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*climbs on soapboax*

One of the trends we’ve seen in recent years is a tendency for certain populations to condemn films – often without even seeing them – for perceived messaging issues. These people are ridiculous and deserve whatever scorn or mockery you would like to send their way.

*climbs down from soapbox*

Everyone has a right to their opinion, even if that opinion comes from a place of ignorance. I’ll admit that it sometimes makes me want to overcompensate in the other direction, simply to balance the scales. I resist, but the temptation is there.

Take “Strange World,” the latest animated offering from Disney. There are a lot of people out there on the internet who take great umbrage at a few specific aspects of the film (you can probably guess what they are right now, but even if you can’t, read on and I bet you’ll figure it out). Those criticisms are misplaced.

This is a BEAUTIFUL movie, one whose animation allows for vivid and non-representational artistry. This film looks fantastic, bringing to life an unconventional landscape with bright color and vivid imagination. It has a wonderful central theme, digging into the notion of what it means to be a father and a son and how that can impact the way a life is lived moving forward. It is progressive in its messaging and features a wealth of quality vocal performances.

However – and it’s a BIG however – “Strange World” never fully comes together. The narrative is thin at best and threadbare at worst, with a few rather gaping plot holes stirred into the mix. The characterizations are charming in their way, but somewhat lacking in depth. That lack of story cohesion makes the film, well … a little bit dull in spots, to be honest. Stunning to behold, to be sure, but still - dull.

Published in Movies

Remakes are ubiquitous. That’s just the nature of the cinematic beast these days. There’s money to be made in repurposing and/or repackaging the familiar in order to sell it to a new audience, so studios do it. Commercially, it makes sense.

But one wonders where the line might be, because if the new Nickleodeon movie “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” is any indication … there might not be any line at all. Why do I say that about this particular film?

Because it’s “Blazing Saddles.” For kids.

That’s right, folks – the powers that be looked at that controversial and delightfully crude 1974 Mel Brooks satire and asked themselves “What if this was an animated children’s movie?” The answer, friends, is “Paws of Fury.”

(Seriously – the writers of “Blazing Saddles” all receive screenwriting credits for this film.)

Now, it’s not exactly the same, of course. The setting is different – feudal Japan instead of the American West. The racial disparity is replaced with one motivated by species – cats hating dogs instead of the black/white dichotomy. And the language is considerably less charged, for obvious reasons.

All that said, a large amount of Brooksian DNA remains. Don’t get me wrong – it’s all been reduced in a manner that will allow more accessibility for young audiences. But “Paws of Fury” is still very much connected to its source material, which is (mostly) a good thing. Sure, the thing looks like it was plucked from the straight-to-DVD aisle in 2007, but the jokes are good, the voice cast is stacked and it never stops having fun. As far as kiddie flicks go, we’ve seen worse.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 12 July 2022 09:12

Set sail with ‘The Sea Beast’

I love animated movies. Specifically, I love well-made animated movies. This is an important distinction.

That isn’t to say that a movie has to be high-minded for me to enjoy it. Quite the opposite, in fact – I dig a dumb romp as much as the next guy. However, I’m not interested in movies that view their young target audience as somehow less than. Your movie can be as ridiculous as you like – just don’t condescend to the kids. They’re smarter than you think.

The folks behind the new Netflix animated film “The Sea Beast” understand that. Directed by animation vet Chris Williams in his first solo turn at the helm, from a script he co-wrote with Nell Benjamin, the film combines adventure and excitement with a surprisingly sophisticated underlying message. It has a vivid aesthetic, some great action and a well-crafted narrative. And while some moments might prove a tough too scary for very young viewers, it’s a movie that will likely resonate with the majority of its young audience (and with their parents, too).

Published in Movies

I’m on the record as considering myself a teenaged boy at heart in many ways. Even as I careen through middle age, I remain enamored of the lowbrow humor that tickled my fancy during my high school days. And I maintain real affection for the cultural content that delivered said lowbrow humor to me back then.

So you can imagine my delight upon learning that Beavis and Butt-Head were coming back.

Filmmaker/animator Mike Judge has created some wonderful work over the years – long-running animated series like “King of the Hill” and weirdly funny (and occasionally shockingly predictive) films like “Office Space” and “Idiocracy.” But as far as I’m concerned, nothing tops “Beavis and Butt-Head.”

The animated show – an MTV staple back when that actually meant something – featuring two moronic metalheads alternating between commenting on music videos and getting up to idiotic nonsense was exactly the kind of hilarious stupidity that teenaged me wanted. Call me unsophisticated if you like, but I was there for it.

And I am here for “Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe.”

This latest iteration of the two giggling idiots – now streaming on Paramount+ – sees them brought into the modern world, unleashing their own brand of oblivious selfishness and primal desire onto a society far different than the one they never really understood in the first place. Dudes like these two were already on the verge of anachronistic in their heyday – how could they possibly be translated into our current place?

Time travel, of course!

Published in Movies

Sometimes, a project just sounds questionable on its face. You hear the pitch and, for whatever reason, you’re left wondering just who gave this idea the go-ahead. It sounds ridiculous, yet scores of decision-makers said yes.

In this case, those yeses led to “Lightyear.”

Did we really need an origin story for Buzz Lightyear from “Toy Story”? Specifically, an origin story for the character on whom the toy was based? It all seems so silly. That being said, this IS Pixar we’re talking about – this is not an outfit that is known for misfires. They’ve got a couple of hiccups on their resume, but for the most part, the work they do is generally both critically and commercially successful.

So a high floor is standard for Pixar. But just what kind of ceiling are we talking about? Again, this is weirdly high-concept – “Lightyear” is ostensibly young Andy’s favorite movie, the one that served as the inspiration for the toy Buzz Lightyear – so it’s obviously a bit more overtly meta than what we usually get from the studio. But the big question remains: Is it good?

And the answer is yes. It is good. Quite good, actually.

What we get from “Lightyear” is a legitimately solid space adventure, one with a compelling story, some good jokes and a few surprises. It’s a good-looking movie, of course (we’d expect nothing less from Pixar), and it has plenty of heart (ditto). It’s a bit more grown-up than the studio’s regular fare, but certainly suitable for all audiences. And as always, be prepared for an instance or two of emotional impact.

Adventure, excitement, humor and pathos – you know … Pixar.

Published in Movies
Monday, 20 December 2021 15:47

Not ready to ‘Rumble’

Sometimes, the elevator pitch is enough. You hear the basic description of the movie and you’re in. This isn’t to say that you know this movie will be great or even good, just that the boiled-down fundamental concept is enough to intrigue.

So it is with “Rumble,” the new animated film streaming exclusively on Paramount+. In essence, this film is basically “Professional wrestling, only with massive kaiju-style monsters.” It’s an idea that certainly appeals to the 14-year-old boy in me.

The film was initially intended for a theatrical release, but the powers that be ultimately decided (after pushing the date a couple of times) to send it straight to the streamer. It is a decision that, upon watching the movie, makes one wonder why that wasn’t the plan all along.

It’s not that “Rumble” is bad so much as that it is … boring. One can squint and see the pieces of a better movie scattered here and there, but the truth is that the film never quite manages to take advantage of the various and sundry cartoonish elements – figurative and literal alike – that the conceit invites. Instead, we get a film that offers up watered-down versions of familiar themes – underdog sports story, familial legacy, etc. – and never really manages to go anywhere with them.

Look – if I’m dozing off during a movie about wrestling kaiju, someone somewhere has made some pretty significant errors.

Published in Movies
Monday, 29 November 2021 15:44

‘Encanto’ offers magical family fun

Sixty films.

That’s the number reached by Disney Animation Studios with the release of their latest film “Encanto.” It’s a staggering figure, even when you take into consideration how long they’ve been in the business of making movies. From 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” until now, Disney has been creating animated wonder.

It’s literally generational – for over eight decades, families have been coming together to experience the magic of Disney animation. Kids who grew up on these movies have in turn shared them with their kids, who in turn would grow up to share them with their kids.

And so it’s appropriate that this latest entry would focus so thoroughly on those notions. Magic and family and the magic of family. That’s “Encanto.”

The film – directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard from a screenplay co-written by Bush and Charise Castro Smith, with original songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda – is a captivating exploration of what it means to be a family and the importance of maintaining those connections no matter what obstacles might arise, all refracted through a lens of magical realism.

It is charming and sweet; warm, feel-good family fun of the sort that we’ve come to expect from Disney. And while it might be on the slighter side, there’s no denying that viewers young and old will be swept up into this wondrous world – there will be plenty of laughs and yes, perhaps a few tears as well.

Published in Movies

The relationship we as a society have with technology is a fraught one. Striking the balance between the digital and analog worlds is difficult – particularly for young people, whose relationship with tech and social media and all that those things entail is especially complex.

Complex enough that perhaps a well-meaning animated family film isn’t the best method of exploring it, perhaps?

Still, that’s what we get with “Ron’s Gone Wrong,” the new computer-animated film from 20th Century Studios. The story of a young man and his burgeoning friendship with a ubiquitous piece of technology, tech whose malfunctions and idiosyncrasies make it more capable of meaningful engagement than any amount of careful planning.

In essence, the bugs become features.

With an excellent voice cast led by Jack Dylan Grazer, Zach Galifinakis and others, “Ron’s Gone Wrong” is a pleasant enough diversion, though it never delves as deep into the issues it purports to explore as you might like. It wants to be thoughtful and entertaining, but it ultimately proves more successful at the latter than the former.

Published in Movies
Friday, 01 October 2021 15:40

‘The Addams Family 2’ hits the road

You never know what will have pop cultural staying power. For every bit of creative content that maintains a place in the consciousness, hundreds upon hundreds more disappear into the scrap heap of zeitgeist detritus.

It seems unlikely that Charles Addams knew what he had birthed when the first images of his macabre “Addams Family” graced the pages of The New Yorker back in 1938. But those darkly humorous pieces led to a popular television show, which in turn led to a popular series of films, then to another TV show and a Broadway musical and now an animated film franchise.

The latest iteration of the creepy, kooky titular family is “The Addams Family 2,” a sequel to 2019’s “The Addams Family.” These animated films aim to strike the balance between kid-friendliness and staying true to the spirit of the source material. As to how successful they are, well … your mileage may vary.

There’s a lot to like here – the voice cast is outstanding and the character design nicely evokes the original cartoons without being derivative. That said, the script leaves something to be desired, with a relative dearth of narrative action padded by musical numbers that, while cute enough, feel kind of incongruous. Still, it has its charms – enough to make it worth your time.

Published in Movies

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
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