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Long gone are the days where there was a sharp and specific line of demarcation between the realms of television and movies. It wasn’t so long ago that TV stars were TV stars and movie stars were movie stars and there was little movement between the two, with the occasional ascendent TV actor making the leap to the big screen and the odd fading movie star moving heading into our living rooms. Movies were important and TV wasn’t. Simple.

Obviously, that isn’t the case anymore, with actors moving easily between the two mediums and prestige television achieving feats of storytelling the equal of any cinematic experience. And the lines blur further with the original offerings of the streaming services landing in both camps.

So if you’re going to tell me that Netflix’s latest animated film is also the pilot episode of an upcoming series – sure. That’s the way the world works now.

Thus we have “Arlo the Alligator Boy,” an animated musical film from director Ryan Crego (who also co-wrote both the script and the movie’s numerous original songs). It’s a sweet, tuneful story of a young boy (who happens to also be an alligator) searching for where in the world he fits in. It’s a search that leads him from the swamps of his adolescence to the bright lights of New York City as he undertakes a quest to find the man he believes to be his father.

The subsequent TV series designs could not be more clear – the film plays much like an extended pilot, introducing the characters who will undoubtedly populate the 20-episode season to come. But there’s no disputing that the characters are charming, the visual style is memorable and the music straight up slaps. Not a bad payoff for investing your 90 minutes.

Published in Movies
Monday, 28 December 2020 14:57

‘Soul’ has heart

Hey there! Would you like to watch a beautifully animated film rife with cute characters and silly gags that also causes you to contemplate the deeper meaning of life? Are you interested in a cartoon that may trigger something of an existential crisis? Do you want to laugh and cry in equal measure?

If your answer to these questions is yes, well … you probably already watch Pixar movies.

The studio’s latest offering is “Soul,” another masterful piece of work that is currently streaming on Disney+. Directed by Pete Doctor – the animation auteur who previously helmed Pixar heartbreakers “Inside Out” and “Up” – with co-direction from Kemp Powers, it’s a film that takes a look at what makes us us, an emotional and cleverly rendered look at where we go after we die and where we are before we are born.

It’s smart, of course, and absolutely stunning to look at. This being Pixar, it also takes the opportunity to emotionally eviscerate us, showing us the power of self and of sacrifice while offering up some thoughts on just what it’s all about. Another triumph from a studio that simply doesn’t miss.

Published in Style

When you hear that a movie has been on the shelf for an extended period, you’d be forgiven for having some doubts regarding its quality.

“Animal Crackers,” an animated film from Blue Dream Studios, might raise some of those questions. The movie – adapted from a graphic novel by Scott Christian Sava – was a collaborative effort between American and Chinese companies and was actually released in China a couple of years ago. However, numerous attempts at domestic distribution fell through in the subsequent years, with Netflix finally taking the reins and releasing it on their service.

It’s too bad, because this film doesn’t deserve the stigma that comes with its lengthy remove. It might not be great, but it’s plenty good enough to have received a theatrical release here. There are a lot of quality pieces here – an exceptional cast, some great music – and while the animation is a bit low-rent and the story is meh, I’ve sat through much worse films that received far more attention.

Published in Movies

When we think about movies for kids, we tend to have fairly specific ideas about them in terms of their style. You hear “kids’ movie,” you probably think about bright colors and simple narratives and a general levity with regards to tone. And a lot of child-oriented stories hew closely to those criteria.

A lot, but by no means all. There’s plenty of darkness to be found in children’s stories. From the bleakness prevalent in the tales of the Brothers Grimm, there have been shadows mixed in with the sunshine.

Because here’s the thing: kids LIKE some darkness alongside the light.

The new Netflix animated film “The Willoughbys,” based on the book of the same name by Lois Lowry, very much embraces that dichotomy. While it is rife with candy-colored goofiness and silly set pieces, there are some underlying themes that are legitimately dark. The balance between the two is what makes the movie work – too much of one or the other would undermine the whole thing.

It’s a story of what it truly means to be a family, as well as of the sacrifices that can be required to do right by the people we love. It also explores the consequences that can come from thoughtless decisions regarding those loved ones. Plus, it’s a great-looking film based on strong source material and featuring an absolutely killer voice cast.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 25 June 2019 17:00

‘Toy Story 4’ plays well with others

I didn’t want “Toy Story 4.”

Yes, I understand that sequels are valuable currency in the cinematic realm these days. And no, it’s nothing against Pixar – my admiration for their work is significant and well-documented. I just remember being so innately, fundamentally satisfied with how the trilogy wrapped up that the idea of another movie felt somehow … wrong.

So it was with some trepidation that I stepped into “Toy Story 4,” trying to give the studio the benefit of the doubt while still expecting to be vaguely disappointed.

Instead, what I got was a shockingly worthwhile addition to the series, a film that moves the saga forward in a way that is both respectful of what has come before and enthusiastic about exploring new directions. It is consistently hilarious, of course, with performers old and new delivering big-time. And while it is undeniably heartfelt – prepare for things to get dusty a couple of times; you know, standard operating procedure with Pixar – it also pulls its punches just a bit, largely avoiding the grown-up-targeted emotional haymaker.

Honestly, it’s just about the best possible follow-up to a movie that seemingly needed no follow-up.

Published in Movies

We’ve all heard the adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” While it might not be true in all cases, it is certainly true in the case of “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” the latest offering from animation stalwart Illumination.

And you know? That’s OK.

Sure, one can look at “The Secret Life of Pets 2” as a tossed-off and somewhat cynical attempt to cash in on the surprisingly significant success of the first film (seriously – the first “TSLOP” did over $875 million at the global box office). You wouldn’t even necessarily be wrong to do so. But if there’s one thing that Illumination knows how to do, it’s to make you feel all right about handing over your cash.

This isn’t a great movie by any stretch – what story it has feels stitched together from a handful of discarded ideas and deemed good enough, all of it serving as a framework on which to hang the same kid-friendly pet-themed jokes and sight gags that we saw in the first film. However, that can often be enough – the kids in my screening certainly enjoyed it well enough.

Published in Music

Despite how it may sometimes seem, it isn’t easy building an ongoing franchise. Creating something that will hold audience interest through multiple iterations takes plenty of skill and more than a little luck. Even animated fare, which could appear to have a leg up when it comes to turning a movie into a series, doesn’t always succeed.

That’s why the “How to Train Your Dragon” films – based on the Cressida Cowell book series of the same name – are such a delight. These movies – the third of which has just been released – have proven to be quality outings, earning plenty at the box office while also being of high enough quality to satisfy the critical sphere.

This newest installment - full title: “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” – offers us the third leg of a trilogy long in the making. Like its predecessors, the film offers up a surprisingly heartfelt message wrapped in high-flying dragon action and goofy slapstick. It feels like an ending – perhaps not of the franchise as a whole, but at least of this portion of the story.

Published in Movies

There’s nothing quite like having your expectations greatly exceeded – particularly when they were high to begin with. It’s a rare thing, to experience a piece of culture – a movie, a book, a play – anticipating excellence, only to discover that you vastly underestimated the possibilities.

And it just happened. With “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

This movie offers up a story boldly told, one filled with humor and heart and more web-slinging than you ever dared dream. Smart and beautifully rendered, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” takes full advantage of the benefits derived from working in the animated realm, packed with vivid colors and action unfettered by “realism.”

It’s not just a great comic book movie – it might be one of the best.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 14 November 2018 12:44

‘The Grinch’ a ho-hum holiday hater

Let’s be honest – we probably didn’t need another movie about the Grinch.

There’s no disputing that the chartreuse Christmas-hater is one of the most memorable characters of the many created by Dr. Seuss. The book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” was instantly beloved upon its 1957 publication, of course. And the 1966 animated special of the same name – featuring the vocal talents of horror legend Boris Karloff as both the narrator and the Grinch – has been an iconic part of the holiday season for half a century. Even the inferior live-action version from 2000, directed by Ron Howard and starring Jim Carrey, has developed an inexplicably affectionate following.

And yet, with all of that, we’ve still gotten another one.

“The Grinch” is different in that it features 3D animation, embracing the house style of producing studio Illumination (home to the “Despicable Me” franchise, among others); it’s Illumination’s second Seussian go-round after 2012’s “The Lorax.” But that’s more or less ALL that’s different; the film treads familiar territory, following in the footsteps of the films that came before. It’s all pleasant enough – and will undoubtedly crush at the holiday box office – but it doesn’t bring anything to the table that justifies revisiting an already-cherished tale.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 03 October 2018 12:48

‘Smallfoot’ has a big heart

It’s always nice when a movie surprises you.

Most of the time, you can generate a fairly accurate idea about a film simply by paying attention. All it takes is a couple of trailers, maybe a press tour interview or two, and you can form a good picture of what you’re going to get.

Most of the time … but not ALL the time.

“Smallfoot” is an animated offering, the second to be released by Sony through Warner Brothers Animation (2016’s “Storks” was the first). By all appearances, this was going to be a pretty straightforward and goofy bit of kiddie fare, with recognizable voice talent, decent 3D animation and a handful of not-bad songs. And it is that – but it’s also a little bit more.

Just beneath the surface of this story about a young Yeti’s quest to prove the existence of the mythical Smallfoot is a surprisingly sophisticated allegory about the consequences of conformity and the importance of questioning authority. Oh, and the songs are catchy too.

Published in Movies
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