I kind of hate reviewing kids’ movies, because if I don’t like them, there is always someone who accuses me of being a bad person who hates love, children, and family. I don’t really dislike those things, or at least not all of the time. I just think movies for children should be held to the same standards as adult films; they need an interesting story, finely drawn characters, and—at the very least—directorial competence. I think kids deserve good movies. I am also not a Disney hater, although I have a lot of issues with that particular company. However, I love Beauty and the Beast and have been known to bust out The Aristocats on occasion. I approached reviewing Disney’s newest princess movie, Frozen, with the best mindset I could: I grabbed two of my favorite people—niece Alice (age 4) and daughter Io (age 23)—and made a night of it.
Upon the premiere of the SyFy network’s made-for-television movie Sharknado (2013), one had to wonder how it is that a film like that built up so much buzz. To some extent, social media and the internet would be the answer to that question, and like the similarly marketed and similarly silly-titled Snakes on a Plane (2006), we are living in a world where a film in and of itself—or at least the idea behind its conceptual existence—can become a meme, even if people aren’t actually all that interested in really seeing it. Or maybe they are.
Planes now marks the third time we have visited the world of animated talking vehicles first established with Cars (2006) and continued with Cars 2 (2011). This series feels like it overstayed its welcome by two films. No longer in the hands of Pixar, Disney decided to take the reins with this spinoff, and produced something that should have gone straight to home video (as first planned). It’s a tough feat to do successfully, given that the Cars films are the lowest-rated work Pixar has put out to date. But oh, did it make for some profitable merchandise! I’m trying to imagine Planes through the eyes of my ten-year-old self. Would that kid like this? Perhaps. Would that kid remember it a few weeks after seeing it? Probably not. Heck, the adult version just saw it and is already forgetting about it!
Ugh, okay. There are certain times with movies when it’s hard to even muster up enough enthusiasm to talk about it longer than a few seconds. Such is the case with The Smurfs 2. Your short and simple review for this film is: Don’t Bother.
That’s how I would describe DreamWorks‘s latest animated effort, Turbo. For the last few years, the studio that relied heavily on big name stars and blatant pop culture references has slowly been gaining ground on its much more popular rival, Pixar. With titles like How to Train Your Dragon (2010) and the severely underrated Rise of the Guardians (2012), DreamWorks has significantly stepped their game up in the animation world. This film comes as a bit of an enigma. The first theatrical release by director David Soren, this is a fun little tale of underdogs overcoming the odds to achieve their dreams. That’s all fine and dandy, but on the flip side, it feels too similar to other projects. Set in the midst of Indy Car racing, comparisons to Pixar’s Cars series will be abundant. And placing a small creature into a human environment has echoes of Ratatouille (2007) all over it.
Despicable Me 2 returns to the world of Gru (Steve Carell), the brilliant criminal mastermind turned hero/father. The gang’s all back with him: his adoptive kids Edith (Dana Gaier), Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), and Agnes (Elsie Kate Fisher), his mad scientist partner Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), and, yes, the gibberish-speaking-unidentifiable-species known as the Minions. The first Despicable Me (2010) worked due to its spin of the hero/villain dynamic, the cuteness of the kids and the Minions, and because it is simply an enjoyable family entertainment. The benefit for most sequels is that they are not burdened with having to establish a world. Instead, they have the freedom to take the story anywhere they like, because we’re already connected with the characters. Here, we see a plot that is bigger in scope, but I’m not sure it hits the same plateau the first one did.
It would be fair to say that my feelings were tepid upon hearing the news that Pixar wanted to do a sequel to Monsters, Inc. After all, alongside A Bug’s Life and Ratatouille, Monsters, Inc is one of the most overlooked films in Pixar’s long and illustrious history, but certainly not because of quality. Ignoring the massive demand for a sequel to films such as Finding Nemo or The Incredibles, Pixar made the bold decision to first revisit the monster team of Mike (Billy Crystal) & Sully (John Goodman) that scored them their first nomination for Best Animated Feature. Much has been made in recent years about Pixar’s decision to start making sequels (in which I’ve certainly played my part), but with Monsters University they went in a whole new direction—into the past—by making a prequel for the first time.
You either have a lot of confidence in your work or a lot of arrogance if you call your movie Epic. As enjoyable as the Blue Sky Studios releases have been in recent years (I still think Rio should’ve won the Academy Award), it seems like a Babe Ruth-ian declaration to give your movie that illustrious title. The story of Epic tells of another world in nature, beyond the awareness of humans, that is an ongoing battle between the forces of life and decay. On the eve of a transition of leadership for the forces of life, a young woman, Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfried), is shrunk and sucked into the middle of this battle for survival.
It’s been a good year in animated film. The trend continues with Rise of the Guardians. DreamWorks has really stepped up their game in the last few years, following the successes of How to Train Your Dragon (2010) and the Kung Fu Panda series. Once again, they have given us a solid outing, with an adaptation of the children’s book by William Joyce. Written for the screen by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed by Peter Ramsey, this is a fantastical adventure that encompasses many magical realms and provides fresh perspectives to age-old legends and myths. As a movie geared for the entire family, this fires on all cylinders, from the exquisitely detailed animation to the thought-out character development. This one will entertain people of all ages; if given the chance, it will come as a pleasant surprise.
One of the toughest genres to crack has been the video game movie. Almost universally, the adaptations have been panned…and when Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is the cream of the crop, it speaks to how much failure there has been. While not a true video game adaption, Wreck-It Ralph has set a new bar by which to judge video-game-themed movies, and will clearly be a contender for best animated feature at the Academy Awards.