Release Date: 2009 February 6
Director: Henry Selick
Production Company: Laika
Coraline has been on my “too-watch” list for some time, so it was good to finally take in this visually stunning stop-motion animated fantasy based on a story by Neil Gaiman. Coraline is a preteen girl (voiced by Dakota Fanning, with the expressions and mannerisms perfectly matching the voice) moved into a strange old apartment building with eccentric neighbors by her inattentive parents. She discovers a small door with a passage to a mirror universe of the apartments where her Other Mother and Other Father live and spoil Coraline with her favorite things, and the sad neighbors are actually spectacular circus performers. It seems a wonderful place even if everyone creepily has buttons for eyes. All is not as good as it seems and Coraline will have to team up with a black cat (my favorite character) and neighbor Wybie, she uses her wits to avoid being trapped in the alternate universe.
I think Coraline is spectacular visually and great at creating mood and atmosphere. The story feels a bit thin and Coraline’s game against Other Mother is rushed compared with the rest of the movie and the resolution feels too easy. That being said Coraline is a remarkable piece of art.
Release Date: 29 June 2007
Director: Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava
Production Company: Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures
Remy, a rat with a heightened sense of small learns to appreciate fine foods and cooking from television programs and cookbooks of the famed chef Auguste Gusteau. When circumstance bring Remy to Paris, a vision of the late Gusteau guides him to Gusteau’s restaurant where Remy begins to pursue the dream of becoming a cook. Remy is paired with the restaurant’s young garbage boy Linguini, and learns that he can control his body like a marionette by pulling his hair (that sounds creepier than it appears in the movie) and together they make successful new dishes.
Though the stakes are low it touches on issues such as balancing commitments to family with pursuing one’s dreams, and expanding one’s perspectives. It’s also surprisingly educational about both the bridage de cuising and colonies of rats. One disappointment of the film is that almost all of the characters – rats and kitchen staff alike – are male, although the sole female character Colette comments on the difficulty of women making it in the culinary field, a seeming meta-commentary on the movie itself. Overall, it’s a cute movie and beautifully animated and I enjoyed it.
Title: BoJack Horseman
Release Dates: 2017
Number of Episodes: 12
The season 3 finale of BoJack Horseman put the series at a crossroads, where the lead’s characters selfish and self-destructive behavior was on the verge of making the show unbearable to watch, but on the other hand a show about a “reformed” BoJack wouldn’t be interesting to watch. The series creators have done a good job of putting BoJack on a patch to recovery while not ignoring the lasting harm he has done to his relationships. For this reason, the series feels more like several recurring stories focused on the lead characters rather than one narrative. The show creators emphasize this decision by not even BoJack appear in the first episode of the season.
BoJack’s story involves the arrival of a young horse girl, Hollyhock, who believes BoJack is her biological father and wants his help finding her mother (since she already has 8 loving adoptive dads). At the same time, BoJack must take in his deteriorating mother Beatrice despite his unhidden antipathy and resentment toward her. Mr. Peanutbutter decides to run for governor and the depiction of the clueless celebrity stumbling into electoral success seems all too real to be funny nowadays, and leads into the series’ hamfisted attempts in political humor related to gun violence and fracking. Luckily, the story takes a turn mid-season to exploring the effects of the election, and Mr. Peanutbutter’s way of life in general on Diane and their marriage. Princess Carolyn attempts to find success in her business and settle down with Ralph, but runs into heartbreaking roadblocks. Todd has less of his own storyline through the series, appearing as a supporting character to the other storylines, but does provide some great representation for asexual people as he tries to learn more about his identity. Later, he becomes involved in one of his crazy Todd plans involving clown-dentists, a recurring joke that is far funnier than it has any right to be.
While there’s nothing as remarkable as Season 3’s “Fish Out of Water” with its mostly wordless underwater scenario, there are some standouts in this season for storytelling and animation artistry. “The Old Sugarman Place” sees BoJack returning to his family’s summer home and befriending a crotchety dragonfly, while flashbacks of his mother’s childhood play superimposed with the current events on the show. This develops a theme of generational depression that continues in “Stupid Piece of Sh*t” narrated by Bojack’s internal monologue constantly berating himself for his failures and slights. “Time’s Arrow” is depicted through Beatrice’s decaying memories, filling in the story of her unhappy childhood and early marriage, and providing Hollyhock’s history as well.
Ok, so I’ve gotten this far and haven’t noted that this is a show where animals intermingle with humans in scathing satire of the Hollywood lifestyle filled with visual puns. But really, I think BoJack Horseman may be the most affecting and honest show about the human condition on “television” today.
Release Date: June 10, 2015
Director: Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda
Production Company: Universal Pictures, Illumination Entertainment
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.
Related Post – Movie Review: Despicable Me (2010)
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.
Release Date: 1941 October 23
Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
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.
Release Date: 23 February 1940
Director:Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
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.
Release Date: 21 December 2016
Director: Christophe Lourdelet, Garth Jennings
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.
Release Date: 23 November 2016
Director: Ron Clements and John Musker
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.
Title: BoJack Horseman
Release Dates: 2016
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.
Release Date: March 4, 2016
Director: Byron Howard and Rich Moore
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.
Title: Kung Fu Panda
Release Date: 6 June 2008
Director: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
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.
Title: Despicable Me
Release Date: 9 July 2010
Director: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud
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.
Title: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Release Date: 2008
Director: Dave Filoni
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.
Title: BoJack Horseman
Release Dates: 2015
Number of Episodes: 12
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.
Title: Over the Hedge
Release Date: 2006
Director:Tim Johnson & Karey Kirkpatrick
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.
Title: BoJack Horseman
Release Dates: August 2014
Number of Episodes: 12
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.
Title: World of Tomorrow
Release Date: 2015
Director: Don Hertzfeldt
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…”
Title: The Gnomist
Release Date: 2015
Director: Sharon Liese
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.
Title: Cars 2
Release Date: 2011
Director: John Lasseter, Brad Lewis
Production Co: Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios
Country: United States
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.
Release Date: 27 November 2013
Director: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Production Co: Walt Disney Company
Country: United States
Genre: Animation | Family | Musical
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.