80 posts categorized "Animation"

April 10, 2018


SpotsSince peaking with the infectiously goofy “Fantastic Mr. Fox” back in 2009, Wes Anderson has worn out his welcome to all but those in tune with his repetitive and redundant stylistic method of reducing drama to a steady faucet leak of warm but strange-tasting liquid.

Gone is the polish of Anderson’s dry but doting wit that gave “Fantastic Mr. Fox” its juice. I suppose "Moonrise Kingdom" is equal to "Mr. Fox" but "The Grand Budapest Hotel" borders on the unwatchable.   

For “Isle of Dogs,” Anderson adopts a Japanese style and setting that gives his post-apocalyptic story, about an island of abandoned (virus riddled) canines, its transposed (read obfuscated) political and ideological agenda. “Isle of Dogs” is no “Team America when it comes to targeting its satire. For a movie with so many dogs, this movie has no discernible teeth. Everything feels sterile, especially the human aspect of the story.  


Atari Kobayashi (voiced by Koyu Rankin) is the 12-year-old orphaned ward to Kobayashi, Megasaki City’s corrupt mayor. A viral dog flu causes Kobayashi to banish all dogs to Trash Island, and that plan includes Atari’s own dog “Spots” (voiced by Live Schreiber). Naturally, Atari is a skilled pilot able to crash-land on the squalid isle to track down and rescue his beloved dog.  

Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig), an American foreign exchange student (read radical leftist) activist, investigates a cure for the rampant dog flu epidemic. Some audiences have accused Anderson of taking low-hanging-fruit by reusing the old “white savior” trope, but the bigger issue is the film’s lack of cinematic zing and emotional connection with its audience. “Isle of Dogs” is a cinematic amuse bouche that is not all that amusing. Dog lovers might go for it, but I liked Anderson’s foxes a whole lot better.

Rated PG-13 101 mins. (C) (Two stars — out of five / no halves)

August 17, 2016


Sausage_partyEven without the hullabaloo of discontent expressed by an army of animators (who worked for this film’s Vancouver-based Nitrogen Studios), “Sausage Party” is a comedy whose ribald humor can’t mask its weaknesses. As is a common corporate model in the 21st century, animators were made to work overtime without being compensated. There is, after all, no union for such artists in Canada.

Animators described the workplace as hostile. If these skilled artists refused to comply with working the required unpaid overtime conditions, they were threatened with being blacklisted in the industry. If they left the production rather than be a party to their own exploitation, they were not given a credit on the picture. If “Sausage Party” lacks visual variety, then these untenable working conditions may have something to do with it.

Such background knowledge should be enough of a motivator to prevent concerned audiences from rushing out to see this disposable movie. As a critic, I’m sufficiently soured on the film by these revelations to advise viewers to boycott “Sausage Party” out of hand. Apart from a goofy food orgy (yes, that kind of orgy), the movie is lightweight to a fault. You might get a few chuckles out of watching “Sausage Party,” but at what cost to professionals who deserve to be treated with respect and to be paid an industry standard of financial reward for their work? 


Rated R. 89 mins. (C-) (Two Stars — out of five / no halves)

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June 28, 2016


CANNES, FRANCE —Steven Spielberg’s fudged adaptation of Roald Dahl’s problematic children’s tale of giant (human-eating) cannibals is a drab affair. From its creepy style of animation to its dragging tempo, “The BFG” never engages the audience. It’s not fun. Even those looking to savor a few morsels of gallows humor are denied satisfaction. The film played to packed crowds at Cannes, but few walked out with a good impression of what they saw.

BfgThe story opens in the bad old 19th century London of Charles Dickens. Little orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) gets snatched from an orphanage by a friendly giant (Mark Rylance) who takes his new little human pet to Giant Country. Strains of John Fowles’s “The Collector” come through. There’s also a little “Alice in Wonderland” at play here.

The giant effectively kidnaps 10-year-old Sophie because she has seen him, and will certainly report his existence to others. Nevermind that once ensconced inside the giant’s cavernous dwelling, Sophie can never leave its front door, lest she be eaten by much larger giants with names like Fleshlumpeater or Meatdripper. Oh yes kiddies, it’s “eat or be eaten,” except that Sophie is far too small to ever pose a threat.


It’s convenient that the only non-cannibal in the country happens to be a runt who is about five-times smaller than his brethren. The best thing you can say about the friendship that develops between Sophie and the mini-giant is that it’s a perfect marriage of dim wits.

Mr. "Friendly Giant" speaks in “squiggly” gobblefunk language that bastardizes words. Fart, for example, becomes “whizzpoppers.” When the movie sinks to a farting sequence involving the Queen of England, you know you have been brought low. Very low indeed.


Someone could write a Freudian thesis about how, by diminishing a female child character even further than her undeveloped stature, in “The BFG” feeds into the imperialist patriarchy that the story ultimately hands itself over to.

I hated every second of this movie; I couldn’t wait for it to be over. As for Roald Dahl’s easily mocked title (“The BFG”), the author did at least have the decency to let his audience what to expect little from this SPOS.

Rated PG. 117 mins. (D) (One star — out of five / no halves)

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January 06, 2016



Animation legend Hayao Miyazaki’s divinely imaginative display of madcap surrealism is virtuosic in this episodic coming of age classic. Incredible attention to details of animated visual elements such as deep perspective, fog, smoke, and fire, inform the film’s contrasting elements of realism and absurdist thought that pull in various thematic directions at once. Miyazaki’s similar devotion to the minutiae of human behavior, as exhibited by a young girl on an odyssey of outrageous fantasy, lends the picture an emotional anchor of empathy. When the little girl runs into a wall at the bottom of a long stairway, we feel it. Regardless of how crazy things get (witness three dancing severed green male heads that transform into a giant baby boy), we are comforted by Miyazaki’s best intentions. Freud would have a field day with this ingenious filmmaker’s twisted nightmare sensibilities.

The picture takes on an epic quality.

Significant to the film’s English translation release is Pixar director John Lasseter’s championing of the family movie to Walt Disney Pictures. Lasseter hired a producer, screenwriters, and talent to translate “Spirited Away” for the Western palate. The effect is a seamless English translation of the original Japanese version that nonetheless retains all of Hayao Miyazaki’s thought-provoking intent, and wonderful sense of humor and surprise.

Chihiro Ogino (voiced by Daveigh Chase) is a 10-year-old Japanese girl, sulky at her parents’ decision to move the family to a new town. Whiny Chihiro needs to learn some trial-by-fire lessons in discipline that her parents aren’t giving her. The girl’s powerful imagination provides just the vehicle for such a transformation into a young adult.

En route their new house, dad takes a “short-cut” leading to a disused theme park that Chihiro’s irresponsible parents insist on exploring with their daughter in tow. Unperturbed by the lack of any other people in or around the park, mom and dad seize the opportunity to gorge themselves on a cornucopia of fresh meats inexplicably displayed at the park’s only open shop. All these two want to do is consume as much food as possible. Dad insists he will pay the bill whenever, if ever, it comes. Miyazaki’s sideways commentary on Japanese society runs deep and personal. Satire bubbles throughout the storyline involving shenanigans at an exotic bathhouse for spirits who are typically more evil than good. The film’s innumerable caricatures are revealed in bizarre forms born of Miyazaki’s wicked vision. Ralph Steadman has nothing on Miyazaki in the department of the abstract grotesque.


All rational thought flies out the window as mom and dad are transformed into giant pigs before Chihiro’s eyes. The same weird voodoo that robs Chihiro of her parents’ ability to look after her, introduces her to a boy named Haku (voiced by Jason Marsden). Haku is a dragon spirit, which means that he transforms into a giant white flying dragon. The phallic imagery is intentional. Chihiro has something to long for, other than merely her parents’ liberation from their incarnation as unrecognizable swine. Haku's flying abilities (in dragon form) allow for Miyazaki's signature flying sequences to take your breath away. This is big spectacle animation as only Miyazaki can deliver. The author-director handles the tempo and nuance of the flight sequences is ever so delicately to give the sense of the liberation of flight.

Haku instructs Chihiro to ask for a job in the bathhouse. Haku may not the most reliable counselor, yet Chihiro follows his confident command. Once hired by the establishment’s giant-headed witch Yubaba, Chihiro is at liberty to interact with the bizarre spirit creatures that visit the baths to cleanse their bodies and souls. The shocks and lessons that Chihiro receives, matures her into a young adult, able to see beyond the limitations of her parents, and also her own.  


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November 14, 2015


AnomalisaCharlie Kaufman, cinema's standard-bearer of magical realism, continues to mine slippery tunnels of flawed romantic human emotion with film titles geared to trip up the average moviegoer. The same would-be audiences who stayed away from Kaufman's estimable last feature ("Synecdoche, New York), because they couldn't be bothered to learn a new word, will have just as much reason to skip over "Anomalisa." But, if you have the slightest sense of daring about the movies you watch, this unconventional picture is worth your while. The title comes from a reference in the dialogue.

The faces of Kaufman’s stop-action puppet characters have seams that lend a purposefully artificial construct to the filmmaker's deadpan, if refreshing, representation of such personal moments as a hotel room seduction between two strangers.

Indeed, this film's most powerful sequence occurs before, during, and after Michael (David Thewlis) and Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) take a roll in the hey in his hotel room. Michael is a family man and respected author of corporate-themed books, visiting Cincinnati overnight to deliver a speech before a group of industry professionals. His primary objective is to get laid. An obnoxious cabbie orders Michael to visit the city zoo and eat some of the town’s “famous” chili during his limited time in town.

Upon arrival at his hotel Michael calls up an old lover from a decade ago. Her voice is masculine. For awhile it seems that Michael is gay. Michael's sense of hearing a feminine voice is a key to his defenses, of which there are many. Things don’t go so well when the ex shows up at the hotel bar to meet Michael for a drink. She gets quickly insulted when he invites her up to his room for some hanky panky.

Writer/co-director Kaufman gets inside the microelements that make human communication so fraught with confusion. The dialogue hits your ear wrong because it comes from characters for which painful interactions are what’s on the menu.

Although Kaufman rushes the film’s ending (budgetary constraints perhaps?), he delivers an exquisite romantic interaction between two imperfect people. The shy small talk they make while flirting and drinking, rings with soulful romantic truths that few filmmakers could capture so patiently. Okay, I’ll say it; “Anomalisa” is what they call a gem.

Rated R. 90 mins. (B+) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)


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November 02, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It RalphCinema has finally delivered a winning movie based on a video game — or in the case of Disney’s animated treat — based on numerous video games. The filmmakers take a risk in combining various styles of video game graphics to render characters we can thoroughly enjoy. The risk pays off. Surprisingly, “Wreck-It Ralph” is a mixed-medium animated delight.

John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman put so much expression into the voices of their comic avatars (Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz) that you can’t help but fall under their spell. For their part, the film’s army of animation artists create a bold scale, and a clever color-pallet that functions precisely inside the well-written narrative by Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee.

Ralph is sick of being the bad guy in the video game where he’s worked for 30 years. Fix-It Felix is the “good guy” to Ralph’s “bad guy” stereotype. When Ralph isn’t on the guest list for a penthouse party where Fix-It Felix receives a medal, Ralph abandons ship to take the place of a soldier in a war derby game called “Hero’s Duty” — think “Halo.” Ralph gets more than just a medal before landing in a girls’ game called “Sugar Rush Speedway.” There, Ralph befriends Vanellope, a quirky “glitch”-character living in a candy-covered racecar kingdom a la “Mario Kart.”

Amusing verbal interplay feeds the heartfelt friendship that develops between Ralph and Vanellope. Fresh, witty repartee keeps the fast-paced comedy accessible to adult audiences without taking anything away from its kid-friendly storyline. “Wreck-It Ralph” is one of the best animated movies of 2012 — alongside Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie.”

Rated PG. 92 mins. (A-) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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October 08, 2012


Team AmericaInspired by the '60s British television series "Thunderbirds," Matt Stone and Trey Parker use Jerry Bruckheimer's action movie plot template to parody American militarism with one-third-scale puppets that give new meaning to the term "wooden acting." The ridicule hits a fever pitch anytime the comic duo's brilliantly phrased songs modify the puppet action sequences (you'll be chanting "Team America, F**k Yeah" for days). Kim Jong II exploits the Film Actors Guild (including Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins, Samuel Jackson, and Sean Penn) to carry out his evil schemes while the Team America World Police recruit a Broadway actor to infiltrate an Iraqi terror cell.

This all-out adult satire pulls no punches and takes no prisoners. The greatest gift that Stone and Parker possess is their inexhaustibly brash approach to big issues. Although they’ve said in interviews that “Team America: World Police” mocks terrorists rather than the war on terror, the film ends up—and correctly--ridiculing George W. Bush’s fantasy-branded “war on terror.”

The movie slyly acknowledges multinational global corporate oppression — that there can be no such thing as a war on terror, just as there can be no war on the desperation that drives marginalized people from committing acts of abysmal anxiety. When our puppet commandos kick off "Team America" by killing a group of Muslim terrorists in Paris, they consequently destroy the Louvre Museum and kill many French civilians as a consequence. It’s no accident that the French are the first to suffer at the hand of America’s fraternity minded group of mercenary champions with ammo belts hung across their chests to preclude any confusion about their heroes’ agenda.

Team America

Liberal doses of crude vulgarity that Stone and Parker smear over everything are keen equalizers that go deeper than party lines or class striations. The purely filthy satire enters your central nervous system in coded systems of pop culture references that expand in your subconscious. It’s a thoroughly integrated brand of intoxicating anti-propaganda that sparks from everything you already know on an intrinsic level. Think of it as comedy by osmosis.

No quarter is given to corporate shills like George W. Bush or John Kerry, or to puppet enemies like Bin Laden or Hussein. Instead the filmmakers go right for the jugular of North Korea’s Kim Jong Il as a lonely dictator baddie who feeds UN Weapons Inspector Hans Blix to a shark. That scene won’t stick in your memory as much as the much-debated hilarious puppet sex scene, but the film’s final explanation of the world’s problems as based on assh*les, puss**s, and di*ks, surely will.  


Rated R. 95 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no stars).


September 29, 2012


FrankenweenieGoth Dog Lives!
Tim Burton Gets Nostalgic
By Cole Smithey

Tim Burton’s 3D stop-motion animated reductionist homage to the Golden Era of horror films — namely the Universal films of the ‘30s — is beautiful thing. If that means including a few nods to Japan’s “Godzilla” films of the ‘50s so much the better to charm baby boomers who share Burton’s fond childhood memories of good old fashioned monster movies. The sound effects alone are a study in polished perfection. Every squeak, thunderbolt strike, and dog bark rings like a perfectly tuned bell. As with all of Tim Burton’s films, his painstaking attention to every detail of narrative and visual realization is always present. Based on a live-action half-hour short film Burton made in 1984, there’s an extra amount of filmmaking-love on display in “Frankenweenie” that makes the experience of watching it a truly special treat for the viewer.

The film’s shimmering black-and-white rendering is so immaculate and crisp that it takes your breath away. Burton pokes fun at his own mastery of stop-motion animation with an intro film-within-a-film that announces his young gothic protagonist Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) as a budding filmmaker of horror movies. Victor screens his Godzilla-inspired home movie for his ‘50s era parents in the family living room. To his folk’s delight, Victor’s dog Sparky has a prominent role as the hero that destroys a winged monster that attacks the film’s cardboard town. At the end, the 8mm film stock burns against the projector lens. No worries; Victor can “fix” it.

Some woolly dinner table “advice” from Victor’s well-meaning dad (voiced by Martin Short) regarding Victor’s solitary habits leads the scrawny tow-headed lad to play baseball on a neighborhood team. Surprisingly, Victor has some power in his bat. Yet the glory of his first would-be homerun is ruined by the untimely death of Sparky who gets hit by a car after running for the ball.

At school, Victor’s Vincent Price-lookalike science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (wonderfully voiced by Martin Landau) gives the class a lesson in the power of electric current to animate a dead frog. Predisposed to scientific experimentation, Victor takes the cue to dig up Sparky and attempt to reanimate his pointy-nosed bull terrier with the use of some kites on a stormy night from the comfort of his attic laboratory. Victor can’t keep Sparky’s sudden return to the land of the living a secret from his nosey classmate Edgar, who promptly spills the beans to a couple of other copycat pals determined to ignite life in a their own deceased, or at least inanimate, creatures. A bag of “Sea-Monkeys” explodes into an army of especially creepy little villains after coming to life in a swimming pool. Among the pandemonium that ensues is the comical transformation of a black female poodle into a bride-of-Frankenstein-styled pup after she and the appropriately named Sparky rub noses.

Looking back at Burton’s flawed 1984 version of “Frankenweenie” is informative for the many layers of corrective narrative tissue the auteur has added with the help of his longtime script collaborator John August (“Big Fish” - 2003). Burton tosses in subtle references from his own filmography. A dash of “Corpse Bride” here, a pinch of “Edward Scissorhands” there, and a dose of “Mars Attacks!” gels neatly with details drawn from James Whale’s 1931 “Frankenstein." Tim Burton seems to be actively inviting adolescent audience members to pursue their own imaginative filmmaking projects. There’s a lot to appreciate in this tastefully punchy animated horror comedy. Repeated viewings are in order. “Frankenweenie” is poised to be the next best Halloween classic for kids.  

Rated PG. 87 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

If you are looking to stream movies online then why not look into great services such as Netflix and LOVEFiLM. These allow you to stream through a range of devices including games consoles and the iPad. There is a range of categories to pick from including lots of animated movies which are suitable for both the kids and adults.

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September 27, 2012


Sin_city"Sin City" is a high concept tour de force rendering of Frank Miller's wickedly sexy and grotesque graphic-novel-homage to the hardboiled noir style of Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane.

Director Robert Rodriquez collaborates with Quentin Tarantino to create a personalized format of dark animated expression. They use negative imagery with accents of color (especially blood-red) to emphasize character traits, and show the cartoon action exactly as Miller originally drew it.

Frank Miller’s participation with Robert Rodriquez in the film’s production speaks to the clarity of vision on display. The filmmakers’ dynamic use of green-screen technology to flesh out the story’s urban terrain is stunning. Black-and-white characters bleed bright white blood from black bullet wounds. This really is eye-candy.

Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Benicio Del Toro, Clive Owen, and Jessica Alba pop from the screen as iconic black-and-white characters of a fetishized criminal underworld. The vice-riddled narrative weaves together three Frank Miller stories ("The Big Fat Kill," "The Hard Goodbye," and "That Yellow Bastard"). The ink-black shadows that splay across the screen corroborate its characters’ cruel and kind intentions.


Hartigan (Bruce Willis) is a honest cop who does eight-years of hard time for a crime he didn't commit in order to protect a little girl named Nancy after she's kidnapped by the serial-rapist son (Nick Stahl) of the town's corrupt Senator (Powers Boothe). Corruption drips from every lamppost.

Mickey Rourke steals the show as Marv, a virtually indestructible hulk addicted to violence, booze, and pills. "Marv was born in the wrong century. He belongs on some ancient battlefield, swinging an ax into somebody's face." Marv's taste for blood is piqued after the murder of a hooker named Goldie (Jamie King) who showed him one "night of kindness." Marv sets off on an ass-kicking investigation that finds him torturing guys, like the man Marv drags facedown on the street as he speeds along in his car with the door open. Once Marv locates his serial-killer prey (played by one very tweaky Elijah Wood), it's all about amputation and decapitation.


Clive Owen is the most normal of the baddies on display as Dwight, an all around badass who gets caught in an apocalyptic battle between the cops and the mob as the result of a mistaken cop murder performed by the gun-and-sword wielding prostitutes of Old Town. Girly fetish fantasy goes softcore with the sizzling BDSM gear Rosario Dawson wears with pride.

"You've got to prove to your friends you're worth a damn. Sometimes it means dying. Sometimes it means killing a whole lotta people." That's how Dwight explains his philosophy. It's a sentiment that provides a common bond between Hartigan, Marv, and Dwight, while imparting a rough-edged view of the nocturnal world of Frank Miller's deadly protagonists. “Sin City” lives on in your memory like a fantasy nightmare where living people morph into super-action visions of beguiling brutality.   


Rated R. 124 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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