For me great animation is a marriage of two other big loves of mineóbeautiful art and captivating storytelling. You nail those things and it's almost guaranteed that you'll have my eyeballs glued to the screen. I grew up on Disney films like Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast so my tastes tend to unconsciously lean that way, however I love seeing animation that breaks new ground and really shows where the medium can go.
drawing, painting, animation, absorbing pop culture, animation, web design, writing, animation...
Animation that I love:
How to Train Your Dragon, Mary and Max, Tangled, Princess Mononoke, The Incredibles, Nightmare Before Christmas, Rescuers Down Under, ... etc. etc.
The real peril in "Frozen" doesn't come from any moustache-twirling villain or an evil incarnation of the snow queen herself, but has its roots in the best intentions of loving parents. When the movie opens with the princesses as young children, Elsa accidentally injures her sister, Anna, with her developing icy powers. Their parents race Anna to the domain of the trolls where she is saved but the memory of Elsa's magic is removed from her. The wise old troll tells Elsa that her powerful is beautiful, but dangerous and she must work to learn how to control it. Her father however takes this message too literally.
He isolates his daughter from Anna and the rest of the world and tries to teach her control by encouraging her to rigidly lock down her emotions. Elsa is taught over and over to fear her powers, but this fear only makes her power that much harder to control.
The story does a great job of painting the father-daughter relationship as completely loving. The king absolutely has the best intentions even if his advice is ultimately misguided. And, when tragedy takes both of Elsa's parents from her, she's left alone with both her secret and her fear until it sets off the catastrophe that's the centre of our tale.
Meanwhile, poor Anna spends her entire childhood effectively locked inside the castle bored out of her skull. She wants adventure and, more importantly, she wants love. When the gates are opened for Elsa's coronation, she's overjoyed and filled with wild fantasies of meeting and finding true love. Because of this, Anna flings her heart at Hans, the first handsome prince that crosses her path. Sure, they seem compatible enough and have a great time together at the coronation party, but is this REALLY true love?
Anna rushes to get Elsa's blessing on the union, but Elsa responds so sensibly that it nearly tips the Disney fairytale on its head. You can't marry this guy! YOU JUST MET HIM!
Yes, it tickles me with delight to think about all the other Disney princesses to whom this advice easily could've been given to... Cinderella? Snow White? Sleeping Beauty?
So Anna freaks out, tells Elsa she doesn't know anything about true love and their fight inadvertently exposes Elsa's dangerous/freakish/monstrous powers! Elsa flees, but not before setting off an eternal winter across the kingdom.
Oh, and it's worth nothing that there's A LOT of singing in the first half hour of the movie. The songs feel like they fall one after another in the beginning and in general I would say all the songs in the movie are a bit of a mixed bag. Elsa's song, the Oscar-winner "Let it Go", will raise goosebumps with its combination of Idina Menzel incredible vocal power and some rather jaw-dropping animation. The whole song is available from Disney on YouTube and, if you see nothing else of this movie, at least watch that.
On the other end of the scale I would put that duet between Hans and Anna... not really because it's a bad song, but there's just something about Hans' singing voice, provided by Santino Fontana, that felt so over-the-top and modern that I actually laughed out loud in the movie theatre when he started singing.
Anyways, getting back to the tale... with Elsa outed as an ice and snow wielding sorceress, she runs off to the mountains in an effort to be some place where she isn't going to hurt anyone. Instead of feeling sorry for herself though, she begins embrace her powers and relish in them. She lets go of the control that her father encouraged to always maintain and, for the first time, truly finds herself and finds joy in being herself. She might be alone, but she's free for the first time in her life.
Anna heads out after Elsa. She insists she's going to talk Elsa down and everything will all be right as wet, non-frozen rain again. This too is kind of an important point since pretty much everyone else in the story wants to just kill Elsa in order to bring back summer.
Incidentally, there were a lot of comments before the movie was released that Anna and Rapunzel looked very, very similar. I would say that there are similarities, but probably no more than there are between other Disney heroines designed during the same time period. From a personality point of view, there are fewer similarities. Anna is very feisty, but also clumsy and quite endearing.
Joining Anna on her quest are Kristoff the ice-delivering, mountain man, his reindeer Sven and the requisite child-friendly sidekick, Olaf the talking snowman. Kristoff has lived in isolation for most of his life and there's a whole bit where he talks for Sven in an odd voice which... well, honestly wasn't as cute as I think Disney was hoping it would be. Still, he has great chemistry Anna and the two make a good team. This is important to note because Anna saves Kristoff's ass almost much as he saves hers.
Sven is another dog-esque animal that we can conveniently use as mount and Olaf is... well, he's not as irritating as I feared he would be. This is probably because he's not as prominent in the story as the advertising campaign prior to the movie would suggest. We get a few good laughs from his antics but, thankfully, the story's focus remains on the two sisters.
Anna's efforts to talk to her sister do not go well and she's accidentally struck again by Elsa's powers. Kristoff rushes her off to his pseudo family of trolls, who I kinda wished had gotten more screen-time because they were really cute. Unlike before, the wise old troll cannot heal Anna because Elsa's icy blow has struck her heart and only an act of true love will be able to thaw it.
This is where the movie actually uses our expectations of what a Disney movie SHOULD BE in order to twist the tale in an unexpected direction. One of the trolls suggests that a true love's kiss might heal Anna.
Right. Snow White. Sleeping Beauty. We got this! So Kristoff whisks Anna off on Sven to take her back home where Hans is waiting. Remember Hans? The guy she agreed to marry after knowing him for a couple hours? Must be true love.
Kristoff drops her off at the castle and then leaves--albeit with a sad, kicked-puppy expression on his face. Anna tells Hans she needs his kiss of true love to save her... only Hans turns out to be a cad! That lightning-fast marriage proposal wasn't because he was head over heals in love with her, but because he wanted a chance to rule over her and Elsa's kingdom--after he'd gotten rid of the two of them, of course.
And now with one sister dying from an icy blow and the other sister captured and soon to be condemned for being the one to strike it, all Hans has to do is wait and the kingdom will be his. He locks her up, leaving her to die, and goes off to tell everyone else the "bad news." Anna is heartbroken that she was wrong about Hans, but only until Olaf points out that Kristoff must love Anna because he sacrificed his own happiness by bringing her to Hans.
Ooooookay, so now we gotta get true love's kiss from Kristoff! She's still Snow White and we STILL got this! This gives us an exciting if slightly ridiculous sequence with both Kristoff and Anna wandering around in a blizzard trying to find each other.
Meanwhile, Elsa manages to use her power to escape, so our super manipulative Hans focuses his attention on getting her out of the way once and for all. He tells her that she's killed her sister in order to get close enough to strike her down himself. Before Hans can land the blow though, Anna chooses to give up her chance at a heart-healing kiss and place herself between Hans' sword and Elsa's unprotected back.
Tadaa! An act of true love!
It saves Elsa. It saves Anna. It also helps Elsa realize that all she really needed to thaw out her frozen kingdom is to embrace love instead of fear.
You'll notice what didn't save Elsa, Anna or the kingdom? KISSING SOME GUY!
When I saw the promotional material that pictured both Kristoff and Hans, I kept trying to figure out how the princesses were going to pair off. While Anna does finally get to smooch Kristoff, (with no suggestion of immediate wedding--thank God), Elsa doesn't get a man out of this story. I think with the exception of "Brave"'s Merida, she's the only Disney princess who isn't on the arm of some guy as the credits role.
What does she get? Elsa gets to be herself and to be loved as herself--snowy powers and all. I loved that the movie ended with her sharing her powers with the people of her kingdom in a way that everyone could enjoy.
Is "Monsters University" a good movie? Yes. Absolutely. No question. But it's also a very different movie from "Monsters, Inc."--not in a bad way, it's just different.
First off, "Monsters, Inc." was Sully's movie and primarily about Sully's relationship with Boo and Mike feeling like the unappreciated third wheel.
"Monsters University" in contrast is very, very much Mike's movie. It's about Mike's big dream of becoming a top scarer and Mike and Sully's rocky start to their friendship. It surprised me that I didn't really like Sully as a character at the beginning of this movie and you realize that the kind-hearted Sully that we see in "Monsters, Inc." came about in part because of Sully learning to appreciate the little guy through Mike. And, while Mike wasn't my favourite character in "Monsters, Inc." his tenacity and belief that *anyone* can achieve what they dream make him a very winning hero.
In many ways its a formula college movie, but in even more ways it will surprise you. Pixar took the story places I completely didn't expect although, in hindsight, make total sense.
Also, "Monsters University" feels much more of a comedy than its predecessor--a good comedy to be sure, but here again the differences between the two movies can be seen. A lot of the comedy in "Monsters, Inc." came from Boo and her insane cuteness while here the comedy is a little more pop culture and situational. Again, not in a bad way... just different.
Which is, in the end, the crux of my review for this film. I think it's a good movie--lots of heart, lots of laughs, unexpected twists in the plot--but if you're expecting an exact carbon-copy in terms of tone from "Monsters, Inc." you might be disappointed.
Still, my money would be on you walking out of the theatre with a smile on your face.
Now, me seeing an animated movie in theatres more than once is not really a new phenomenon. I saw "How to Train Your Dragon" three times and I'm pretty sure I saw "Up" and "WALL-E" at least twice each. So perhaps it is not the fact that I saw it twice that's the big endorsement here, but the other movies Guardians now joins in my little 'worth multiple viewings' club.
So yes, this is a great film. There will be people who find the whole concept a little sickly sweet... Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Sandman and, newly minted Guardian, Jack Frost... all teaming up together to form some kind of kid-friendly Avengers group in the name of wonder, hope and dreams. Written up in those terms one is sort of inclined to gag themselves with a candy cane.
But you know what? Where other movies would take this concept and make something weird, forced and stupidly saccharine, "Rise of the Guardians" embraces its mission statement with such unabashed joy that it becomes positively infectious. This is a FUN movie that allows itself to have FUN even as it talks about the power of children who believe.
Also Santa is a sword-wielding Russian Cossack with giant tattoos and the Easter Bunny is 6ft tall and voiced by Hugh Jackman. C'mon grownups, admit it... if these guys had been THAT cool when you were growing up, would you ever have stopped believing in them?
Those who've read my previous reviews know that I am generally anti-3D when it comes to movie watching. I still can't bring myself to see the new Disney 3D versions of "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King" because I'm a little worried I might frighten the rest of the audience when I run screaming from the theatre. Thus, like the whole multi-viewing thing, take my recommendation that "Rise of the Guardians" absolutely needs to be seen at least once in 3D accordingly. This is a visually spectacular movie that makes use of the 3D canvas without abusing it as so many movies do.
My one beef with Guardians that holds it back from full four-star greatness, if only slightly, is that I didn't feel like enough time was spent in each of the Guardians specialized worlds. Each was so unique with such a rich history that was only glimpsed at, that I really wanted to linger longer. I felt like the need to service all the Guardians in this regard meant that each wasn't illuminated as much as I would've liked.
Then again, as we know Dreamworks figured out a long time ago... that's what the sequels are for!
For one thing my childhood didn't include arcades or video games of any stripe, so I anticipated that the vast majority of the gaming references would go over my head. Plus Ralph isn't exactly your typical Disney hero in a typical Disney story. Essentially, it's a story about a guy who hates his job--literally *his job*--and goes on a quest to try to gain the respect of his co-workers.
So yes, this is definitely an odd movie and one that I don't think will be remembered in years to come as a "classic" with the same reverence as some other films in the Disney library... and yet, this is actually a fun little movie.
Non-gamers shouldn't feel intimidated as some of my favourite bits are the little nods to the audience where we're let in on some of the more obscure retro jokes. I did make a point of Googling "Tapper" when I got home to see if it was a real game since they make such cute usage of it in the movie.
Ralph makes for a surprisingly sympathetic hero, but where the movie really shines is his relationship with young Vanellope. I was actually reminded a bit of Sully and Boo... if Boo grew up into a slightly bratty, potty-mouthed kid. Yes, some of Vanellope's cracks are definitely a bit low-brow, (Hero's Doodie, anyone?), but her enthusiasm is infectious. Like Ralph, we fall in love with her character almost in spite of ourselves... which may be the whole point. Even the extended amount of time the story spends in the pink confectionery world of "Sugar Rush" ultimately won me over with its sheer imagination and sense of fun.
The other neat thing about this movie is how well-developed the whole world of the game characters is. Much like Toy Story and its toys, there are rules in the world of the arcade and breaking them, as Ralph does in his quest to go from 'bad guy' to 'hero', has consequences. While the story seems pretty straightforward at the beginning, it's the underlying rules of the game world that takes the tale surprising places and gives it more emotional weight than I was expecting.
In the end, Wreck-It Ralph is perhaps the perfect homage to video games. It doesn't pretend to be deep and meaningful. It isn't going to melt your brain off with mind-bending visuals--although the animation is, of course, Disney-calibre. Like a trip to the arcade or putting in some time on few Mario Bros. levels, it's simply light-hearted fun.
I'm one of those people whose childhood was squarely situated in the 80s. I remember when family films were things like "Adventures in Babysitting" or "Goonies" or "E.T." or any number of films that seemed to feature some oddly-adorable social outcast who, along with his family and friends, winds up saving the day. While "ParaNorman" is definitely a child of this decade in some of its references and gags, there's something in its story foundation that has a bit of that 80s-retro feel to it that I actually really loved. I think it was this kind of innocence that made the movie just a little less cynical and snarky than what passes for family entertainment these days.
Animation... fantastic. I found the look of this one much more interesting than "Coraline" which was frequently just weird. The climax of the film was beautiful to watch and had an epic quality to it that went beyond the big set pieces and explosions that are also so typical these days.
And yes, there's also a message in this film, but it's a good one. The writers somehow manage to get their point across without brow-beating it home and that was refreshing as well.
I did see the 3D version of the film, but I think it would play just as well without it. It is worth seeing on the big screen though so try to sneak off to grab this one before the summer's out.