Archive for the ‘Animation’ Category

Classic Movie Review: Piper (2016)

Posted: October 7, 2017 in Animation

piper

A baby sandpiper wants to be fed by its mother.  Its mother refuses to feed it, insisting that the piper learn to feed itself, but the baby piper is afraid of the water, what does it do?

The challenge for any animated film is to have animation distinctive enough to make the viewer sit up and take notice.  This movie does that for sure, the animation is so true to life, that in the first few frames of the film, the sandpipers look like real birds.

The challenge for an animated short is to get the moral of the story across in as short a time as possible.  Piper does that, in an economical 6 minutes, and it does so joyfully, and not heavy-handedly.  And it gets its message across without saying a word.  This is a wonderful little film, that everyone should take the time to enjoy and appreciate, how many people can say they’ve experienced a life affirming message in only 6 minutes?  That’s what this film offers.

Piper won the Academy Award for best animated short of 2017, and I can see why.  Written and directed by Tom Barillero, who worked as an animator for many Pixar movies including Monster’s Inc  WALL-E and Finding Nemo.

Piper:  Pipe down and watch this film.

 

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lego batman movie

Fresh from vanquishing all the villains in Gotham City, including his arch rival The Joker (Zach Galafiinakis)  Batman (Will Arnett) takes a victory lap to Gotham’s orphanage, where he mistakenly adopts Dick Grayson. (Michael Cera)  Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) suggests that Batman take care of his young ward, so Batman hatches a plot to steal Superman’s Phantom Zone Projector, a device that will send the Joker to an alternate dimension, called the Phantom Zone. Only Dick Grayson is small and agile enough to take the Phantom Zone Projector, and he succeeds from taking it from Superman’s Fortress  of Solitude.  Does Batman use the Projector on The Joker and send him to The Phantom Zone?  Does Dick Grayson get the love and support he craves from his adoptive father?  Does Batman learn to work with Dick Grayson and other allies, or does he continue to be a loner?

The Lego Batman movie is oddly disappointing.   Batman was a very funny part of the Lego Movie, so it seemed natural that Batman had a Lego movie of its own.  But the Lego Batman Movie lacks the humor and charm of the Lego movie.  In fact it’s not very funny at all, and instead choses to be another re-telling of the Batman mythology.  The writers had the perfect physical representation of a man cave, namely the Bat Cave and didn’t use it. The writers instead try to push a romance, and a phony father son relationship with cloyingly bad results. The writers return time and time to a theme, that doesn’t gain credence with repetition.

Will Arnett hams it up relentlessly, which is alright for a supporting character, but it is redundant and rather unfunny. Michael Cera plays Robin as an infantile boy begging for love.  There is something annoying about every character that Cera plays, and he brings that annoyance factor to a likeable character. Rosario Dawson plays Barbara Gordon as an uninteresting daughter of a commissioner who becomes commissioner. Dawson is also a love interest for the egomaniacal Batman, which is neither interesting or carries much chemistry along with it.

The direction is not noteworthy.  The pacing is slow, the performances are weak, and there is nothing eye-catching about the animation either.

The Batman Lego Movie:  A Batastrophe.

th secret life of pets

Max (Louis CK) is a pampered pet living in New York City.  His owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper) raised him from a pup, and Max misses Katie terribly when she goes to work, but she hangs out with the neighborhood pets when she’s gone, he hangs around with other pets, a cat with a voracious appetite, named Chloe, (Lake Bell) a pug, Mel, (Bobby Moynihan) a dachshund ,Buddy (Hannibal Burress)  and a Pomeranian named Gidget  (Jenny Slate) with a secret crush on Max.  Max’s cushy life ends abruptly when  Kate brings home Duke (Eric Stonestreet) from the pound.

Max and Duke don’t like each other, and Duke drags Max way out of his neighborhood where they are attacked by cats, who forcibly remove their collars.  Max and Duke are then dragged into a van by animal control and are on their way to the pound.  Max and Duke are “rescued” by Flushed Pets a militant group of former pets who want to lead a revolution against their human masters.  They are led by a deranged bunny named Snowball, (Kevin Hart) and have their headquarters in the New York City sewer system.  Snowball holds Max and Duke hostage after they refuse to go along with Snowball’s revolution.  Can Gidget and Max’s other friends save him from Snowball?

This movie misses the mark almost completely, there are a few funny moments, but not nearly enough to sustain a whole movie.  I’ve seen a lot of animated films, and The Secret Life of Pets doesn’t even come close to Pixar films in terms of plot and theme. There are animated movies for kids and animated movies for adults and this one is definitely aimed towards kids.  Here’s the ironic part, the Flushed Pets are definitely not for kids, they espouse kidnapping and violence, so the theme of two dogs from different backgrounds trying  to get along is completely overshadowed by this strange subplot.  There are good characters, Chloe, the cat, Gidget the Pomeranian, but they are woefully underdeveloped.  The writers ran out of material, about 15 minutes before the ending and so they just repeat a plot point from earlier in the movie.

The voice acting is not great.  Louis CK is way too mellow as Max, I expected some sharper, funnier lines from him, the director should have let him ad lib a little. Eric Stonestreet at least tries to inject some personality into Duke.  Kevin Hart goes far overboard on Snowball, someone needs to give Snowball some kitty Xanex.  All kidding aside, again it’s the director’s job to reign in such prodigious overacting, and he did not.  Jenny Slate has a likeable quality to her voice, they should have developed her character more fully, but there were so many characters that the writers didn’t or couldn’t focus on a few.  Lake Bell does a good job also playing a cat who all the dogs are slightly wary of. She should have had more lines.

The direction is not that great.  The directors just seemed to let the actors do whatever they felt like doing, and sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t.  One of the directors directed Despicable Me which I really liked, but I didn’t like this movie at all.   The animation was not great other than a few scenes of the New York City skyline.

The Secret Life of Pets:  For the dogs.

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.