Tag Archives: animation

Moana (2016)

Once a man has children, he’s going to start watching more animated movies. And look, there are some animated films that I absolutely adore, but in general, my interest level in them is quite low.

This brings us to Moana, the latest Disney animated feature about a girl in a Polynesian tribe (the eponymous Moana, voiced by Auli’i Cravalho in her debut) who embarks on a mystical sea quest with a demigod voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to give back a stolen stone to a goddess. It’s really a lot simpler than that sounds.

I took my five-year-old son to see it today and he thought it was great. I was surprised by how long the movie was — 107 minutes, pretty long for an animation — but he was able to sit through it without a problem. It was me, actually, who needed to go to the toilet and fell asleep for a few minutes toward the end (I was really tired!). But that’s not to say Moana is not a decent movie. As animated films go, it’s actually pretty good, and I think it gives Kubo and the Two Strings (my review here) a run for its money as the favourite for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars next month.

In typical Disney fashion, Moana is spectacular to look at, especially with its abundance of bright colours and beautiful sea views. Kubo is beautiful in its own way because of the stop-motion animation, though for me, Moana is one of the most visually dazzling animations I’ve seen this year or any year. The film also boasts plenty of singing, action, cute characters, comedic moments, and a nice little message about believing in yourself and having the courage to make a change, etc etc. It’s a fun family affair with catchy tunes (“How Far I’ll Go”, in particular, is a winner and a threat to one of the La La Land songs at the Oscars), comedy for all ages, and a dash of heart. You should know the Disney formula by now.

So yeah, it’s another enjoyable, feel-good animated movie that didn’t really blow me away or connect with me on a deeper emotional level (like say Up or Toy Story 3). It was humorous, sure, and of course action packed, though I didn’t feel like the film’s performance in these two departments elevated it above any of the other popular Disney flicks in recent years (Big Hero 6, Wreck-It-Ralph, Frozen and Tangled). That being said, I really don’t have much to complain about the movie other than that it’s a tad on the long side, with a couple of moments that I felt dragged on and could have been trimmed to keep up the pace. Apart from that, all good.

3.5 stars out of 5

Inside Out (2015)

inside out

As I’ve said many times before, I’m not the biggest fan of animated films. That said, if there is an exception it’ll have to be films produced by Pixar.

The studio’s latest effort, Inside Out, is an ambitious project that is taking the world by storm — notwithstanding its seemingly less attractive premise — largely thanks to rave reviews and word of mouth. And so I decided to check it out for myself.

There’s a Tumblr post being passed around lately outlining the premise behind each of Pixar’s films, with the joke being that every movie is “what if X had feelings?” So Toy Story is “what if toys had feelings?”, Wall-E is “what if robots had feelings?”, and Finding Nemo is “what if fish had feelings?”, and so forth. The one for Inside Out, fittingly, is “what if feelings had feelings?”. And that pretty much sums up the movie perfectly.

In Inside Out, we follow a human character called Riley from birth, though most of the action takes place inside her head, which is inhabited by different emotions who are personified into various characters. The lead character is Joy (Amy Poehler), and there’s also Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and so forth.

I won’t give away much more than that, but I will say it’s an extremely clever depiction of what goes on inside a person’s head, the conflict between different emotions, how memories are stored, remembered, recalled and discarded, and how all of this shapes a person’s personality.

There’s a lot more to how it works and the film will get to that as it progresses, and it’s all done with Pixar’s trademark simplicity, humour, emotions and of course colourful, stunning visuals. The most amazing thing about it all is that this heavily simplified and yet complex psychological system of feelings, memories, personality, depression and the subconscious — as told through a cartoon, no less — all somehow rings true. I’d be very interested to see if there are any educational studies into this film to see just how closely it matches up to what experts understand about the workings of the human mind at this point in time.

When you think about all the intricacies, the mutiple layers and the depth, Inside Out really is quite a remarkable piece of work. Many have gone as far as calling it “genius” and “a masterpiece.”

I’m not sure I would go that far, or even as far as what some critics like Mark Kermode have said, which is that Inside Out could become the first animated film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. It certainly is a very intelligent premise filled with many clever ideas throughout, though as a piece of entertainment I feel like it still lacks a certain “wow” factor that the most compelling films have. There were times when I asked myself whether the confined limits of the premise would allow the film to truly take off. Maybe it’s just unrealistic expectations after hearing so much hype.

And while it easily passes the six-laugh test for a good comedy and has another handful of hearty chuckles sprinkled throughout, I also think the movie could have been even funnier given the ridiculously talented comedic cast (that also includes Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling and the easily recognisable voice of Richard Kind). Phyllis Smith is absolutely hilarious though.

It might be because cartoons just don’t have that effect on me, but I’m sure I’m not the only one as my wife is among several people who have told me that they think the film is just “OK”. However, I think the film is a lot more than just OK because it had an emotional impact on me that only a handful of animations have had before. I rarely get teary-eyed in movies these days and this film got me a few times. Perhaps it’s because I had gone through some similar life experiences to Riley and share some of the same memories. That’s why I think it’s actually a film targeted more at adults than children because it dredges up all these memories and emotions and nostalgia from when we were growing up.

With its imagination, intelligence, depth and ability to tug the heart strings, Inside Out is a film I can definitely see myself rewatching a few times and share with my kids as they grow older. Based on how much I enjoyed this first viewing already, I rate it…

4.25 stars out of 5

PS: The short film before the main feature, Lava, is also very sweet and touching, with a catchy tune that could get stuck in your head for days.

Movie Review: Stand By Me Doraemon (2014)

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Doraemon was probably the first manga and anime I was exposed to as a child, so it made sense for me to choose Stand By Me Doraemon — the first 3D computer animated Doraemon feature — as my three-year-old son’s first cinematic experience.

It’s a good choice, because unlike other Doraemon feature films that depict standalone adventures, Stand By Me Doraemon is an origins story that takes us right back to the beginning and features some of Doraemon’s best known gadgets. While there are original elements, many of the subplots, including the ending, are borrowed directly from the manga/anime, though due to time constraints some classic chapters were condensed into montages.

For those who don’t already know the story, it’s about a loser kid named Nobita who is in the very bottom percentile in terms of both intellectual and athletic ability. To change his fortunes, Nobita’s great-great-great-grandson from the 22nd century sends him Doraemon, a lovable robot cat with a pocket full of handy futuristic gadgets. With Doraemon’s help, Nobita sets out to alter his future and win the affections of Shizuka, the perfect girl-next-door, while also fending off his friends, the bully Gian and the show-off Suneo.

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It’s a good-looking movie, with smooth 3D computer animation that pays homage to the simplicity of the original anime. As such, there aren’t many eye-popping images, though old fans should be content with the faithful transition from 2D hand-drawn animation to 3D CGI.

As a cynical adult, I have a few problems with the story’s logic and its underlying messages, some of which could be construed as shallow. As a kid, however, all I cared about was how cool Doraemon’s gadgets are and how much I wish I had them, so I’m not too concerned about my son being led astray.

Ultimately, notwithstanding the complexity of all the time travelling, Stand By Me Doraemon is a story that’s easy to follow and like if you enjoy rooting for the underdog. I don’t know if it’s the nostalgia flooding back, but I was actually very moved by the movie in the end. The final message teaching kids to be independent and that having a kind heart is the best attribute of all is something even adults can appreciate.

My son loved the experience and I had a pretty good time too. We’re already counting down the days until the next Doraemon feature.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Frozen (2013)

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I’ve always been a little biased against cartoon movies, even when I was a kid. I like the classic stories and cute characters, but for some reason I just prefer movies with real people. There are exceptions, such as Toy Story and Up, but these are clever modern tales, whereas the Disney ones, while enjoyable, don’t have quite the same effect on me.

Frozen is Disney’s latest adaptation of a classic tale, this time The Ice Queen from Hans Christian Anderson. Like the previous effort, Tangled, it features a blend of CGI and hand animation techniques which I think works very well and probably saves a lot of time and money too. The cast features Kristen Bell as Anna, the sister of Elsa, the Ice Queen, played by Idina Menzel, plus Josh Gad as Olaf, a magical snowman.

The plot is fairly straightforward. Elsa has special powers like the Iceman from X-Men, making her afraid that she will hurt the people she loves, such as her sister Anna. One day she loses it and unwittingly unleashes an eternal winter on their home land of Arendelle before running off to live on her own, forcing Anna to go look for her so things can be returned to normal.

As an animated feature, Frozen is done very well, with beautiful animations, likable characters, wild action sequences, and some of the best songs Disney has done in a very long time (who knew Kristen Bell had a set of pipes on her?) and I’m sure Oscars are in store. It’s arguably the best classic animated Disney film in years, and it is no surprise to me that the film has been a hit, especially with the kiddies.

On the other hand, the film is undoubtedly formulaic and doesn’t offer anything we haven’t really seen or felt before. There’s the beautiful princess, the charming and handsome love interest, the nasty villain, and of course the cute sidekick (which in this case is the snowman). The story, however, was lacking in my opinion, and more importantly, I didn’t find the film that funny — an amusing moment here and there, but the jokes are more obvious and less edgy than that from other recent animated films such as say Monsters University. 

This is probably my bias creeping through again so I’ll stop now. Objectively, Frozen is a delight, something both children and family should enjoy, though for me it’s just an above average animated film that doesn’t stand out among some of Disney’s more famous classics.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Smurfs (2D) (2011)

La la la la la la, la la la la la!

I practically grew up watching The Smurfs cartoons, but I was sceptical when I heard they were making a film version — in ‘please rip me off’ 3D’, no less.  Nonetheless, despite my better judgment, I decided to check it out.  It wasn’t easy finding a 2D session, but I managed to squeeze one into my busy schedule (damn you 3D films!).

I have to admit I rather enjoyed The Smurfs.  The voices weren’t quite what I remembered (Katy Perry as Smurfette?) but it was a fun trip down nostalgia lane.  The jokes may be targeted primarily at children, but it was good to see that many jokes were also self-referential and tongue-in-cheek.  Some fell flat but even one laugh was more than I had expected from the film.  Great to see director Raja Gosnell (who has a pretty dodgy resume with films such as Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Big Momma’s House and Scooby-Doo) not completely stuff this up.

The premise is recycled and doesn’t require familiarity with the old comics or cartoons.  It uses the formula laid down by Enchanted, where the cartoon characters live in their cartoonish world but are magically transported into the real world.  The Smurfs’ human ally in the real world is none other than Doogie Howser himself, Neil Patrick Harris, who I never seem to get tired of.  Harris is not bad but is completely overshadowed by the true star of the show, the villain Gargamel, played masterfully by Hank Azaria.

Ultimately, The Smurfs really isn’t all that different from your typical kiddie holiday film in that it has a formulaic plot and relies on childish jokes and a lot of silliness.  I thought I’d be rolling my eyes every couple of seconds but I ended up liking it more than I expected.  I’m just glad my favourite Smurf, Brainy, was given one of the more prominent roles amongst the Smurfs (I always like the dickhead characters).

Interestingly, despite lukewarm critical reviews, audience reception of The Smurfs has been pretty good, especially amongst the younger demographic.  A sequel is already being planned for 2013.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is an all-time classic.  Animated garden gnomes are deliciously cute.  Elton John’s music is sensational.  James McAvoy and Emily Blunt are both likable Brits.  But the culmination of all of these things, Gnomeo & Juliet, is one of the worst animated films I’ve ever seen.  And it’s in pointless 3D.

I had reasonable expectations for this one for the above reasons, and the fact that the promotional campaign made it look like a fun, funny, musical spectacular with an all-star voice cast (including, apart from McAvoy and Blunt, Jason Statham, Stephen Merchant, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Ozzy Osbourne, Patrick Stewart and Hulk Hogan!).

But somehow, Gnomeo & Juliet turned out to be painfully unfunny and entirely uninspiring.  How could this be possible?  The garden gnome jokes were essentially exhausted in the first few minutes, and the rest of it was repetitive and unclever.  Yes, the garden gnomes were cute, but that alone wasn’t enough to carry the film.  I actually had a couple of micro naps during the film, which has not happened since Van Helsing.

Worse still, Elton John’s music was criminally underused.  How they managed to screw up something with so much potential is beyond me.

The worse part is probably the lack of heart.  I wasn’t moved at all by the story or the characters.  Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks are light years ahead when it comes to creating a cartoon that connects with audiences.

And yes, once again the 3D served no purpose other than to rip people off.

1.5 stars out of 5

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: Toy Story 3 (2010)

I absolutely intended to watch Pixar’s Toy Story 3 (in 2D) at the cinema, but for whatever reason I missed it.

Thankfully, it’s no longer too long of a wait these days before films go to DVD, and I finally watched the third instalment of arguably the greatest animated feature film series in history.

The thing with the Toy Story franchise is that you know exactly what you’re in for — a focused and clever storyline, fantastic animation, an all-star voice cast (Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, etc), a touch of poignancy, and plenty of great laughs.  So while Toy Story 3 offers no real surprises, it’s still extremely funny and a joy to watch for the whole family.

This time, toy owner Andy is all grown up and heading to college, and Woody, Buzz and the gang are in danger of being tossed out for good.  But as fate would have it, the toys find themselves in a brand new setting, with new friends, enemies and challenges.

As usual, the toys (especially Barbie’s boyfriend Ken, the Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear, the freaky Baby and the Monkey with the cymbals) offer many laugh-out-loud moments, most of which are pure genius, but it’s the touching relationship between the toys and their owners that elevate Toy Story 3 (and all the films in the series) to that whole other level.  While it may not be as magical as the first film, Toy Story 3 is in my opinion better than the second, and is arguably the best in the franchise.

At 108 minutes it is probably a little too long for animation, but on the whole Toy Story 3 is a perfect blend of comic brilliance and emotional satisfaction.

4.25 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Megamind (2010)

I’m not usually the biggest fan of animation, but Megamind, featuring the vocal talents of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt, is one rare animated film that I’ve actually been dying to see. A story where the anti-superhero villain is the protagonist seemed like a perfect opportunity for lots of laughs, and the trailers certainly delivered. The only thing I was afraid of was that the trailers had shown all the best bits.

Well, the trailers did show a lot of the funniest parts of the movie, as expected, but Megamind has enough gas in the tank to make it probably the second best animated film of the year (behind Toy Story 3, which I am yet to review). That said, I can’t really think of any other animated films off the top of my head right now…

The strange thing with Megamind (the character, not the film) is that even though he’s kind of the reversal of the archetypal superhero, the film is still rather formulaic. There aren’t many surprises here, and just about everything that happens in the movie follows a familiar pattern — from the set-up to the twists to the romance to the redemptive finale.

But it’s still very funny — even some of the jokes I had unfortunately seen in the trailers were still funny, which is a rare and special attribute for a comedy. Much of the humor comes from the kind of random silliness we’re accustomed to from Will Ferrell, but the film also does a hilarious job of making fun of the superhero stereotypes.

Ferrell is of course fabulous as the titular character, with a voice that is, at least to me, not immediately recognizable. The same can probably be said for Fey and Pitt, though Hill and David Cross (the man who was both an analyst and a therapist, ie, the world’s first ‘analrapist’ — Mr Tobias Funke from Arrested Development) are dead giveaways.

Megamind isn’t a pioneer or classic in the animated space, but it’s wickedly funny and plenty of fun. A good one for both adults and the kids.

3.75 out of 5!

PS: I watched the film in 2D because I refused to be ripped off by the 3D prices and endure the crappy glasses.

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!