Archive for the ‘Animation’ Category

moana

One thousand years ago, the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) steals the heart from island goddess Te Fiti.  One thousand years later, Moana (Louise Bush, Auli’I Cravalho) is born.  She is drawn to the ocean, but her father, Tui, (Temuera Morrison) the Chief of the village, repeatedly tells Moana not to go beyond the reef.  But Moana’s grandmother, Tala (Rachel House) urges Moana to find out more about her ancestors, and she finds out she comes from a family of explorers.  Moana tries to sail out beyond the reef, but gets tossed around and goes back to her home island.  But then tragedy strikes, the fish near the reef begin to die and Tala becomes bedridden. As she is dying, Tala implores Moana to sail again, and gives her the heart of Te Fiti, in the form of an emerald like stone and tells her to find Maui, and return the stone to Te Fiti.  Moana finds Maui on a deserted island,  Maui is a boastful demigod, but he is also frightened of Te Ka the volcanic God who stands in the way of bringing the heart stone back to Te Fiti.  So he traps Moana on the deserted island and has no intention of giving the stone heart back to Te Fiti.  Does Moana get off the island?  Do she and Maui return the heart stone to Te Fiti.?

Moana dies a good job of synthesizing a Polynesian myth with a modern story of a girl seeking her independence from her overprotective parents.  However, he writers undercut the message of independence for women by having Maui tag along and talk down to Moana through a large part of the film.  In addition the animal characters are wasted, they should have anthropromorphized the animals and given them the power to speak only to Moana, but instead they end up with a brainless google-eyed chicken.  The ending has a nice twist, which reinforces why Moana was chosen for the journey.

The voice acting is excellent.  Auli’I Cravalho is a natural as the young, impetuous, Moana.  Her bubbly personality imbues the film with positivity, and the audience cannot help but root for her.  Dwayne Johnson was surprisingly funny in this movie, I was surprised how good his comic timing was.  Rachel House is very endearing as Moana’s granny.  The scenes between House and Cravalho are very touching,

An hour and 47 minutes is a little long for an animated feature, but the four directors keep the pace going briskly.  The animation is eye-popping.  If there are beaches that pristine in the world, I would like to visit them.  The performances from the main actors are very good, although the music was slightly underwhelming.  I expected more from Lyn Manuel Miranda.

There is an entertaining short before Moana, called Inner Workings, be sure and watch it, it is funny and lighthearted.

Moana: Maui Wowie!

 

kubo-and-the-two-strings

Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a Japanese boy who lives in a cave near a small village in Japan with his sickly and forlorn mother, his father has passed on to the next world.  Kubo makes what little money they have by telling stories of the exploits of a great warrior, Hanzo, who fought the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) with his armor made up of The Sword Unbreakable, The Breastplate Impenetrable and the Helmet Invulnerable. The villagers all enjoy Kubo’s tales.

One day, while at the Obon Festival, Kubo tries to summon the spirit of his dead father, but he stays after sunset, and he is attacked by his evil aunts, known as The Sisters. (Rooney Mara) Kubo’s mother holds off her sisters with a powerful spell that knocks Kubo unconscious.  By the time Kubo wakes up his mother is gone, and his monkey charm has come to life. Monkey (Charlize Theron) Kubo, and Little Hanzo, the origami figure that came to life in Kubo’s tales, find Beetle, (Matthew McConaughey ) a samurai warrior who fought with Hanzo, and was turned into a beetle as a curse for his bravery. Kubo must now find the Sword Unbreakable, the Breastplate Impenetrable, and the Helmet Invulnerable with the help of Monkey, Beetle and Little Hanzo, before The Sisters find him and turn him over to the Moon King. Will he find the armor and be prepared to fight the Moon King?

I love this movie, not only is it an epic adventure in the spirit of the Iliad and the Odyssey, but it is also a love story, and a family reunification story.  It blends these three complex storylines with humor, heartache, some scares and some Eastern religious teachings about life and death.  To top it off, the animation is spellbinding, beautiful artistic scenery, and flights of fancy, like Fantasia, Words do this film no justice, it must be viewed to be enjoyed. This is the same studio that did Coroline and The Boxtrolls, if you liked those movies, you will love this one.

The acting is superb.  Charlize Theron is as good as I’ve seen her in anything.  She expresses her love for Kubo by being a protective shield over him, and her love for him is as intense and heartfelt as anything I’ve seen on film.  She also expresses her love for Kubo’s father in a pure, uncomplicated way.  Matthew McConaughey also gives an amazing performance as a simpleton Beetle who must protect Kubo above all, he infuses Beetle with a kind of down-home Texas delivery, that is charming and disarming.  Rooney Mara is intriguingly creepy as The Sisters,  I wish there were more Asian people in lead roles to give the story more authenticity, the Asian actors seem like bystanders in their own story.  Having said that, the acting could not have been better, there was a real emotional connection made between the viewers and these actors.

I know nothing about how to direct an animated film, but however it’s done, the director did what he needed to do, the pacing is good, the performances are very good, and the visuals are good. This is Travis Knight’s first directorial job, but he’s had jobs as an animator in movies like ParaNorman, Coraline, and The Boxtrolls.  He also did animation for Kubo.  The results of his work are beautiful.

Kubo and The Two Strings:  Zing Went The Strings of My Heart

zootopia

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a small-town bunny, she lives in the farming community of Bunnyburrow.  Her parents are carrot farmers, but she dreams of going to the big city of Zootopia, and becoming a police officer.  She tries out at the police academy, and after initially failing in the various physical tests, she eventually learns how to use her diminutive size and speed to her advantage.  Judy graduates at the top of her class.  Despite her brains and skill, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) gives Judy a job as a meter maid.   While writing one of 200 tickets, Judy nabs a criminal, and so Chief Bogo is forced to give her the case of Emmitt Otterton, an otter who has been missing for two weeks, his wife, Mrs. Otterton (Octavia Spencer) is desperate to find him.  Judy finds a clue that leads her to a conniving fox named Nick Wilde. (Jason Bateman)  Judy needs Nick to help her, but Nick conned Judy while she was a meter maid.  Can Judy trust Nick?  Do they find Emmitt?

This movie does certain things very well.  It illustrates the contrast of idealism versus reality well, and shows the sadness of living alone, and slowly watching dreams slip away. It does this with wonderful poignant humor.  But then, Zootopia aims for bigger themes, like the treatment of predator and prey, as a metaphor for challenges facing our society today.  I found the metaphors here a bit too obvious, and the moral a bit too heavy-handed.  Also, the story becomes too complex when the story turns to finding Emmitt, and the action sequences seem like a set-up for a Disney ride, between habitats like the Amazon jungle and the frozen tundra, and not actual plot in a movie.  Zootopia is at its best when it is light and humorous, not when it tries to imitate an action movie or deal with larger thematic elements. Therefore it is not as good as Inside Out, but still very good.

The voice acting is very good here.  Jason Bateman is the perfect choice to play Nick, the con-artist fox, who never lets people inside his façade.  Bateman handles the humor and serious scenes with equal aplomb. Ginnifer Goodwin is also equally good as Judy, who starts out very optimistic, but despite several setbacks, she remains determined to reach her goal.  Goodwin plays the sunny Judy and the determined Judy with spunk, and humor.  The chemistry between Bateman and Goodwin is very good, and the comedic timing is impeccable. Idris Elba is funny as Chief Bogo, an exaggerated John Luther type character.  JK Simmons and Shakira add to the star-studded cast.

The animation is stunningly beautiful.  The city of Zootopia is a bright beautiful, colorful city, fully of inviting inventive characters, the pacing is good, except it slows a little when the pursuit of Emmitt is underway.  Zootopia is a bit too long for my taste an hour and 48 minutes.  Several great songs by Shakira add to the overall uplifting mood of the film.

Zootopia:  It’s a jungle out there.

peanuts movie

Charlie Brown (Noah Scnapp) tries his hand at everything, flying kites, playing baseball, kicking a football, with little success.  But he thinks he can make a fresh start of his life when The Little Red Haired Girl (Francesca Capaldi) moves in next door.  Now, he tries to put his prior experiences behind him and concentrate on trying to win the heart of The Little Red Haired Girl.  He first tries magic at the school talent show, but gives up his chance to do his magic tricks, so that his sister Sally (Mariel Sheets) can finish her act.  Charlie Brown next learns that the Little Red Haired Girl likes to dance, so he learns to dance, but then slips on some punch on the floor, and triggers the sprinkler system.  Charlie Brown then gets a chance to partner with The Little Red Haired Girl on a book report.  He picks War and Peace to write about after consulting with Marcie (Rebecca Bloom) Does he read the book and finish the book report in time to help The Little Red Haired Girl who is away nursing her ailing grandmother?

Snoopy (Bill Melendez) Charlie Brown’s faithful dog, is off in his own world, pretending to be a World War I Flying Ace trying to rescue a female dog named Fifi (Kristen Chenoweth) from his arch  enemy the Red Baron. Does he succeed?

Unfortunately, The Peanuts Movie is a superficial telling of Charles Shultz’s iconic comic strip.  It hits all the high notes of Charlie Brown’s life, but somehow lacks depth.  The element that seems the most superficial is the development of the Little Red Haired Girl.  In Schultz’s comic strip, the Little Red Haired Girl was the unattainable girl, every person knows what that is, and that’s what made Charlie Brown so relatable.  That changes with this ending, all the subtleties of the previous Charlie Brown tv specials is lost and so, even though this ending is sad and sweet, it is not as satisfying as the tv movies.

The Snoopy sequences seem overproduced with dramatic Hollywood action movie music, which wasn’t really necessary.  The animation wasn’t as endearing as the hand drawn specials of the 70’s.  The 70’s animation was pretty bad, but the new animation looks too sterile and mechanical.

Charlie Brown’s blues deepened by Red Haired Girl.

thegooddinosaur

A male Apatasaurus named Henry (Jeffrey Wright) and his wife Ida (Francis McDormand) have three kids, and grow corn on their farm, since they are herbivores. The youngest, Arlo, (Raymond Ochoa) has anxiety issues, because he is the youngest and smallest of the family.  To build up his self-esteem, Henry assigns Arlo a task, to trap the creature stealing their corn, who turns out to be a caveboy.  Arlo can’t do it, so Henry tries to do it himself, but something happens to Henry while tracking the boy, and Arlo is carried by the river next to his family farm to a place far from home.  Arlo blames the boy for what happened to his father, but the boy keeps trying to endear himself Arlo by freeing his leg from a boulder.  Will Arlo and the boy reconcile?  Will Arlo find his way back to his family farm?

Unfortunately, I did not like The Good Dinosaur.  It really tries hard to be an epic story about a boy and his dog in the wilderness, except the boy is a dinosaur, and the dog is a caveboy.  Wait you say, cavemen and dinos can’t exist in the same timeframe, well the writers have an explanation for that, and it’s no more believable than a talking dinosaur and a mute boy.  The writers try to play up Arlo’s fear, but the writers overplay that hand, and Arlo seems like he’s afraid of his own shadow.  This seems like a movie aimed at young kids, but there are several scenes that might scare young kids so I don’t know who this movie is aimed at.  For a long time, the dialogue consists of Arlo, and the boy who can’t talk, so it’s really a monologue, the film really drags then.  Knowing it can’t sustain a monologue for 90 minutes, the writers introduce some other characters, and try to become a Western themed movie, but the characters and rest of the story seemed rushed, with very little plot or character development.  The writers are also relentless in trying to make this a tearjerker, and that kind of forced emotionalism repels me.Usually, Pixar movies have something for kids and adults, this had little for anyone.

The acting is good.  Geoffrey Wright, Francis McDormand and Sam Elliot have great voices for an animated film, but they are asked to do so little, that their tremendous voices hardly matter.  Most of the movie’s voice work is given to 15 year old Raymond Ochoa, and he can’t be expected to carry most of this movie, and shouldn’t be.

It’s too bad that the writers couldn’t find a story to match the spectacular animation.  The animation is really breathtakingly real, and is easily the best part of this film.  The pacing is awful, and an hour and a half movie seems like three hours meandering here and there for seemingly no reason.  Pixar has made some amazing films.  Inside Out was the pinnacle of animated films, complex in story and had beautiful animation.  Unfortunately, The Good Dinosaur reminds more of Cars and Planes, animation looking for a storyline.

The Good Dinosaur left me sore with Pixar.

despicable me 2

Gru (Steve Carell) has given up his life of villainy, and is perfectly happy raising his three girls, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) Edith (Dana Grier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher) it’s Agnes’ birthday and Gru is happily making arrangements to make her birthday a memorable one.  Gru also has a jam and jelly business that he runs out of his basement.  Meanwhile, another Supervillain steals an entire Artic laboratory, the lab made PX41, a transmutation serum. An agent from The Anti-Villain League named Lucy (Kristen Wiig) tries to recruit Gru to catch the villain who’s making the serum.  The AVL found traces of the serum in the local mall.  The AVL thinks one of the mall’s businessmen is the supervillain, they want Gru to find the supervillain in the mall?  Does he accept the mission?

I’d say the first half hour of Despicable Me 2 is funny, but the writers concentrate too much on getting the single Gru paired off, the attempt to make this a romantic comedy really kills off any satire in this movie.  Gru was supposed to be a satire of a Bond villain, giving him kids in the first movie was sweet, giving him a love interest in this movie is distracting.  The movie is strangely violent as well, Lucy uses a lipstick taser, and Gru uses an ice gun and a big gun, filled with jelly.  Hollywood does what it usually does, fills any gaps in story with mindless action sequences.  This is a movie marketed to young kids and they’re being told that guns and tasers are a solution to problems, I find this disconcerting.  I also wonder if the ethnicity of the supervillains had any effect on the worldwide box office.  This movie features too much silly potty humor, too many minions, not enough sensitivity, and too little intelligent humor.

Steve Carell is excellent as Gru, anytime he’s in a scene the movie is tolerable and actually funny, and that’s part of the problem, it seems like he is not in enough of this film.  Kristen Wiig was good in Bridesmaids, but seems to be trying too hard here to be funny, maybe the writing for her wasn’t that good.  Steve Coogan and Russell Brand are largely wasted, as is Ken Jeong.  These are very funny actors, yet they’re not given anything funny to say.  I feel sorry for Benjamin Bratt, he used to be an A lister once upon a time.  No more, not with roles like this.

The movie is awfully slow for a movie that lasts for an hour and a half.  The only good performance is from Carell and maybe the little girl who plays Agnes, but other than those there was nothing that funny about any of the newer characters.  The animation is nothing to write home about either.

Despicable Me 2. Minions maximized, no growth for Gru.

 

BIG HERO 6

Hiro (Ryan Potter) is a 14 year old robot prodigy who uses his skills to participate in robot fighting.  His brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) goes to college and studies robotics.  Tadashi has built a healthcare companion robot called Baymax. (Scott Adsit)  Baymax is made out of a soft, spongy, balloon-like material, and dispenses hugs and scans people for symptoms.  Tadashi feels Baymax will help a lot of people.  Hiro is sufficiently impressed by Baymax that he accompanies Tadashi to his college.  Hiro is absolutely blown away by his college visit, especially meeting Robert Callaghan, (James Cromwell) Callaghan is a seminal robotics innovator.  Tadashi tells Hiro that if he can come up with a new innovation in robotics, the school might give him a scholarship.

Hiro comes up with an innovation, which he calls microbots, nanobots which have a variety of uses, including building, and locomotion.  Callaghan is so impressed with Hiro’s microbots, that he offers Hiro a scholarship right away.  But before Hiro can enjoy any of the fruits of his labor, a deadly fire at the college takes the life of Tadashi and Callaghan.  Hero is lost in grief and sorrow, but with the help of Baymax, Hiro finds out that his microbots have been stolen and kept in a locked warehouse, stolen by a mysterious man wearing a kabuki mask. Hiro learns later that the man in the mask may have purposely set the fire that killed Tadashi.  Baymax calls on Tadashi’s friends, Fred, (TJ Miller) Go-go (Jamie Chung) Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.) and Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) to help him grieve, but Hiro imbues them with super powers, and they all go on a quest to find and unmask the man in the mask.  Do the find him, and reveal his true identity?

Big Hero 6 is a wonderfully made and fairly complex story for a kids’ movie.  It’s very funny, and heartwarming, but the writers should be commended for weaving in elements of grief, anger and resentment into an animated film.  Young kids will enjoy the soft, huggable Baymax, older kids and adults will appreciate the lesson on how and how not to deal with grief after the loss of a loved one.  The writing is so good, even the villain has a backstory, there’s lots of sad moments on this film, but they feel genuine and not contrived, and the ensemble cast adds to the overall fun of the film. Aspects of the film reminded me of The Incredibles, but Big Hero 6 is very much its own movie.

Scott Adsit of 30 Rock has a wonderfully calming and soothing quality in his voice, he is perfectly cast as the gentle healthcare robot, transformed into action hero.  Ryan Potter and Daniel Henney play realistic and supportive brothers. TJ Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr. and Genisys Rodriguez added a lot of fun and camaraderie to the film, they all worked together to achieve a goal. James Cromwell plays a very complex character, and he’s the perfect actor to do it.

There’s more action in this than a lot of action movies I’ve seen, good pacing by the directors and they pulled good performances from everyone.

The animation is spectacular.  San Francisco/Tokyo looks beautiful.  The characters and backgrounds seem more real and less animated than ever before.  This movie is an absolute treat for the eyes.

Big Hero 6.  A Hero named Hiro tries to save the day.