32 posts categorized "Animation"

June 13, 2015


Inside OutChildren’s book authors will be eating their hearts out over co-writer/co-director Peter Docter’s brilliantly devised story about the emotions that people (kids in specific) feel, and how they can control the voices in their heads. Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust are the five Emotions that vie for a prime-time spot inside the mind of 11-year-old tomboy Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) like balls in a ginned-up Las Vegas roulette wheel. But in this case, the Emotions are color-coded characters who work together as congenial pals in a spaceship-styled control center lined with floor-to-ceiling rows of colorful bowling-ball-sized orbs that each hold one of Riley’s precious memories.

The imaginative dual-layered narrative exists inside Riley’s head and in the real world, where memory flashbacks provide comic asides. A funny episode depicting baby Riley’s attempt to avoid eating the broccoli her dad feeds her on her highchair escalates from a moment overseen by Disgust before turning over the helm to Lewis Black’s lid-blowing Anger. Another memory is made and collected.

The premise is complicated, yet Docter and his team strike just the right tone of streamlined psychology lesson, wide-eyed wonder, and homesick heartache for an exquisitely paced film that ticks every box of audience expectation, and more.

Inside Out2Riley’s mom (voiced by Diane Lane) and dad (voiced by Kyle MacLachlan) uproot the family from affable Minnesota to snotty San Francisco for dad’s new job. It looks like there will be no more hockey team action for the athletic Riley, whose budding sense of self-determination is about to go full-bloom when Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith) starts touching Riley’s memories, thereby turning them blue. A crisis looms as Riley’s brain gets stuck in a mode of remorse. Puberty plays a silent role that gets gentle attention in the film’s final scenes.

As it turns out melancholia has an important function in the hierarchy of survival instincts. The mystery of Sadness’s role provides the film’s thematic hook.

Insideout4The pixie blue-haired Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) is an eternal optimist with a habit of big-dogging the other emotions, so it’s only natural that she leads the mission, with Sadness in tow, through the depths of Riley’s long-term memory reservoir to set things right. The pair goes on kooky excursions though the corners of Riley’s mind in places like Imagination Land and the more surreal Subconscious. The lively animation of display is more than worthy of big-screen viewing. This is not a movie to watch on your iPad. 

Peter Docter was sorely missed on “Toy Story 3,” after his palpable story-writing contributions to the first two films in the franchise. Mercifully, the gifted Docter is currently co-writing the upcoming “Toy Story 4,” which is due out in 2017. “Inside Out” is a contender for best children’s movie of the decade, or longer. 

Rated PG. 95 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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September 21, 2014


Box of Trash
Laika Animation Goes Backwards

BoxtrollsThis animated 3D children’s picture is as clumsy, tone-deaf, and useless as they come. Laika, the Oregon animation production company behind “Coraline” (2009) and “ParaNorman” (2012) takes more than a few a steps backward. Rather than improving on their 3D efforts, “Boxtrolls” holds less visual interest than most 2D animated films. If the filmmakers don’t intend to use 3D effects to their fullest extent, i.e. breaking the proscenium window to put objects in front of viewers’ eyes, then there is no point in indulging in the expensive process in the first place. Uneducated audiences and critics may not know what they’re missing, but if you’ve seen “My Bloody Valentine 3D,” you know what I’m talking about. Even Jean-Luc Godard’s latest film — his 3D enhanced “Goodbye to Language” — makes far better use of the technology than what you see in “Boxtrolls.” Darkness of images is another problem that “Boxtrolls” suffers from.

Although the movie is based on a children’s’ novel (by Alan Snow), the story seems artificially generated to make a profit at the box office, rather than contribute on any instructional level for children.

Populated with senseless throwaway characters called boxtrolls, the equivalent of “Despicable Me’s” physically, mentally, and speech impaired “Minions,” the action is set in the town of Cheesebridge, a 19th century UK location. Boxtrolls are an all-male species of squat, blue-skinned nocturnal “monsters” that wear boxes to cover their otherwise nude bodies — read genitals, or lack thereof since they seem to not have female partners with which to procreate.

Aside from their deathly pallor, boxtrolls are notable for the black band that surrounds their eyes, making them resemble silent-era bandits wearing cloth masks. The dim-witted beings live up to their criminal appearance. At night, the boxtrolls go around town stealing anything that isn’t nailed down, and some things that are. Address numbers from publically exposed doors are ripe for the taking by the little misshapen beasts that ostensibly symbolize homeless (possibly immigrant) peasants.

Boxtrolls2The boxtrolls rescue a human baby boy (Issac Hemstead Wright), believed by the public to have been kidnapped after the boy’s father, Herbert Trubshaw (voiced by Simon Pegg), was brutally murdered. The boxtrolls raise “Eggs” (the word printed on the box the boy wears as a shirt) as one of their own.

Meanwhile, Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kingsley) is secretly a cross-dressing entertainer known as Frou Frou who is obsessed with leveraging his way into the town’s white-hat-wearing nobility so that he can partake in their private cheese-tastings. Snatcher imagines that if he can kill off all of the boxtrolls that plague the town, that Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris) will hand over a white hat that will elevate him to one of the town’s aristocracy. That Snatcher is horribly allergic to cheese hardly dissuades him in his quest, although it does allow for some truly grotesque episodes of flesh swelling.

Lord Portley-Rind is the king of the town’s castle, and father to Winifred (Elle Fanning), a gore-obsessed girl who befriends Eggs. Winnie takes responsibility for dressing and socializing Eggs, who may as well have been raised by wolves.

Visually and thematically, the movie is all over the place. Clearly, the creators at Laika have yet to receive the memo that Steampunk is passé. The limited appeal of Rube Goldberg mechanical machines has passed its date of expiration, and yet wonky gears are all over the movie as a substitute for any purposeful use of imagination.

From a political perspective, the movie’s “Dare to be brave” and “Dare to be free” message is directed toward its lower-class boxtroll members of society. The end of the story indoctrinates these mentally and physically inferior “monsters” into civilization as menial workers; guess who’s washing your dishes at restaurants in the town of Cheesebridge?

Hooray for the formerly oppressed and their sad capitalist victory. No longer will they have their own personalized, private society, but rather they will be subject to all of society’s laws, taxes, and public humiliations even if they never learn to speak.

Laika’s first two films (“Coraline” and “ParaNorman”) were about the extraordinary value of the outlier. “The Boxtrolls” is about how a group of outsiders is sold out by its own humanitarian effort to save a “human” boy. As in America, and in England, no good deed goes unpunished. You, and your kids will love this movie, not.

Rated PG. 97 mins. (C-) (One Star - out of five/no halves)


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February 03, 2014


Animated Resistance
Hollywood Creates a New Genre of Kids Movie

Lego_movieThere’s a strong subtext of socio-political resistance at play in “The Lego Movie.” It may be the first mainstream animated resistance film ever made by a Hollywood studio. Beneath its over-the-top visual mishmash of American cultural iconography — ranging from a literally two-faced good cop/bad cop, to an evasive Abraham Lincoln, to Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman), an ostensibly Christian prophet à la Jesus Christ — sits an anti-1% message that seethes with a vengeance.

Forget the film’s seemingly obvious product placement of a toy from Denmark that has captured the imaginations of many generations of kids since they first became available in 1947; the movie is about much more than that.

Although its sickly rainbow of clashing colors and disjointed graphic styles inflicts sensory overload on its viewer, the film’s theme of social uprising couldn’t be clearer. Still, parents shouldn’t be too concerned that their children will be indoctrinated into seeing through the multi-national global corporate mechanism that crushes original thought and free will with its constant barrage of media-led disinformation. Such instruction would take a lot more coaching than watching “The Lego Movie” a 100 times could deliver.

The film is akin to a surreal 3D animated blending of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” with “The Matrix Trilogy.” Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) is an inveterate conformist who aspires to mediocrity. The everyman character is a simplified cross between “Brazil’s” low-level government bureaucrat Sam Lowry and Keanu Reeves’s would-be savior Neo (aka the “One”).

Emmet loves to follow rules. He doesn’t do anything not prescribed in the instructional manual he refers to first thing in the morning (“Instructions to fit in, have everybody like you, and always be happy”). Not.

Emmet doesn’t appear to have a contrarian bone in his body. He repeats a mantra of fascistic social conditioning, “Always use a turn signal, park between the lines, read the headlines, don’t forget to smile, always root for the local sports team, drink overpriced coffee.” Emmet is pleased to pay $37 for a cup of coffee because he is an ultimate consumer. He loves the corporate pap song “Everything is Awesome” that contributes to the droning consensus reality he lives in.

“Everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team.” The sneering satirical nature of the song is so keen, that it cuts in all directions. Emmet can sing the mindless tune for hours on end.

By day Emmet is a lowly blue-collar construction worker. His programmed life does a 180-degree turn when he meets Wyldestyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks), a cute anti-corporate Goth-girl activist attempting to capture the mysterious “Piece of Resistance” that will free humanity from the universal clampdown masterminded by President Business (aka Lord Business) as voiced by Will Ferrell. You can see how screenwriters Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”) toy with the unholy alliance between church, state, and corporate policy. Satirical allegories fill scenes masked by cutesy sight gags, disorienting spectacle, and tame jokes.

Lord Business is a presidential, religious, and corporate composite character that wants to glue down everything and everyone in his LEGO world so that nothing can move. His plan is indicative of where global society already seems to be headed. The threat of trigger-happy cops, NSA surveillance, random public shooters, and unpredictable weather conditions are all tacitly referred to throughout the story. You might imagine that Trey Parker and Matt Stone (“Team America: World Police”) dreamed up the premise.

Acting on an artificially invented prophesy from Vitruvius, Wyldestyle imagines Emmet to be “The Special,” a master-builder capable of capturing the Piece of Resistance. However, Emmet isn’t “the most important, most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe” that Wyldstyle temporarily envisions him to be. Still, that’s not to say Emmet doesn’t possess the potential to rise to the occasion, and help disarm Lord Business of his militarized stranglehold across all dimensions of the LEGO world. Herein lies the film’s message, that anyone, no matter how simpleminded, is capable of being personally responsible for leading a winning resistance against the greedy powers that enslave humanity.

The CGI wizardry on display is impressive even if lacking in editorial restraint. For a kids’ movie that manages to be eye-popping, funny, and thought provoking, “The LEGO Movie” is surprisingly fruitful. However, one obvious area the movie lacks is in its white-bread depiction of society. Morgan Freeman’s character doesn’t even have dark skin. What’s up with that?

Rated PG. 101 mins. (B-) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)


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