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.
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.
And, by the time the credits rolled I was actually surprised by how much I'd enjoyed it overall. Is the story the most original thing in the world? Probably not. Rango, while likeable as a character, is very much a blank slate and that makes him a bit difficult to connect with at times. Are you connecting with *him* or are you connecting with the role he's playing for the townsfolk? It all gets a bit meta at times. The characters in the film keep asking him "who are you?" and the fact that he doesn't really have an answer is both a little odd, but also kinda interesting too. Granted, I'm one of those people who likes open-ended questions like that and that semi new age slant isn't going to sit well with everyone.
But I also liked the sort of hyper-real look to the film blended with some truly cool character designs. For so many years we've only really had that kind of clean plastic-y look of the Pixar/Dreamworks films that it was kind of refreshing to see something a little different.
Will YOU like this film? Honestly, I don't know. I think it's one of those films that will either tickle your fancy or not.
For myself, I'm glad I gave it a shot.