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When it comes to film criticism, I tend more toward populism. That isn’t to say that I fail to appreciate truly great cinematic art, but that I’m not a particularly snobbish moviegoer. Basically, my attitude is that aiming a film at a wide audience shouldn’t necessarily mean that it is somehow less-than as a creative endeavor.

But we all have our limits.

Unlike some of my critical peers, I won’t dismiss an animated kids’ movie out of hand. Even if the intended viewership might not be particularly worldly or sophisticated, the film in question might still have something to offer. It might not be great art, but there is value to be found in almost any children’s movie.

But then you see something like “Marmaduke” and are confronted with the reality of that “almost.”

The new Netflix animated offering is one of the laziest, lowest-common-denominator kids’ movies that I have ever encountered outside a convenience store’s VHS bargain bin. The animation is choppy and aesthetically unpleasant, the narrative is nonsensical and incoherent and the tone is all over the place. If the intent was to make a film that allowed four-year-olds to feel intellectually superior to those who made it, then bravo. Well done. If the intent was literally anything else, then we’re looking at a spectacular failure.

My money is on the latter.

Published in Movies
Monday, 25 April 2022 15:12

‘The Bad Guys’ is really good

One of the biggest obstacles faced by animated filmmakers – specifically, those making family-friendly features – is finding ways to make their work appeal to as broad an audience as possible. Those efforts don’t always work out – we’ve all seen animated fare that tries to pack in a bit too much winking and nodding for the adults in the room, to the detriment of the experience of the actual target audience. Even Pixar, whose work is easily the best at walking that line, occasionally loses the thread.

Other times, the powers that be don’t even bother, instead choosing to pack their film with low-hanging fruit and banking on the fact that, in the end, their bottom line isn’t going to change appreciably whether grown-ups like their movie or not.

Like I said – it’s hard. But it can be done.

“The Bad Guys,” the new film from the folks at DreamWorks, largely manages to walk that fine line. Directed by longtime animator and first-time feature director Pierre Perifel from an Etan Cohen screenplay loosely adapted on the Aaron Blabey-penned children’s book series of the same name, the film captures that broad appeal, providing plenty of kid-friendly gags and jokes while also offering adults a few winks and a surprisingly solid heist movie framework to enjoy.

I’ll confess that I had lowish expectations for this one, if only because of the marketing deluge of the past few weeks; I tend to equate those massive pushes with a publicity team that doesn’t have a lot of faith in their film. Instead, what I got was a funny, charming film that managed to provide moments both sophisticated and sophomoric while, yes, appealing to all ages.

Published in Movies

Childhood is rife with milestones. The journey toward adulthood has loads of highlights and lowlights (that are sometimes the same thing, depending on the day) and features more than a few obstacles.

The folks at Pixar have long shown a propensity for capturing those transitional times in a manner that is both hilarious and heartfelt, evoking the magical moments with beautifully realized animation and meticulously crafted stories.

Their latest – “Turning Red,” currently streaming on Disney+ – is no exception. Directed by Domee Shi from a script she co-wrote with Julia Cho, it’s the story of an Asian-Canadian girl who is confronted with a very peculiar family secret just as she’s coming into her own as a young teenager – a secret that coincides rather neatly with other changes that she’s going through.

It’s a smart and funny film, a period piece of sorts (set in the year 2002) that is a celebration of what it means to become your own person even as those around you might prefer you stay the same (or at least not change quite so fast). There’s an empowering undercurrent to it all, as well as a thoughtful degree of Asian representation that we don’t get to see nearly often enough. The importance of family and of friendship – it’s all here, presented in an absolutely lovely visual package.

Published in Style
Monday, 18 May 2020 14:21

‘Scoob!’ a doggone good time

Full disclosure: it is difficult for me to be objective with regards to Scooby Doo. I have had a deep-seated love for all things Hanna-Barbera since I was a kid; those characters are all beloved parts of my childhood pop culture consumption.

That being said, I was unsure how to feel about “Scoob!” The latest attempt to bring the character to the big screen – now available for rent or purchase via VOD – was an unabashed update, an origin story that I wasn’t at all sure that I needed or wanted. Of course, no IP is safe in the current cinematic landscape, so an update/reboot was all but assured.

Surprisingly, “Scoob!” is … not that bad. It’s an engaging enough take on the source material, making an effort to stay true to the spirit of the original. There’s a whiff of the formulaic here, but everything is executed with good faith effort. It’s certainly not going to alienate nostalgic fans, while also having a shot and bringing new ones into the fold.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 27 November 2019 11:43

2 Fast 2 Frozen – ‘Frozen II’

Disney’s “Frozen” was one of the most successful films of all time, raking in nearly $1.3 billion at the box office; as of now, it remains the 15th highest-grossing film of all time. It has also spent the past six years as a beloved mainstay in many a child’s home, with earworms like the ubiquitous “Let It Go” lodging themselves firmly into the wider pop culture landscape.

Obviously, there was always going to be a sequel.

But we no longer live in a world of hastily churned-out video-only sequels to iconic IP. There was never going to be anything direct to video about this one, though the truth is that it probably doesn’t matter all that much how good a sequel actually is – people were going to buy in.

But while “Frozen II” isn’t the achievement that its predecessor was, it’s still pretty darned good. Better than it had to be, really.

It is a continuation of the story of Elsa and Anna and their friends, a film that offers answers to questions that you may (or may not) have had about the previous installment. It features the same voice cast, the same directors, the same screenwriters and the same songwriters, all clearly having as much fun as you can have while also being tasked with continuing the money-printing legacy of Disney in general as well as “Frozen” specifically.

Published in Movies

Kiddie film full of potty humor and surprising sincerity

Published in Movies

Animated sequel bland, inoffensive family fare

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 13 July 2016 11:44

'The Secret Life of Pets' is doggone good

Animated family film has plenty of humor, heart

Sometimes, a movie comes along that you just know you're going to like. Maybe it's the filmmaker or the subject matter. Maybe it's just the trailer. Whatever the reason, you are absolutely certain that you are going to enjoy the film.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 03 February 2016 16:08

Kicking it with Kung Fu Panda 3'

Animated sequel familiar, but still plenty of fun

As much as we might bemoan the lack of originality in Hollywood, there's no denying the reality that there's a lot of money to be made by giving people what they've already shown that they like.

Animated movies are among the guiltiest of offenders. Any animated film that achieves even a modicum of success swiftly becomes a franchise, a family-friendly cash cow that can be counted on to generate serious box office and merchandising revenue over and over and over again. Granted, all of these animated franchises fall prey to the inevitability of diminishing returns, but some manage their drop-offs better than others.

'Kung Fu Panda 3' is a good example of that sort of quality management. The folks at DreamWorks have never been shy about hitting the same notes repeatedly ('Shrek,' 'How to Train Your Dragon' and most egregiously 'Madagascar'), but they've handled this particular series with a lighter touch. The end result is a film that, while undeniably familiar, still manages to retain a bit of freshness.

Published in Movies

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