Tag Archives: animated film

Movie Review: Tangled (2010)

Disney, animation, fairytale.  You really can’t go wrong.

And so we get Tangled, Disney’s latest animated feature — a spin on the Rapunzel story.  You know, the girl with the really long hair.  As per usual, there is a heroine princess, an animal sidekick, a potential romantic partner, an evil witch, love, action and plenty of singing — an old and trusted formula that has succeeded time after time (this is Disney’s 50th animated feature!).

As you can probably tell by now, for me, Tangled is nothing special — but that doesn’t mean it’s not pretty good.

I watched the film in 2D (thankfully) and it was visually impressive nonetheless, with an intended ‘oil painting’-like quality to the animation.  The music and songs (led by Mandy Moore, who voices Rapunzel) flow effortlessly as you would expect from a Disney cartoon, and of course, the jokes appeal to the young, old, and everybody in between.

It’s just that Tangled felt very much like just another regular Disney cartoon, like say Disney’s last full-length feature, The Princess and the Frog.  Don’t get me wrong — whether in terms of story, music, humour, heart or overall enjoyability, Tangled is very good, but just not outstanding.  Perhaps I’m just so used to Disney making great traditional animated features that simply being very good no longer does it for me.

But Tangled did apparently take 6 years and $260 million to make, so obviously the film was intended for great things.  I’m just not quite sure it gets there.

Ultimately, Tangled is good family movie that will make a worthy addition to any DVD cabinet, but is unlikely to be remembered as a classic in the vein of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast.

3.5 stars out of 5!

DVD Review: The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Disney’s latest animation feature, The Princess and the Frog, will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on 16 June 2010.  Running time: 94 minutes. Rated: G

In the age of computer animations and 3D special effects, it’s always good to see a traditional hand-drawn story that is just as beautiful to the eye — but with that extra bit of fluidity and a human touch.  That’s exactly what Disney has delivered with Oscar-nominated The Princess and the Frog, a true family film that brought back the nostalgic feelings of those classic animated features from my childhood.

I must admit, The Princess and the Frog was not a film that immediately jumped out at me at during its theatrical run.  The original Grimm brothers’ fairytale about a princess who turns a frog into a prince never really appealed to me personally, and I thought the film would just be a simple retelling of that story.

However, full credit must go to John Musker and Ron Clements (creators of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin).  Instead of going down the expected route, The Princess and the Frog turns the original fairytale on its head, and the result is both surprising and hilarious.

The obvious thing that sticks out about this film is that Disney finally has a black female lead in Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose from Dreamgirls), a hardworking waitress who dreams of opening up her own restaurant.  But there’s a lot more than that.  Rather than some magical alternative world, The Princess and the Frog is set in French Quarter of New Orleans.  This backdrop gives the film an entirely new dimension, bringing back that fun-filled era of jazz music, big bands and old-school dancing never before seen in Disney animated features.

Young Tiana’s world is turned upside down when Prince Naveen (voiced by Bruno Campos from Nip/Tuck) arrives for a royal visit.  Of course, there is a mysterious villain, and without giving away too much of the plot, spells and frogs become involved and the setting is transformed from New Orleans to the mystical bayous of Louisiana, where more interesting characters are introduced, including a musical alligator and a lovesick firefly.

As I understand it, The Princess and the Frog endured a lot of controversies and changes over title, the lead characters, the location and the villain — but seriously, as always, it was much ado about nothing.  In the end, it’s just pure family fun without a suggestion of political messages or racial or cultural insensitivity.

I haven’t been a big fan of animations for a while (with a few notable exceptions), but I really enjoyed The Princess and the Frog.  It is indeed a film intended for the whole family but the target is still clearly young children, despite a couple of “frightening” scenes involving voodoo and the “other side”.  The humour is very much geared towards the kids, though from about the halfway mark I found myself laughing way more than I should have been.

I don’t usually consider myself a jazz listener, but the score for this film was exceptional — lively and fun while remaining true to the Disney spirit.  But perhaps my favourite thing about The Princess and the Frog was the character of Prince Naveen.  For once, the male lead is not just some wealthy, handsome and unbelievably perfect guy who comes in to sweep the heroine off her feet.  Naveen is really a bit of a douche, and I was almost disappointed to find that he actually had some redeeming qualities by the end of the film.

3.5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

When I first heard about the film How to Train Your Dragon, I thought it was the name of a penile enlargement instructional video.  Little did I know it was actually the new DreamWorks Animation feature featuring an amazing voice cast including Jay Baruchel (She’s Out of My League), Gerard Butler (300, The Bounty Hunter), Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera (TV’s Ugly Betty), Jonah Hill (Superbad) and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Kick-Ass).

I usually like animated films, but rarely do I see one that I really love.  I don’t know why, but that’s just the way it has been.  Well, How to Train Your Dragon is definitely one of the better animated films I have seen over the last few years, but it still doesn’t quite get me over the hump.

The story is based loosely on the 2003 book of the same title by Cressida Cowell.  It’s about a weak little Viking boy by the name of Hiccup (Baruchel) who lives in a world where people live to slay dragons.  All Hiccup does is try to please his father, the Viking Chief (Butler), by capturing a killing a dragon of his own.  But of course, as the title suggests, Hiccup eventually befriends and trains one, turning the world as they know it upside down.

In terms of pure laughs, How to Train Your Dragon is not as strong as a lot of the other animated films out there — that’s not to say it isn’t still very funny.  But where the film stood out for me was its heart.  The relationships between Hiccup and his dragon, his father (Butler), his mentor (Ferguson) and the girl of his dreams (Ferrera) are all extremely well developed and more poignant than you would have expected from a cartoon about dragons.  The story itself is actually pretty good too.

And of course there’s the excellent voice cast.  Apart from Butler and Ferguson, I don’t think any of the others are immediately recognisable, but they all sound strangely familiar.  One way or the other, they manage the bring the quirky characters to life.

I think it’s definitely a film that can be enjoyed equally by children (for the dragons and the action) and the adults (for the laughs, the characters and the storyline).

4 out of 5 stars!

Movie Review: Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)

I really enjoyed Up and I thought Coraline was pretty good, but I still don’t consider myself a big fan of animated films.  However, Fantastic Mr Fox is making me reconsider that stance once again.

Initially, I had very little interest in seeing Fantastic Mr Fox – at first glance it looked like one of those weird, unappealing, low-quality stop-motion animations – but a couple of friends told me it was fantastic, and after all, the film is based on the book by Roald Dahl, just my favourite author growing up.

So I watched it, having no recollection of the book (which I am pretty sure I read years ago), and laughed harder than I ever thought I would. 

Fantastic Mr Fox (directed by Wes Anderson – The Darjeeling Limited, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) has my type of humour.  It’s dry, deadpan, random and crazy.  It’s quite Simpsonesque in many ways.  There’s a few clever recurring jokes that never seem to get old, and it’s a film that fully utilises the stop-motion animation techniques to maximise the hilarity.  Who would have thought jerky movements could be so funny?

George Clooney is perfect as the titular character Mr Fox.  His deadpan delivery and voice, which sometimes irritates me, was spot on here.  Supporting Clooney is a wonderful voice cast, including Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Owen Wilson and Willem Dafoe, though none stand out as much as Clooney does.

At the end of the day, it’s really just a weird little story with some weird big laughs, but I have a feeling Fantastic Mr Fox could become a classic in years to come.

4 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Up (2009)

I’m not usually a big fan of animated films.  There have been a few very good ones (such as Toy Story, Shrek and Ratatouille), plenty of terrible ones (such as Shark Tale, Astro Boy and the worst of them all, Resident Evil: Degeneration), and a whole lot of average or overrated ones (in my opinion just about everything else, such as Finding Nemo and Happy Feet).

Accordingly, I approached the latest Pixar/Disney venture, Up, with plenty of scepticism.  I’m not going to discuss the plot – the poster is about as much background as you need.  Anyway, I ended up loving it.

For starters, Up is one of the funniest animated films I’ve ever seen.  It has that Toy Story quirkiness to it, that matter-of-fact approach to completely random and outrageous situations.  There are plenty of WTF? moments, but the execution is so sweet and cute that you can’t help but be captivated, regardless of how crazy it may all seem.

There’s also the wonderful characters – extremely unique characters.  Can you imagine any other film carried by a grumpy old man and a fat little Asian kid (plus a whole bunch of dogs) from start to finish?  Incredible.

Most of all, Up has plenty of heart.  The opening sequence summarising the life of old Carl Fredericksen up to that point is one of the most bittersweet and moving I’ve seen in any film.  And when he comes on board, the back story of Russell the kid is also very touching.  The balance between humour and drama and action is handled brilliantly, each hitting the spot at the crucial moments.

And did I mention the amazing animation?  The gorgeous blend of colours and crisp textures, coupled with the beautiful scenery and perfect character design, took the exuberance and warmth to a whole new level.

Granted, Up is not perfect – it started off wonderfully but dipped a little towards the middle before picking itself back up before the end, but on the whole it is hands down one of the best animated movies I’ve had the pleasure of watching.

4.5 stars out of 5!