Posts Tagged ‘Animation’

Netflix this: ‘Lady and the Tramp’

July 16, 2009

Picture this: Christmas 1986. My parents, in a festive mood, decide to take the entire family (all seven of us) to the movies. I, of course, am beyond enthusiastic, because any opportunity to see a movie in the theater must be seized. The movie? An American Tail, the (non-Disney) animated adventure of a family of mice emigrating from Russia to America. Was I terribly excited to see it? Not particularly. Hell, it could have been an hour and a half of talking heads and I would have wanted to see it. (Such was/is my obsession with movies; sometimes it doesn’t matter what I watch, just that I’m watching.)

We arrived at the mall, which was quite a drive away from our home. The mall, in my nine-year-old eyes, had the luxury of having two multiplexes within it, one at each end. To our dismay, An American Tail was sold out. We would have to turn around and go home. But that was a fate I could not accept. I was seeing a movie, dammit!

As a kid I would scour the movie listings in the newspaper everyday. If there ever was a movie emergency and we had to go to a movie right then and there, I would save the day and and know the show times. My years of preparation was about to pay off; I knew that Lady and the Tramp was playing at the other theater at the other end of the mall.

I successfully convinced my parents to take the family to that instead, even though we had to wait about an hour for the next show time. Did I remember the movie? No, not really. But that sweet satisfaction of getting what I wanted has lasted all these years.

Fast forward to Summer 2009. I rent Lady and the Tramp from Netflix because I can. And now, nearly 23 years after seeing it for the first time, I discover how wonderful this movie really is.

The theatrical poster from the 1986 re-release.  Courtesy IMPAwards.com

The theatrical poster from the 1986 re-release. Courtesy IMPAwards.com

What’s it about? Lady and the Tramp tells the rather simple story of a cocker spaniel named Lady (whaaaa?!), who possesses what every dog should: loving owners, a warm house, and a fancy collar with ID, which ensures that if she is lost of caught by the pound, she’ll be returned to her owners.

Lady goes through an identity crisis when her owners, “Jim, Dear” and “Darling,” have a baby and her quality time with the new parents diminishes.

Months later, “Jim Dear” and “Darling” go away on a vacation, leaving the baby with Aunt Sarah, an old, dog-hating woman who believes her Siamese cats are absolute angels, but really cause a lot of problems for Lady. (Thus reinforcing the universal truth: cats are evil.)

Aunt Sarah, under the false impression that Lady has injured her cats, puts a muzzle on the dog, which sends Lady into a panic. She escapes from Sarah, spends some time in the pound, and gets acquainted with Tramp, a Mutt from—you guessed it—the wrong side of the tracks, with whom she falls in love.

What’s good about it? The animation is absolutely beautiful. The animators captured the canine movements so expertly. There’s also so real emotion to this film; if you’ve ever had a dog, you might even get a little choked up.

What’s bad about it? Some parts might be too dark for really young viewers.

Perfect for: Disney fans, dog enthusiasts.

Playing catch up. Again. I make no apologies.

February 28, 2009

CORALINE

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This Tim Burton-esque animated fantasy is visually stunning and effectively creepy.  Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is a precocious tween who’s largely ignored by her workaholic parents (who, ironically, both work from home).  The family has just moved into a new apartment converted from a large old house.  In her attempts to fight boredom, Coraline befriends her quirky neighbors and discovers a portal to another dimension.  At night she visits the other world, which appears to be a perfect version of the world she inhabits during the day…except for everyone has buttons for eyes.  And things become increasingly disturbing.

I’ve seen a lot of weird movies, but this is one is way up there on the bizarre-o-meter.  It’s dark, twisted and downright morbid.  Definitely not suitable for young kids.  But the visuals are amazing.

Perfect for: Tim Burton, animation or fantasy fans.

MADEA GOES TO JAIL

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In addition to watching Why Did I Get Married, I also watched The Family That Preys and Madea’s Family Reunion this month as part of festivities sponsored by the White People Who Like Tyler Perry Movies club.  (It was just me and my friend, who after watching two movies back to back, suffered from Tyler Perry fatigue  and dropped out.  No hard feelings.)  After watching Madea Goes to Jail, I think I might change the name of the club to White People Who Like Tyler Perry Movies In Moderation.

Tyler Perry’s comedies go from Deathly Serious to Hi-Larious Hijinx within moments of each other.  This time around, the Deathly Serious story revolves around Joshua (Derek Luke), an Atlanta assistant D.A. who stumbles upon (in court, no less) his old friend Candy (Keisha Knight-Pulliam), during her arraignment on prostitution charges.  Excusing himself from the case and handing it to his fellow assistant D.A., fiancee and villain of the movie, Linda (Ion Overman), Joshua spends most of the film trying to get help for Candy.

The Hi-Larious Hijinx part of the film comes from Madea (Tyler Perry), the sassy senior citizen with a violent temper, whose frequent run-ins with the law have forced her to go to anger management therapy sessions with Dr. Phil (yes, that Dr. Phil) that end up going nowhere.   When a snooty white lady takes Madea’s parking spot at K-Mart, Madea exacts revenge by destroying the lady’s car with a forklift.  And then–you guessed it–Madea goes to jail.

I simultaneously like and dislike the Madea movies, because the humor is so broad and obvious, and knowing it’s kinda’ stupid, still has the power to make me laugh.  I should know better.

The character of Madea reminds me of characters found on Saturday Night Live–the less you know, the funnier they are.  Unlike the other Madea films (Diary  of a Mad Black Woman and Madea’s Family Reunion), this one fleshes out Madea’s character (do we really need to know that in her younger years she was a stripper???) and in the process, some of the humor about the character is lost.

Perfect for: Fans of Ernest P. Warrel movies.

THIS IS MY LIFE

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You’ve Got Mail is, in my opinion, the greatest romantic comedy of all time.  It’s funny.  It’s clever.  It’s filled with great performances.  I figured that This is My Life would be an alright movie because a) it’s directed by Nora Ephron (she directed You’ve Got Mail and wrote When Harry Met Sally) and b) I like movies about showbiz.  I was wrong on both accounts.

Julie Kavner (unmistakable as the voice of Marge Simpson) stars Dottie, as a middle-aged single mom who gets her big break in stand-up comedy.  Gaby Hoffman (Field of Dreams) and a frumpy Samantha Mathis (Little Women) star as her daughters, Opal and Erica.  The film tries to tell the story from both Dottie and Erica’s points of view, but ends up focusing more on the latter.  The real story that needed to be told was from Dottie’s side, but things like stand-up routines and dealing with agents get glossed over whereas Erica’s first romance gets way too much screen time (including a sex scene that really pushes it for a PG-13).

The film is, on the whole, rather tepid and unforgettable.  If nothing else it shows how far Ephron has come as a director.

Perfect for: Hmmmm…..

Netflix this: ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’

October 11, 2008

Halloween is probably my favorite holiday.  That’s not saying that every Halloween has been whiz-bang fun.  But I love dressing up, I loved the (not really) scariness of ghosts and black cats and bats and witches.  I loved Halloween as a kid (although growing up in Northern Canada meant trick-or-treating in sub-zero weather and a good 8-12 inches of snow in the ground, plus having to wear your snow suit under your costume).  Now, as an adult, I love seeing how excited my niece and nephew get about the holiday.

I recently watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown with my nephew.  He liked it, although near the end when Linus mistakes Snoopy for the Great Pumpkin he got a little freaked out and wanted me to turn it off.  He’s only four, so we can only hope that with subsequent annual viewings he’ll face his discomfort with a Santa figure in a Halloween special.  (It may be a while until he graduates to The Nightmare Before Christmas.)

It’s been a while since I myself had seen it.  As an adult, I obviously see it differently than I did as a kid, but that it also in part because the way I see the Peanuts comic strip has changed.  When I was young I absolutely loved Charles Schulz’s strip, but as I grew up my tastes became more refined and I embraced Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side.  As an adult I look at the comics page in the newspaper and wonder why today’s comics are not funny at all.  Has my sense of humor changed so radically since I was a kid (yes), or have comics just never really been that funny to begin with (YES)?

I feared that watching The Great Pumpkin with an older set of eyes would result in disappointment.  I am happy to report that the special still retains a sense of wonder and innocence.  After all, Peanuts itself is seeing childhood through an older set of eyes, and while The Great Pumpkin is not really funny, there’s a magic to it that invokes those same feelings I had about Halloween as I did as a kid.

What’s it about? Linus (voiced by Chris Shea) is anxious for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin, the aforementioned Santa Claus of Halloween.  None of his friends nor his sister Lucy (Sally Dryer) believe in the Great Pumpkin and think Linus is stupid for doing so.  Instead of going trick or treating with the neighborhood kids, he waits in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin to bring presents and peace and goodwill to all men.

Meanwhile, Snoopy as the World War I Flying Ace’s plane/dog house is shot down over France.  Stranded in enemy territory, Snoopy must make it to safety without being caught by the Germans.  (This makes much more sense when you’re watching it.)

What’s good about it? I have always been a fan of the design and animation of the Charlie Brown specials.  The animation itself isn’t perfect–this, like A Charlie Brown Christmas, has some choppy editing–but that’s why it’s so appealing.  Unlike the crisp and luscious style of Sleeping Beauty (which I recently reviewed), The Great Pumpkin is hand-made and  sloppy, but no less lovingly crafted.  And at a running time of about 25 minutes, The Great Pumpkin knows not to overstay its welcome.

What’s bad about it? The cruelty of the other children towards Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) would leave massive emotional and psychological scarring if he was a real kid.

Perfect for: Kids and grown-up kids.

Netflix this: ‘Sleeping Beauty’

October 6, 2008

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I like to think that I’m well-versed in the pop culture canon.  However, from time to time, there are films that I see that I should have seen a long time ago.  Disney’s Sleeping Beauty is one of them.  It’s not like I avoided watching it; the opportunity just never presented itself.  If you have been denied the opportunity to see Sleeping Beauty, Disney has just rereleased the film on DVD and Blu-ray.  Buy it, rent it–just make sure you see it.

What’s it about? For whatever reason, the evil witch Maleficent is snubbed an invite to King Stephan’s celebration for his baby daughter, Aurora.  So naturally, she crashes the party and casts a spell on the baby:  when Aurora’s sixteen she’ll prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die.  (Maybe it’s this kind of thing that prevents her from being invited to more parties.)

In an effort to prevent Maleficent’s curse from coming true, Stephan destroys all spinning wheels in the kingdom and sends his daughter into the woods with the three fairies–Flora, Fauna and Merriweather–until she turns sixteen. But Maleficent’s no dummy.  She has it out for Aurora, and she’ll stop at nothing to get her way.

What’s good about it? This film is absolutely beautiful.  There is an artistry to the animation that you just don’t see in today’s CG-driven world.  The backgrounds are sumptuous; the highly stylized animation is brimming with vitality; the colors are rich and vibrant.  What is most impressive with Sleeping Beauty is that it was made without the help of computers; we are witness to human perfection.  When was the last time you witnessed perfection?

What’s bad about it? Like many of Disney’s early animated features, plot comes second to the visuals.  And with Sleeping Beauty, you’re really not sure who the protagonist is.  (Yes, Aurora is titular character, but she really doesn’t do much.  And we never really know why Maleficent is so evil.)  But who cares?  This is homemade eye candy.  Savor it.

I was surprised, however, as how much dark imagery there is.  Maleficent’s malevolence is the stuff kids’ nightmares are made of.

Perfect for: animation/Disney enthusiasts.


DVD Review: ‘Persepolis’

August 24, 2008

Persepolis is the feature film version of Marjane Satrapi’s two-volume autobiographical graphic novels of the same name.  It’s received a bunch of awards and was nominated at this year’s Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature (Ratatouille won).  It’s a crazy mix of politics and culture, with incredible animation and some genuinely funny moments.  It’s not “Netflix This”-worthy, but for those looking for something fresh and irreverent, Persepolis is worth a look.

What’s it about?  Marjane Satrapi is a rambunctious eight year-old living in Tehran, Iran during the cultural revolution of 1978.  Her parents are politically active and oppose the Shah.  But when the country switches from a monarchy to a Islamic theocracy, things for the Satrapis family go from not great to really not great.

The family endures the Iran-Iraq war and finds ways to quietly protest the ruling government’s extremism (like attending a secret party where alcohol is served and buying forbidden music like Bee Gees and Iron Maiden from street vendors).

Things keep getting worse, so Marjane’s parents send her to Vienna to go to school.  It is on her own that Marjane embraces western decadence and slowly loses her Iranian identity.

As a young twenty-something, Marjane returns to Iran, only to find she doesn’t belong there any more than she did in Europe.  The end.

What’s good about it?  This sounds like a downer of a film, but the movie is scattered with some hilarious moments.  It’s weird, quirky, funny and honest. The mostly black and white animation is a revelation–gorgeous, at times somber, but always effective.  The film is subtitled in French, but don’t worry–there is an English-language track on the DVD so you can watch the film without subtitles.

What’s bad about it?  Just because it’s animated doesn’t mean it’s family-friendly.  There is a fair share of violent content and sexual situations that may turn off those looking for something that’s appropriate for all ages.  

The film is autobiographical, which means the story doesn’t have a traditional narrative.  Like most biopics, this one is Stuff Happening (see Ray, Ali or Walk the Line).

Perfect for: Animation buffs, foreign film enthusiasts.

Batmania Part 7: ‘Batman: Gotham Knight’

July 15, 2008

Originally I was only going to write reviews for the six Batman theatrical films, leading up to The Dark Knight which opens in theaters this weekend.  But then I wrote a short essay on how the 1989 Batman film changed my life, and so I decided to broaden Batmania to include other things related to Batman’s presence in film.  I recently watched Batman: Gotham Knight and felt it was worthy of being included.

It’s a direct-to-DVD animated movie, although it’s much better than DC’s most recent efforts, Superman: Doomsday (which was screaming to be made into a live-action feature) and Justice League: New Frontier (which needed to be a tv miniseries).  Batman: Gotham Knight is DC’s first foray into anime, with six different anime directors responsible for one of the six interlocking stories.  I’m not a far of anime by any means (I’m still scratching my head as to what the hell was Spirited Away about), but the animation style works exceptionally well for the subject matter.

What’s it about?  The six stories are as follows:

– “Have I Got A Story For You” A bunch of teenagers recall their eyewitness experiences involving Batman.  (All of them differ greatly.)

– “Crossfire”  Two Gotham City police officers debate Batman’s merits while caught between a violent gang war.

– “Field Test” An examination of the gadgets Batman uses when fighting crime.

– “In Darkness Dwells” Down in the sewers lives a mutant named Killer Croc who is poisoned by the Scarecrow’s fear toxin…and Batman just found him.

– “Working Through Pain” A glimpse into Batman/Bruce Wayne’s training as a young man in India.

– “Deadshot” Batman fights an assassin in the subways underneath Gotham.

All of these stories are much more interesting than I have described them.  I don’t want to say much because I knew nothing about Batman: Gotham Knight when I rented it and would like those who want to see it to have the same enjoyable experience I did.

What’s good about it?  Anime works really well for Batman because it’s a hybrid of comic book and film.  Some of the animation is absolutely breathtaking.  This is less of a cartoon than Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.  (It’s also cool that Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman from the 90’s Animated Series, provides Batman/Bruce Wayne’s voice once again.)  And because it’s Batman and not some crazy weird fantasy crap, it’s easy to follow.

What’s bad about it?  This is more in line with Batman Begins than it is Superfriends.  It’s dark.  It’s violent.  It’s bloody.  People die.  This is a hard PG-13, so if you’re looking for something upbeat, you’ll want to pass.

Perfect for: All those eagerly awaiting The Dark Knight.  This is the perfect little treat to tide you over until then.

DVD Review: ‘Futurama: The Beast With a Billion Backs’

July 3, 2008

Futurama is the brainchild of Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons. The series premiered on Fox in 1999, was treated like a red-headed stepchild and then was canceled after four seasons. Cartoon Network started airing reruns in 2003, and, like Family Guy, gained a cult following. Futurama has been revived as a series of direct-to-DVD movies. These movies are broken up into four episodes each which air on Comedy Central.

The series takes place in the year 31st Century. Fry (voiced by Billy West) is a pizza delivery guy from the year 2000 who is accidentally frozen and thawed out 1000 years later. His best friend is a surly robot named Bender (Joe DiMaggio) and his on-again/off-again girlfriend is Leela (Katey Sagal), who is a she-cyclops. Other characters include Dr. Zoidberg (West), a part-man, part-crustacean; Professor Farnsworth (West), Fry’s only distant relative; Amy Wong (Lauren Tom), a slutty heiress from Mars; and Hermes (Phil LaMarr), a Jamaican bureaucrat. They all work at Planet Express, a delivery company run by Farnsworth. Every week the Planet Express crew got into all sorts of zany (read: crude and/or corny) mix-em-ups.

While the characters have that trademark Matt Groening look, Futurama is no Simpsons. It’s funny in a nonsensical, goofy way, whereas The Simpsons relies more on wit and character development. (The characters in Futurama aren’t any less developed; they’re just all pretty shallow.) The humor is more dark and ribald. It also lacks the moral core that has redeems The Simpsons.

With The Beast With a Billion Backs, Fry, Bender, Leela and the rest are in fine form…if you like Futurama.

Futurama

What’s it about? There’s a tear in space leading to another universe, and when Fry receives the bad news that his current girlfriend Colleen (Brittany Murphy) is in a semi- polyamorous with four other guys, he sneaks aboard a fighter spaceship and hurls himself into the other universe. What he finds there is a planet-sized blob with a billion tentacles with romantic intentions.

There are other subplots: Bender joins a secret league of robots led by his favorite actor-robot, Calculon; and Amy marries longtime boyfriend Kiff, only to become a widow shortly after.

What’s good about it? If you’re a fan of the series and get the humor, you’ll love this. There’s a certain genius to the way the writers can make the stupidest gag evoke a laugh. Stephen Hawking makes a hilarious cameo that is just brilliant.

What’s bad about it? If you don’t get the humor, you won’t appreciate Futurama. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, don’t start with The Beast With a Billion Backs. This is strictly fanboy material, rewarding its loyal viewers with a movie that bypasses any back story. It’s also far more crude than The Simpsons, so if you’re easily offended, you’ll want to pass.

Perfect for: Fans of the series.

Review: ‘Wall-E’

June 30, 2008

Pixar doesn’t make bad films. They don’t know how. I personally didn’t care for Cars (I have zero interest in automobiles, talking or otherwise) or Rataouille (I can’t handle rats), but that doesn’t mean they’re not good. The animation is always top notch, and the writing–particularly the character development–is always good, if not great (or, in the case of The Incredibles, exceptional).

Wall-E, Pixar’s ninth theatrical release, did for me what so few movies are capable of: I was completely engulfed in the world of the film. I was completely entertained, and for two hours my film critic brain turned off.

I achieved movie zen.

Wall-E PosterWhat’s it about? In the 28th Century, Earth is an abandoned wasteland that cannot support human life. Wall-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth class) is the last working robot, still doing what he was programmed to do 700 years ago: clean up earth. (He’s nowhere near finished.)

Over the centuries, Wall-E has developed a personality. He’s obsessed with the 1969 musical Hello, Dolly! and spends his days sifting through the garbage for things he may have use of.

But mostly, Wall-E is lonely. Everything changes, however, when a ship sent from Space lands on Earth, and another robot appears.

What’s good about it? Everything. The animation is breathtaking, and for the majority of the film, there’s little if no dialogue. But the film is far from boring. Wall-E is such a compelling character filled with heart I couldn’t help but root for him. It also says a lot for a movie when I don’t want it to end. Wall-E raises the bar for computer animated movies, and makes Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda (a film I liked) pale in comparison.

What’s bad about it? If you hate having a good time at the movies, skip this.

Perfect for: Everyone. Really.

Review: ‘Kung Fu Panda’ – Finally, the dream works

June 23, 2008

Finally, DreamWorks gets it right.

While its animated films make heaps of money, DreamWorks has always lagged behind Pixar in story and visuals, often resorting to stunt voice casting to compensate for the fact that their films aren’t that good.  Often they are loaded with pop culture references and tounge-in-cheek humor that definitely reflect the zeitgeist of the new millennium, but will probably feel outdated twenty years from now.

Kung Fu Panda, however, might be the first DreamWorks animated film that will stand the test of time. 

Kung Fu Panda

What’s it about?  Po (voiced by an unusually restrained Jack Black) is a Panda desperate to learn Kung Fu.  But he’s stuck helping his dad run his noodle restaurant.  Unexpectedly chosen to become the Dragon Warrior, Po must learn Kung Fu from Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and save the Valley of Peace from Shifu’s former apprentice, the evil Tai Lung (Ian McShane).  

What’s good about it?  Plenty.  The animation is rich and colorful.  The film is one of those “believe-in-yourself” yarns that has been done so many times, but it’s told well and with much heart.  And it’s free of pop culture references.

What’s bad about it?  DreamWorks is notorious for stunt casting, and in the case of the Furious Five (Po’s idols and Shifu’s students), the voice work from Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, David Cross and Seth Rogan feels a little flat.  That’s not entirely their fault; besides fighting, the five really don’t have that much to do.

Perfect for: kids, animation fans, those waiting for Wall-E to come out.