Movie Review: Minions (2015)


TitleMinions
Release Date: June 10, 2015
Director: Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda
Production Company: Universal Pictures, Illumination Entertainment
Summary/Review:

The Minions – the lovable, mischievous, and yellow sidekicks from the the Despicable Me franchise – get the full origin story in this film.  The movie begins with the Minions evolving as a species that longs to serve biggest, meanest creature around.  After a montage of numerous instances where the Minions enthusiasm inadvertently leads them to kill their masters, they end up in exile in an Arctic cave. After decades of a the community suffering collective depression over having no evil master to serve, three Minions -Kevin, Stuart, and Bob – set off on a journey to find a new leader.  Their travels take them to 1960s New York City, then to pre-themepark Orlando for a supervillains convention, and finally to swinging London where they try out for the supervillain Scarlet Overkill.  Hijinks ensue, and the Minions can be disarmingly funny, especially Bob. I feel like the movie is often trying too hard to be clever and lacks the heart of Despicable Me.  Are the Minions really able to carry a movie on their own? I say no, but my kids disagree, and I suspect it succeeds as some enjoyable fluff for the younger ones.
Rating: **

Related PostMovie Review: Despicable Me (2010)

Advertisements

Movie Review: Lilo & Stich (2002)


Title: Lilo & Stitch
Release Date: 2002 June 21
Director: Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review: A big leap forward in time from Dumbo, but coincidentally this movie was actually inspired by Dumbo in that the filmmakers wanted to make a low-budget experiment and is also the first Disney animated film to use watercolor backgrounds since Dumbo.  The story involves Stitch, a genetic experiment designed to cause mayhem who escapes and crash lands in Hawaii.  There he meets Lilo, a young girl being raised by her older sister after the death of their parents, who is an outcast among the other kids and tends to lash out violently, not unlike Stitch.  The movie takes some chances in setting it in Hawaii and incorporating Hawaiian culture as well as a starkly honest depiction of a sisterly relationship.  The movie is laugh out loud funny and heartbreaking, and I can’t believe I waited 15 years to see this genius film.
Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: Dumbo (1941)


TitleDumbo
Release Date:  1941 October 23
Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

A baby is born with a physical feature that leads him to be ostracized by his kind, but after discovering that that physical feature affords him special powers, he is celebrated. Dumbo is essentially the same story as Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer.  The animation style is different from Pinnochio.  The former tried to recreate reality in intricate animation, while Dumbo is more cartoon-y.  But the elephants are lovingly-executed and given characteristics to make them both elephantine and anthropomorphic.  And Dumbo is just so darn cute.  Timothy Q. Mouse is the hero of this story and is much like Jiminy Cricket, taking Dumbo under his wing and helping him find his greatness.  Like Pinnochio, there’s a lot about this movie that is just plain weird – like how Dumbo and Timothy discover that Dumbo can fly after consuming champagne.  The scene with the crows is uncomfortable because of the racial insensitivity of the obviously African American characters, but the crows also have the most memorable lyrics of any song.  After nearly an hour of bullying and ostracizing our protagonist he gets the happy ending he deserves, but this sure is a sad movie.
Rating: ***

Movie Review: Pinocchio (1940)


TitlePinocchio
Release Date: 23 February 1940
Director:Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

Pinocchio is one of those movies where you feel like you know the story even if you’ve never seen it.  But actually watching it fills in some gaps and reveals some misconceptions.  The most famous part of Pinocchio is that his nose grows when he lies.  And that lasts less than a minute.  Still there reasons why the film is so familiar because the scenes of Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket, Geppetto, Figaro, and Cleo dancing have been shown in a gazillion formats, most memorably to me edited into the DTV music videos that were always shown on The Disney Channel when I was a kid.  And they’re worth showing off, because the Disney animators made some remarkable advancements in the depiction of the movement of bodies as well as shadows and water.  Nothing prepared me for the nightmare fodder that was Pleasure Island and the children turning into donkeys.  And the film carries such a heavy-handed middle class morality that it makes it seem like they want us to think that the kids deserved that.  The final act seems tacked on where Pinocchio learns that for some reason Geppetto, Figaro, and Cleo are in the belly of the whale Monstro, but it does give Pinocchio the chance to be a hero.  A strange and remarkable film.
Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Sing (2016)


Title: Sing
Release Date: 21 December 2016
Director:  Christophe Lourdelet, Garth Jennings
Summary/Review:

Zootopia used a city of anthropomorphic animals as the setting for a socially-conscious police procedural, and Sing does essentially the same thing for the musical comedy, albeit not as sophisticated. Koala Buster Moon is a show biz impresario who decides to save his decaying theater by staging a talent competition.  Cue audition scenes followed by rehearsals with quirky core group of ambitious talent: a soulful gorilla who does not want to be part of his father’s bank-robbing gang, a punk rock porcupine more talented than her self-centered boyfriend, an overworked mother of 25 piglets looking for a chance to express herself, an exuberant, Teutonic pig in sparkly dance leotards, and a shy, teenage elephant with a strong voice.

The movie is full of gags and generally funny enough to entertain both children and adults.  But it also contains some serious undertones and cynicism about show business that seems a bit heavy, especially a terrifying scene in which the theater is destroyed.  The movie has it’s flaws, among them a soundtrack that switches frenetically among popular songs (the licensing bill must’ve been huge) and is a bit a bloated at nearly two hours in length.  But it’s better than the sum of it’s parts with some joyous musical performances, especially in the final performance at the end of the film.
Rating: ***

Movie Review: Moana (2016)


Title: Moana
Release Date: 23 November 2016
Director: Ron Clements and John Musker
Summary/Review:

The latest Disney offering is a delightful combination of Polynesian folklore with gorgeous visuals and musical numbers.  Moana, the heir to a line of chieftains of her island, must save her people from blight and disaster by seeking the demigod Maui and have him return the heart he stole from the goddess Te Fiti.  The movie has a lot of great humor and tells a story of friendship and finding confidence within oneself, with support from those who love you.  And since representation matters, it is great to have a story with a girl protagonist, who is not a princess (even if she has a dress and an animal sidekick) and does not have a romantic subplot, be the hero of the story.  Highlights of the movie are the dumb but heroic chicken Heihei, Maui’s tattoo with a conscience, Moana’s eccentric Gramma Tala, and a musical number by the crab Tamatoa that is an homage to David Bowie but also clearly the work of Lin-Manuel Miranda.  I loved it, but opinions vary.  My five-year-old thought it was scary at parts.  My nine-year-old thought it was okay.
Rating: ****

TV Review: BoJack Horseman (2016)


TitleBoJack Horseman
Release Dates: 2016
Season: 3
Number of Episodes: 12
Summary/Review:  This is the third series of the animated Netflix show that is laugh out loud funny, acerbically satirical, emotionally raw, and thoroughly depressing.  Two plots are intertwined through the series: BoJack making the circuit of appearances in hopes of getting an Oscar nomination for the biopic of Secretariat and flashbacks to 2007 when BoJack helped create a tv show that flopped (kind of eerie how the show makes 2007 feel like a long time ago!).  Both plots deal with BoJack’s inability to feel happiness, his capacity for self-sabotage, and his unreliability to friends and colleagues.  Looking back on the season it seems so glum, it’s hard to remember that there was a lot to laugh about, but BoJack Horseman is all about using humor to peel back the most painful wounds.  The highpoint of the season is episode 4, “Fish Out of Water,” where BoJack goes to a film festival in a community under the sea and thus there’s almost no dialogue in the entire episode as the undersea world is brought to life with fantastic visuals, sound effects, and music.  It’s a tour-de-force in what is a really well-done season of television.

Related posts:

Movie Review: Zootopia (2016)


Title: Zootopia
Release Date: March 4, 2016
Director:   Byron Howard and Rich Moore
Summary/Review:

Set in a world of anthropomorphic mammals where predator and prey have agreed to live together, Zootopia is a comic, animated film that smartly takes on issues of inequality that appear ripped from the headlines touching upon women’s rights, Black Lives Matter, and prejudice against Islamic peoples.  The story is about Judy Hopps, a country rabbit who comes to the big city as the first rabbit on the police force.  Made unwelcome by her police chief, Judy ends up working with a hustler, a fox named Nick, to investigate the disappearance and apparent reversion to wildness of several predators.  The movie has fun with the clichés of police procedurals and revels in exploring the fantastical world of a city made up of different mammalian habitats.  It’s a funny and clever movie, and enjoyable for old and young alike.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda (2008)


Title: Kung Fu Panda
Release Date: 6 June 2008
Director:  Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Summary/Review:

Another family movie night, inspired by a visit to the zoo.  Po is a clumsy panda working in a noodle shop who is a big fan of the Furious Five kung fu warriors.  He somewhat accidentally finds himself selected as the Dragon Warrior to defend the Valley of Peace against the vengeance of the evil Tai Lung.  There’s a lot of humor playing off of martial arts film clichés, pop culture references, and Po’s roly-poly silliness.  But it’s also an inspiring film as Po manages to be a hero in his own way.  The animation is also pretty spectacular.  I’m still wondering how they made two sequels out of this, though.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Despicable Me (2010)


Title: Despicable Me
Release Date: 9 July 2010
Director: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud
Summary/Review:

By my daughter’s request, I caught up with popular culture by finally seeing this animated family film.  Gru is a supervillain who is embarrassed by a younger and more successful villain’s heist.  As part of a plot to get back on top, Gru adopts three orphan girls.  As would be expected in a family film, Gru develops paternal feelings for Margo, Edith, and Agnes that slowly usurp his supervillainous tendencies.  There are a great number of verbal and visual gags that keep the laughs coming, and this isn’t one of those “message” movies that make everything end up syrupy sweet.  I also like the little social commentary bits like the sign for the Bank of Evil saying “Formerly Lehman Brothers” or that Gru’s rival Vector is totally Bill Gates.
Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)


Title: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Release Date: 2008
Director:  Dave Filoni
Summary/Review:

Feeling all Star Wars-ish lately, I decided to watch this animated movie set in between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.  Obi Wan and Anakin are leading clone armies into battle against the separatists and have to negotiate a treaty with Jabba the Hutt and have a padawan Ahsoka Tano delivered into their midst.  The animation allows for visual sequences that might not be possible/plausible in a live-action film, although some of the battle sequences remind me of 1980s GI Joe or Transformers cartoons (which may be good or bad depending on how much you enjoyed them).  I thought that the character work was pretty strong especially the interactions between Obi Wan and Anakin and Anakin and Ahsoka.  Much better than in the prequel trilogy where characterization and development was given short shrift.  But really this movie is worth watching for the scene in which R2-D2 basically uses a Baby Bjorn to carry Jabba the Hutt’s son.

If that’s not weird enough, we also meet Ziro the Hutt, Jabba’s uncle who is coded as being fabulously gay with the voice of Truman Capote.  Padme is introduced late into the story, and while it’s good to see her, she is swiftly taken captive and doesn’t add much to the story.  But I found myself enjoying this movie despite myself.  I hear that the spinoff series is better, so I may give that a watch.
Rating: **1/2

TV Review: BoJack Horseman (2015)


TitleBoJack Horseman
Release Dates: 2015
Season: 2
Number of Episodes: 12
Summary/Review:

The first season focused on BoJack & Diane writing his memoirs, but the second series is more scattered in focus ranging from BoJack starring in a Secretariat biopic, Mr. Peanutbutter’s new game show (created by J.D. Salinger!), Todd getting involved in an improv comedy cult, and even an entire episode built around jokes about auto-erotic asphyxiation (disturbing, but surprisingly funny and touching too).  Over the course of the season both BoJack and Diane go in a downward spiral.  On the upside, Princess Carolyn and Mr. Peanutbutter get a lot of great character development. The best episodes are “After the Party” showing the stories of three couples after a disastrous party and “Hank After Dark” a takedown of the culture that protects celebrities from allegations of sexual assault (featuring a thinly-disguised Bill Cosby character).  The show gets darker and more serious while still being incredibly funny.  I eagerly look forward to season 3.

 

Movie Review: Over the Hedge (2006)


TitleOver the Hedge
Release Date: 2006
Director:Tim Johnson & Karey Kirkpatrick
Summary/Review:

The kids picked out this movie about a ragtag group of animals who awake from hibernation to learn that their forest has been surrounded by suburban development.  A scheming raccoon teaches them that they can get food by raiding the human’s trash but he has ulterior motives.  Ultimately it’s a movie about family and who we chose to be family.  There’s a lot of good satire of humanity’s sprawling development and the devastation to the natural world, but the villains in the movie (a bear, a homeowner’s association leader, & an exterminator) are broad caricatures so no one will really see themselves in them.  Ultimately, this is a funny and entertaining movie – the kids got a lot of laughs – but it’s not going to be a family classic.
Rating: **1/2

TV Review: BoJack Horseman (2014)


TitleBoJack Horseman
Release Dates: August 2014
Season: 1
Number of Episodes: 12
Summary/Review:

This is a show with a big premise, a world in which anthropomorphic animals live and work among humans.   One of them,  BoJack Horseman, was the star of a popular 1990s sitcom in which a horseman adopts human children.  In the current day, BoJack is a washed-up drunk, living in a Hollywood mansion and trying to regain his relevancy by writing his autobiography.  In the first episode Diane Nyugen is introduced as his ghostwriter, and their relationship is the core of the season.

The show is deeply satirical and is reminiscent of The Simpsons, 30 Rock, and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show! for it’s combination of satire, spoof, sight gags, and sensitivity.  There are a lot of gags and it’s funny when a anthropomorphic animal character acts on their animal instinct.  But there’s a lot of serious undertones to this show as well, and it’s often just as heartbreaking as it is funny.
Rating: ***1/2

Movie Reviews: A Couple of Short Films 


Title:  World of Tomorrow
Release Date: 2015
Director:  Don Hertzfeldt
Summary/Review:

This animated short depicts a future when the personalities of people can be downloaded into clones. And a clone travels through time to visit the original person when she’s a toddler.  The depictions of the people in this animated short are childish, crude, and reminiscent of Hyperbole and a Half but set against surreal backgrounds. And the toddler voice behind Emily Prime is just perfect. It’s the type of movie that makes you laugh and then makes you say “hmm…”

Rating: ****

 

Title: The Gnomist
Release Date: 2015
Director: Sharon Liese
Summary/Review:

If you want to cry for 17 minutes this movie will do the job. This documentary tells the story of fairy homes appearing mysteriously in a forest in Overland Park, KS that end up helping the grieving process of a family that lost a three year old child to cancer.   The story of the people behind the fairy houses are equally heartbreaking. 
Rating: ****

Movie Review: Cars 2 (2011)


Title: Cars 2
Release Date: 2011
Director:  John Lasseter, Brad Lewis
Production Co:  Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Animation | Family | Comedy
Rating: 5 of 10

I had low expectations for this movie since Cars is my least favorite of the Pixar films and the premise for this one sounded, well, …. dumb.  But my daughter wanted to watch it and even after she fell asleep in my lap, I kept watching.  Lightning McQueen, the main character  (car-actor?) of the first movie is barely in a supporting role this time as his friend Mater the Tow Truck takes the central role.  Mater feels out-of-place on a world tour of grand prix races and finds himself caught up in international espionage.  It’s basically a remake of Bill Murray’s The Man Who Knew Too Little, with an unsophisticated character stumbling around and successfully outwitting the baddies.  And it’s funny and it’s got heart and it’s got some clever bits.  I don’t know if kids actually get all the machinations of the complex plot, but hey, if they get a good nap out of it and Dad still finds it watchable, that’s not a bad thing.

Movie Review: Frozen (2013)


TitleFrozen
Release Date: 27 November 2013
Director: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Production Co: Walt Disney Company
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Animation | Family | Musical
Rating: ****

As of yesterday, I’ve ended my reign as the last middle class American parent of young children to have not see Frozen.  My daughter and I watched it on DVD.  Despite all the hype and attention to the movie, it wasn’t quite what I expected, which means I somehow wasn’t spoiled.  It was a good mix of musical set pieces, humor, adventure, and a story of sisterly love.  I liked Olaf the snowman and Sven the reindeer the best.  Yep, I liked it.  So, I guess it was worth the wait.

 

Movie Review: The LEGO Movie


Title: The LEGO Movie
Release Date: 7 February 2014
Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Production Co: Warner Bros. Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Animation | Adventure | Comedy
Rating: ****

You’re reading this correctly.  I’m reviewing a current film that’s in theatrical release right now.  My son and I went to see it yesterday.

The LEGO universe is an Orwellian dystopia, albeit a cheerful one as minifigures go about their days exulting in consumer excess and carefully following written instructions.   Emmett is an ordinary construction man who through a series of misadventures is believed to be the “Special” who will save the world from the evil President Business.  He joins a group of Master Builders – people who can build things using their imagination out of pieces they find around them rather than following the instructions – and heads off on a series of comical adventures.  What The Pirates of Caribbean was able to do for movies based on theme park rides, The Lego Movie does with movies based on toys (of course, it also owes a debt to the Toy Story franchise).  The movie works on several levels: a meta-commentary on LEGO toys and their collectors, a satire of consumer culture, a slapstick comedy, a post-modernist agglomeration of popular culture references, and a family adventure film. It really pieces together a lot of things (see what I did there) to make a movie more complex than it looks on that surface.  Oh and that surface is some really excellent animation of what a world of LEGO bricks would like.

Hollywood probably has boilerplate scripts for the “need to be an individual in a world of conformists” theme as well as the “we can succeed with teamwork” trope, but rarely to you see both of them brought together with nuance.  Another theme of “toys should be played with imaginatively like kids do” rings a bit hollow since LEGO has spent a lot in recent years targeting adult collectors. If I have any other criticisms of this movie is that the relentless pacing of the movie doesn’t ever let it breathe.  The only time it slows down is during the live action segments with The Man Upstairs, and I’ll contradict myself here because that part drags on a bit.  I’ll also sound like a cranky old codger when I say this, but I missed a lot of dialogue because it was drowned out by the music and sound effects.  That being said, these things are not likely to bother most audiences and I think this is an enjoyable film and an instant classic.

Some stray thoughts:

  • Benny the 80s-something space guy is my favorite because I had that set when I was a kid, right on down to the broken chin strap on the helmet.  I built some cool spaceships for him back in the day
  • Every time I see Will Arnett, I’m convinced someone else is doing his voice.  Now I know that it’s a Batman minifig.
  • Shaquille O’Neill, Anthony Daniels, and Billy Dee Williams could voice their own characters, but Harrison Ford could not?  Mark Hamill basically does voice acting for a living now, so maybe they should have found a place for him instead.
  • I want a bunk couch.
  • I expect “commence micromanagement” to become a catchphrase in offices across the nation.
  • Everything is AWESOME!!!  

Seriously can’t get this out of my head.  For a song so deliberately bad, it’s actually pretty good.

Movie Review: Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)


Title: Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Release Date:
1971
Director:
Robert Stevenson
Production Co:
Walt Disney Productions
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Genre:
Adventure | Fantasy | Family | Musicals | Animation
Rating:
   ***1/2

Set in Second World War England, three children have been evacuated to the countryside (oddly to a town overlooking the Channel) to stay with Miss Price (Angela Lansbury), a witch-in-training.  Along the way on their magical adventures they pick up the con-man Professor Browne played by David Tomlinson.   The movie is more of a series of loosely-connected set pieces than a story.  Some of them go on too long, like the dance number on Portobello Road, although it is interesting to see the many faces of the British Commonwealth represented in a cheerful wartime London.  Better are the mixed live action and animation sequences with fish dancing in an undersea ballroom and a raucous soccer game among wild animals.  The conclusion features some whimsical special effects that stand up well after forty years as military uniforms and armor are magically brought to life to defend Britain against a German incursion.  It’s a fun, entertaining bagatelle of a movie. My kids enjoyed it for sure.

 

Movie Review: Piglet’s BIG Movie


Title: Piglet’s BIG Movie
Release Date: 2003
Director: Francis Glebas
Production Co: Disney
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Animation | Family
Rating: **1/2

Summary/Review:  This is the second in a series of contemporary adaptations of the Pooh franchise that Disney has released in the past decade or so.  Unlike The Tigger Movie which I found surprisingly good, this is more of what I expect from Disney in milking the classics with some cheesy contemporary references thrown in.  A soundtrack by Carly Simon features heavily in this movie almost as if the whole film was a vehicle for promoting her songs.  Simon even appears during the credits.  The story focuses on Piglet feeling unappreciated because he is small and wandering off and then his friends go looking for him.  This is all a framing device for three flashback stories that show Piglet’s heroism.  The flashbacks are the best part as they are based on A.A. Milne stories and are true to the originals.  It’s a fun, sweet film – you really can’t go wrong with Pooh and Piglet – but they’ve done better.