Cinema 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)
Partying with Dracula and his crew of monsters isn’t as enjoyable as you might imagine in this animated misfire. A threadbare script sets an oversimplified plot adrift. Adam Sandler does a half-decent vampire voice as Dracula, an overprotective single father to his 118-year-old daughter Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez). In human years, Mavis is just college-age. Good ole Dracula has built a secret monster resort hotel. Humans are not allowed. Dracula has gone so far as to build a phony human town in order to convince Mavis not to stray beyond their castle walls. Enter American back-backer Jonathan (voiced by Andy Samberg), who wanders into Dracula’s sacred hotel and sets romantic eyes on Mavis. She returns the gesture. Mindless monster mayhem abounds as the rudderless story chases its tail toward a predictably anticipated ending.
Once again, Hollywood dips its toe into 3D waters without fully committing. There is nothing in the 3D effects on display to say that any value is added by its presence. “Hotel Transylvania” is a lethargic animated comedy with nothing at stake — not even any vampires.
Rated PG. 91 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)
Finding Nemo 3D
VIDEO ESSAYS: FINDING NEMO 3D — LIBERAL ARTS — ARBITRAGE — CLASSIC - THE BAD NEWS BEARS
Disney/Pixar’s 3D upgrade of its classic animated children’s movie — using an expensive new 3D format called Xpand 3D— has the dual effect of darkening the film’s vibrant colors while adding considerable depth to the screen. Still, don’t look for Nemo to come swimming out into the audience. This isn’t that kind of 3D experience. Following on the heels of its 3D re-release of “The Lion King,” “Finding Nemo 3D” seems more likely to introduce the film to new audiences, if only because the remastered film’s underwater color palate is so bold.
Clownfish Nemo (voiced by Andrew Gold) is a mere egg when an attack by a barracuda in their home in Australia's Great Barrier Reef leaves him in the singular care of his overprotective dad Marlin (Albert Brooks). Nemo isn’t the best of swimmers owing to his undersized fin. On his first day of school, Nemo and his class go on a field trip to the reef’s drop-off. Against his dad’s commands to return to the safety of the reef, the curious Nemo swims out toward a lingering boat only to be scooped up by a diver. The boat takes off with Nemo onboard, and Marlin follows suit in a desperate effort to get back his son.
Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a Regal Blue Tang fish suffering from short-term memory loss, teams up with Marlin to help track down Nemo to Sydney. Unbeknownst to Marlin and Dory, Nemo has been added to a dentist’s salt-water aquarium there.
“Finding Nemo” stands up as one of the most engaging animated children’s films of all time. If you’ve never seen it before, you’re in for a real treat. If you have, you’ll love this version more than ever.
Rated G. 101 mins. (A-) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
It took three directors to make the third installment in the “Madagascar” franchise, yet the compound collaboration has resulted in an impressive animated comedy. Noah Baumbach’s screenwriting contributions, alongside franchise regular co-writer/director Eric Darnell, are in evidence.
Audience chuckles and belly laughs come at regular intervals. The level of visual and narrative sophistication on display is astonishing. There are no fart jokes to distract from the fun-loving animal characters that have become like family members to a generation of young moviegoers. The filmmakers pull off a neat trick by continuously raising the stakes for audience expectations before paying off on gently implied promises with breathtaking virtuosic sequences. An eye-popping chase scene across the rooftops of Monte Carlo’s skyline hits the mark. In addition, the film’s explosion of color during a circus-themed third act climax is an over-the-top expression of dynamic animation at its finest. The filmmakers’ obvious Cirque du Soliel-inspiration for the denouement takes delightful three-dimensional flight at just the right moment.
A surrealistic black-and-white dream sequence opens the movie as a tip-off to adult spectators that the movie will also address their intellects. Returning voice-actors Ben Stiller (as Alex the lion), Chris Rock (as Marty the zebra), Jada Pinkett Smith (as Gloria the hippo), and David Schwimmer (as Melman the giraffe), all deliver knockout performances. A clever editorial choice to give a circus bear named Sonya the mute trait of an actual bear, brings the animated animal world one step closer to reality. Sonya’s inability to talk hardly stops Cedric the Entertainer’s aye-aye creature Maurice from falling for her hairy charms. Maurice has a fetish he’s none too embarrassed about expressing when opportunity presents itself.
The plot couldn’t be simpler. Our familiar animal buddies are trying to leave Madagascar and return to their previous home, the New York City zoo. A brief layover in Monte Carlo brings them to the attention of Capitaine Chantel DuBois (amazingly voiced in a biting French accent by Frances McDormand). DuBois is “part bloodhound and part Cruella DeVil — with a little Edith Piaf thrown in for good measure.” There’s no telling if McDormand herself performed the French song DuBois belts out in a surprising bit of chanteuse inspiration, but the musical diversion arrives with an ear-pleasingly authentic Gallic slap and tickle.
DuBois wants the severed heads of Alex, Marty, Gloria, and Melman hanging on her trophy wall. Our motley crew finds refuge in the company of a train-travelling circus with its own host of kooky animal personalities. Jessica Chastain’s slinky jaguar Gia holds romantic promise for Alex if he can just figure out how to come up with a circus act impressive enough to gain the sponsorship of a London promoter.
It took the orchestrated efforts of roughly 200 highly skilled artists to make “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.” So, it’s all the more rewarding when such a high-wire act of ensemble inspiration comes together to form a movie overflowing with hilarious surprises. For once, even the 3D aspects of an animated movie are calculated to make the audience duck in their seats a few times as objects seem to fly from the screen. “Madagascar 3” is a winner no matter how you slice it.
Rated PG. 99 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)
The glaring omission of Elmo (due to legal wrangling) is the only weak-spot in this delightfully sweet music-infused family film. Jason Segal is probably the only actor in the world who could get away with exposing his genitals in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" to playing the squeakiest clean guy on the planet in a Disney film. Gary (Segel) is unique in that he has a Muppet for a sibling. Walter, a blue-faced Muppet, (Peter Linz) has been Gary's "brother" since childhood. The time has come for Gary to take his true love Mary (wonderfully played by the ever infectious Amy Adams) on a vacation from their small Midwest town to Hollywood for their anniversary dinner. It's time for Gary to grow up and accept his romantic duties to Mary. Still, Gary can't resist inviting Walter along to visit the Muppet Studios where all of the Muppet magic was made. During their tour of the now ramshackle facility Walter overhears the diabolical plans of real estate developer Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to purchase the property under the pretense of honoring its history, only to raze it to the ground to drill for oil. A visit to Kermit in his Hollywood mansion sets off a plan to get the old team of Muppets together for a fund-raising show to save Muppet Studios. Song-and-dance set pieces featuring Segel and the effervescent Amy Adams fit nicely against an inevitable reunion between Kermit and the Ms. Piggy. If the plot sounds thin, know that songs like "Life's a Happy Song" (sung by the entire cast) and "Man or Muppet" (sung by Gary and Walter) work plenty of magic on their own. Chris Cooper delivers one of the movie's funnier song-and-dance bits. Cameos from the likes of Emily Blunt, Sarah Silverman, Zack Galifianakis, and Jack Black give ample funnybone taps. 2011 is officially the year of the Muppets resurgence in pop culture. Seeing Kermit and Ms. Piggy together again is worth the price of admission alone.
Rated PG. 102 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)