wonderful short films), but it seems that record is now tainted. I never thought I’d see the day, but it has come. Pixar has made a bad movie and its name is Cars 2.

The film takes place a few years after Cars. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) has just returned to Radiator Springs after winning his 4th Piston Cup. His best friend, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), is ecstatic that he’s home and has big plans for his buddy. However, they soon hear of the first ever World Grand Prix, a race that is going to be done exclusively with Allinol, an alternative fuel source being promoted by the World Grand Prix founder, Sir Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard), and head off to compete in that instead. Little do they know, an evil organization of clunkers, fearful of becoming obsolete, is out to destroy the cars during the race in an attempt to delegitimize Allinol. In a series of mix-ups, Mater finds himself participating in a mission of international espionage with secret agents Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), who are trying to find and stop the evil mastermind behind the sabotage before it’s too late.

Except for perhaps A Bug’s Life, the original Cars is Pixar’s worst film because it is largely for children. The thematic complexity of many of their other films was all but missing. Nevertheless, it was still a good movie with a heartfelt, if overdone, message about figuring out what’s really important and finding your bliss. In that film, Lightning grew as a character and learned that there was more to life than winning races and awards. Cars 2 has nothing like that. The deepest it goes is “be nice to your friends,” which may be great for the little ones in the audience, but won’t do much for anyone who has already hit puberty. In some ways, it’s commendable to see Pixar put out a wholesome, inoffensive film solely for children—there aren’t too many of those these days—but it’s also extremely disappointing because they’re capable of so much more. In the last few years, we’ve gazed in awe at the wonders that were Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3, Pixar’s three most mature films to date. To see them take such a puerile leap backwards is disheartening to say the least.

Even with those problems in consideration, Cars 2 has a lazy, poorly developed story and an out-of-place eco-friendly message. Its call for a renewable fuel resource, however admirable it may be, will undoubtedly go over children’s heads and come off as preachy and unnecessary to the adults. Had the story been fleshed out more than what is presented, perhaps the message could have worked, but it’s not. Essentially, Cars 2 is a James Bond film with automobiles, but the problem is simply putting cars into a Bond-like scenario is not enough. Something must be done with it to make it memorable, but there’s no parody of action movie clichés (something that the excellent Kung Fu Panda 2 nailed several times), no homage to Bond elements (aside from a few character names like the aforementioned Holly Shiftwell) and no unique twist to the already worn down spy story.

As with the first film, Larry the Cable Guy is the best part of Cars 2. He puts real effort into his performance as opposed to Owen Wilson who sounds like he’s just taken a heavy dose of Nyquil and is delivering his lines only minutes before falling asleep. However, a little goes a long way and, like Ken Jeong in The Hangover Part II, his expanded part grows a bit wearisome. In this installment, Mater is the central character and his Southern ignorance becomes less and less charming as time goes on.

As should be evident by now, even the film’s positives are hampered by their own distinct negatives. The 3D, for instance, isn’t as obtrusive as other movies thanks to Cars 2’s bright and colorful nature, but it’s still unnecessary and produces more noticeable double vision than most other films in recent memory. Simply put, Pixar dropped the ball on this one. Cars 2 is hands down and by a wide margin the worst, most inaccessible Pixar film to date. And as much as I hate to say it, it’s also the first one that is not worth seeing.

Cars 2 receives 1.5/5

Friday
Apr152011

Rio

Fair or not, I set a high standard for animated films because I adore animation. The format has given me some of my most memorable and magical trips to the cinema—Pixar, Studio Ghibli, DreamWorks, all have given me enough reasons to hold onto the child within me with their fantastical tales of adventure and wonder—so when I sit down to watch one, I expect something great. Unfortunately, not all movies are worth writing home about (including a few of the aforementioned DreamWorks films). Rio is one of those movies. If the audience reaction at my screening is indicative of how it is going to be received, Rio will be a smash hit at the box office, but for my money, it’s not quite worth the price of admission.

As the film begins, a baby Blue Macaw is being taken from its natural habitat in Brazil and shipped overseas to be sold in an American pet shop. However, its cage falls out of the truck it is riding in before reaching the shop and is picked up by Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann). She imaginatively names him Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) and they spend the next 15 years living happily together. However, she soon finds out that Blu could very well be the last male of his species and to keep the Blue Macaw from going extinct, she is forced to take him back to his original home in Rio de Janeiro to mate with the last known female, Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway).

Of course, things don’t go as planned. The two birds naturally don’t like each other, but are forced to work together when they are birdnapped and chained by the feet by a man who plans to sell them for loads of money. Naturally, they escape and begin to find a fancy for each other as they go along their adventure. That’s obvious and shouldn’t be regarded as a spoiler. What matters in this case is whether or not it’s funny and, as sad as it is to say, it’s mostly not. Aside from a handful of passable chuckles, the jokes fall into one of two categories (and sometimes both). They’re either simpleminded (monkeys texting each other “Ooh ooh ahh ahh!” is far too easy) or they’re unoriginal. You’ve heard these jokes, or at least variations of them, before. Many, many times. It's so derivative, in fact, that it even replicates a joke from last week’s abysmal R rated stoner comedy, Your Highness, which itself had been used previously in many other earlier films. The joke in question is a person singing badly out of tune. It wasn’t funny in Your Highness (although to be fair, nothing was funny in Your Highness) and it’s not funny here either.

If there’s anything to squeeze out of the jokes, it’s the delivery. The voice actors do a relatively good job of bringing forth some enthusiasm, especially Jamie Foxx and will.i.am, who play two birds who just love to break out into song at every chance possible. The complication, however, is that the voices are so recognizable it becomes distracting. On top of those already mentioned, there’s Wanda Sykes, Jane Lynch, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan and more. All, especially Lopez and Morgan, are so familiar that it becomes nearly impossible to separate the characters from the voices behind them.

As should be expected at this point, Rio is in 3D, which only serves to detract from the experience even more. A few weeks ago, Rango, the first non-3D animated movie to come along in quite some time, proved once and for all that the extra dimension isn't needed. It was a wonderful movie, one of the best of the year so far actually, and it worked without resorting to the overused gimmick. Even when 3D works as intended by extending the depth of field, it comes at a price and dims the visuals due to the tinted glasses. And in a film about colorful animals set in as lively a place as the tropical Rio de Janeiro, stripping the brightness is the last thing you want to do. Usually, 3D is merely an annoyance, but in Rio, it’s a serious and unforgivable problem.

Still, I suppose the animation is good, but that’s hardly a compliment anymore given how much computer animation technology has progressed. Even smaller animation studios have to try pretty hard to look ugly. To put it simply, Rio is merely average, but if that must be noted, it should also be noted that it’s completely harmless. But consider this, if you will. The funniest part of this experience is the Ice Age short that comes before called Scrat’s Continental Crack-up (and it was even funnier the first time I saw it in front of last year’s Gulliver’s Travels). If the unrelated short at the beginning is more enjoyable than the feature length film that comes after, can Rio really be considered a success?

Rio receives 2.5/5

Friday
Sep242010

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

You don’t find many computer animated pictures that are worth their weight coming from someone other than the geniuses at Pixar. While some are fun, like Monsters vs. Aliens or Despicable Me, they don’t necessarily appeal to the adults in the audience the way a Toy Story or Wall-E does. But Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is about as close as anybody has ever come. Featuring an engaging story, beautiful animation, terrific voice acting and 3D that actually works, The Owls of Ga’Hoole is one of the best of the year.

There’s a legend throughout the owl kingdom of a group of owls known as the Guardians who protect and watch over the land, fighting hard to free the owls from the clutches of tyranny. This legend is known far and wide, but nobody loves it as much as Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess), a dreamer who one day hopes to meet the Guardians. Along with his brother Kludd (voiced by Ryan Kwanten), he is learning how to fly, but after falling out of their tree and landing with a thud on the ground, they are picked up by two stranger owls who carry them off to work for an evil group of owls known as the “Pure Ones.” While Kludd betrays his brother and joins the wicked things, Soren is tasked with finding and picking a mystical pellet that will help them conquer the owl world. However, he escapes and stumbles into the real life Guardians, informing them of the evil plan that threatens the owl kingdom.

There’s a certain epic quality to The Owls of Ga’Hoole that doesn’t come across from the above, admittedly silly sounding synopsis. But writing it off would be foolish. The feeling of awe and wonder I sensed while watching it simply cannot be described. While a war between two owl factions may seem childish, that notion could not be further from the truth. In fact, it’s quite exciting, with action scenes that rival anything that has been put out this year. I sat on the edge of my seat as Soren and the Guardians plunged into battle, sweeping through blazing fires and dodging enemy attacks. I cringed when one of those owls I had become so fond of was struck with a crippling blow. I feared and cheered for them all the way to the end.

All due credit to director Zack Snyder. Along with Dawn of the Dead, 300 and Watchmen, he is yet to make a bad movie, or even a mediocre one. All have been great and his trademark touches, including a healthy dose of slow motion, perfectly accentuate an already exhilarating tale.

And what a tale it is. While the adorable looking owls may deceive some into thinking this is a simple movie, conscious adults will find some interesting thematic issues to ponder over. Themes of war, enslavement and betrayal sweep over this grand story, but this dark and deep material doesn't exclude children. Through those themes, they will learn the values of courage, honor and doing what’s right. There’s a little bit of everything for everyone.

It will work the brain for more astute viewers, but The Owls of Ga’Hoole will also work the emotions and have your heart swelling up with hope. Hope that kindness will rule. Hope for those who stand up and fight. Hope that good will prevail over of evil, no matter the opposition. It’s a lovely film that works on all cylinders. Even the 3D, an overused gimmick at this point, highlights the beauty of the detailed animation and, despite the occasional hiccup, doesn’t suffer from double vision, the most annoying problem with other recent 3D movies. I can’t praise the film enough and no matter your age, I suspect you’ll find something to enjoy.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole receives 4.5/5