Archive for the Animation Category

Inside Out

Posted in Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family on June 20, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Inside Out photo starrating-4stars.jpgPixar’s ode to the emotions of a little girl, Inside Out is a sophisticated journey into the physical expression of the psyche. Sounds pretty philosophical for a cartoon, right? However Pixar brilliantly distills the idea into an interpretation that is surprisingly lucid.  It manages to be gracefully enlightened in what it conceptualizes too. OK but just how many emotions are there really? In the 4th century BC Aristotle came up with 14: Anger, Calm, Friendship, Enmity, Fear, Confidence, Shame, Shamelessness, Kindness, Pity, Indignation, Envy, Emulation, and Contempt. Whew! That’s a lot of characters. Experts say it’s your facial muscles that tell the real story. As a result, many scientists have since agreed to reduce the core number all the way down to 4. Well Pixar chose 5: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader) and then granted Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black) their own separate entities.

In the physical world, a girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is born to a loving mother (Diane Lane ) and father (Kyle MacLachlan) in Minnesota. When her dad gets a new job, the family must relocate to San Francisco. Moving is a particularly troublesome experience for the by now 11 year old: new home, new school, new people. On the outside, we see the facial expressions that belie her feelings. On the inside, we see the emotions argue, persuade, pressure and praise in the “Headquarters” of Riley’s mind. Joy is an effervescent pixie with a haircut to match. She is most often in control of Riley’s memories which are housed in glowing color coded orbs. Each one the shade of their overriding emotion. The spheres considered the most relevant are known as “core memories”. These power five “islands” in Riley’s subconscious, each highlighting a different aspect of her personality.

Then one day, Riley’s emotional world falls apart. Everything comes to a head on her first day of school. Sadness is a blue bespeckled awkward girl with bad posture. Sadness inadvertently touches a happy memory and turns it “sad”.  So Joy tries to eliminate the negative recollection.  Complications arise causing Riley’s 5 core memories to get knocked from their container. Joy and Sadness are accidentally sucked through a tube and displaced along with Riley’s essential thoughts into the far reaches of Riley’s mind.  Disgust, Fear, and Anger become the de facto masters at the control of decisions that could ruin her life.

As a saga, Inside Out is The Incredible Journey or it’s Fantastic Voyage. Joy and Sadness must navigate their way across this bizarro world back to the command center. Indeed navigating the subconscious mind is pretty surreal. It’s not unlike the Beatles trying to get to Pepperland in Yellow Submarine. Inside Out isn’t anywhere near as psychedelic, but it still includes the realm of Abstract Thought, an Imagination Land, Dream Productions, and a dizzying labyrinth of Long Term Memory. Denizens include a clown, a unicorn and Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend from early childhood. Voiced by Richard Kind he is a cotton candy colored creature that fuses the trunk of an elephant with the tail of a cat and the squeal of a dolphin. A fun loving fellow wearing a porkpie hat and a purple bow tie, this hybrid creature is one of the more surreal entities on the Pixar roster. Anyone remember Jeremy Hillary Boob? That’s another reference to Yellow Submarine, a character that was also a bit of a nowhere man. Now a forgotten friend, Bing Boing consistently radiates joyful exuberance, although his selfless act later in the narrative has an elegiac quality.

Inside Out is a dazzling manifestation of the emotional mind, both visually and aurally. Last time director Pete Docter and composer Michael Giacchino collaborated, it earned them both Oscars (for Up). It could easily happen again. Pixar has long been the animation studio that combines the weight of poignant drama with dazzling visuals. Inside Out’s greatest gift is the presentation of the psyche as a landscape for which thoughts and memories are accounted and sorted. I realize Pixar didn’t invent this construct. The early 90s Fox sitcom Herman’s Head (It followed Married… with Children on Sunday nights) did a variation on this theme over 2 decades ago. But Pixar gets credit for expounding on the abstraction in a way that makes you question the way you experience your own life. The “Personality Islands” are a nice touch in making concepts tangible. That’s just one example of an idea that could be taught in the field of psychology.

After a series of perfectly adequate films that began in 2011, Inside Out is a welcome return to cinema par excellence for the Pixar studio. First and foremost, the adventure is an affecting story. Anthropomorphic emotions in red, yellow, green, blue and purple hues articulated as individual characters we can embrace. Joy and Sadness are the real stars here. They dominate the narrative with their odyssey back to the central hub. Call it Journey to the Center of the Mind. However Disgust, Fear and Anger all have their their moments too. Every emotion is key to a well adjusted human being. Pixar staddles the line between presenting it all as something a young child can comprehend but allowing just enough depth to captivate the adults in the audience. It’s still pretty straightforward, but there’s beauty in simplifying a complicated subject. Inside Out makes it all seem effortless.

06-18-15

When Marnie Was There

Posted in Animation, Drama, Family with tags on June 13, 2015 by Mark Hobin

When Marnie Was There photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe difference between what this chronicle suggests it might be, and what it truly is, are night and day. Anna Sasaki (Hailee Steinfeld) is a 12 year old girl that has yet to find her place in this world. An orphan, she is being raised by loving foster parents Yoriko (Geena Davis) and her husband. Unfortunately Anna still suffers from the emotional scars of the past. “I hate myself” she cries out early on. Indeed she begins from a very dark place. Her reclusive state lends the narrative a grim context not often associated with animation. One day at school she collapses from an asthma attack. Her parents decide to have Anna spend the summer with her aunt (Grey DeLisle) and uncle (John C. Reilly) in Kushiro, a seaside town with fresher air. There she meets a mysterious girl named Marnie (Kiernan Shipka).

When Marnie Was There has similar national ties that sort of make it a spiritual successor to The Secret World of Arrietty, a 2010 Studio Ghibli film. The story also began as a British young adult novel.  This one published in 1967 by author Joan G. Robinson. Studio head Hayao Miyazaki had it among his recommended list of 50 children’s books. The same director of Arrietty, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, then adapted it with help from Keiko Niwa and Masashi Andō, into a movie of the same name.

When Marnie Was There is an extremely slow saga but I am reluctant to call it plodding. I admire the gradually unfolding nature of the drama. Its reflective nature allows the viewer to kind of luxuriate in its mood. This is a plot that earns its drama from the heartbreaking turmoil of a teen going through adolescence. At first you want to embrace Anna. She feels isolated and alone. Yet she isn’t beyond reproach for her current circumstance either.  Anna is rather nasty at times, calling one of her new friends a “fat pig” out of nowhere. However Anna responds differently to the beautiful blonde Marnie, a friend her own age who lives in the dilapidated mansion across the pond. Except it isn’t in ruins whenever she visits her. At night there are even parties where Anna is invited to attend disguised as a flower girl. “You look like a girl from my dreams” Anna confides in Marnie.  Does Marnie really exist or is she merely a figment of Anna’s imagination?

When Marnie Was There never fulfills on its grand promise of something profound. Anna and Marnie strike up a friendship and their interactions allow the previously withdrawn Anna to open up. The two frequently abscond away together in clandestine meetings that suggest a rapport that is far more intimate. It reaches an apex when a jealous Anna questions Marnie about dancing with a boy. You’re certain that something more will come of this. But nothing does. Later there is a scary interlude that resembles a Gothic tale involving an old abandoned silo that terrifies Marnie. More suggestions of something grander than what is actually presented. The denouement ultimately ignores all of these plot threads and settles into a resolution that doesn’t effectively address the issues with which this poor kid is struggling. She was really messed up and the reveal is totally disconnected from what this girl had been feeling. Sill, the picture is too visually hypnotic to ignore. The soundtrack, both the music and the sounds of the environment, create a lavish atmosphere that is spellbinding. I liked When Marnie Was There. I just didn’t love it.

06-13-15

Song of the Sea

Posted in Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on March 20, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Song of the Sea photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgThe setting is Ireland but this period piece sort of exists in a magical land that seems almost otherworldly. The environment relies on folklore as it concerns the ancient legends of the selkie, mythological creatures that live as seals in the sea but become human on land. Song of the Sea is the second film from Cartoon Saloon and Tomm Moore, the creators of The Secret of Kells. Like that film, it received a nomination for Best Animated Feature.

This fantasy involves a little girl names Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell) who lives in a lighthouse by the sea with her brother Ben (David Rawle). Six years after the child’s birth, their father (Brendan Gleeson) still laments the loss of their mother (Lisa Hannigan). Saoirse herself has yet to utter a word. But they have other issues. After the girl is found sleeping on the beach one night, she and her older brother are sent to live with Granny in the supposed safety of the city. The story is fashioned as an epic journey where Ben and Saoirse must embark through a mysterious world of Giants, Rock Fairies and an Owl Witch to get back to the sea. The latter creature is named Macha and her ability to turn people to stone has foreboding qualities. At one point the two become separated. Young Ben’s journey to find her is rather touching.

This mythic tale stars two kids and is pitched at a young audience. However this unfolds at a much slower pace than the cartoons of today. The narrative is more of an experience. It’s quiet and gradually takes its time to unfold. That’s fitting given the bewitching atmosphere of the production. It’s a gorgeous, hand drawn delight that is rich in color. The minimalist design is made up of visually bold shapes. Their simplicity is extremely pleasing to the eye. The soundtrack is haunting which evokes an ethereal mood. Irish singer Lisa Hannigan contributes several exquisite melodies including the title tune. She also happens to be the voice of the mother. With Hollywood studios dominating at the multiplexes these days, Song of the Sea is a beautiful anomaly amongst the current computer graphics landscape. Young children and animation fans will be enchanted alike.

03-19-15

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family on February 12, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgSpongeBob still matters. Perhaps this movie’s lasting legacy will be that he was the one to finally take out American Sniper at the #1 position at the box office. Granted director Clint Eastwood’s production held the spot for 3 weeks but still you’ve got to hand it to the little sea dwelling invertebrate. The Nickelodeon TV series, currently in its 9th season, has been around since 1999 so the novelty factor is gone. A first feature, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, was released in theaters in 2004. Now 11 years later we get a sequel that thankfully doesn‘t rely on having seen the original feature. Regardless of what naysayers griped about the supposed decline of the TV show, it didn’t seem to affect reception to the film. A $55 million debut weekend is pretty impressive. Even the final installment of The Hobbit debuted to less.

The plot is totally ridiculous. It starts off in the real life world with a human pirate (Antonio Banderas) who obtains a magical book. As he starts to read we enter SpongeBob’s animated world and begin another story. Fans acquainted with the series will be greeted with familiar elements: the city of Bikini Bottom, fast food chain – the Krusty Krab, his friends: Patrick Star, Squidward, Mr. Krabs, Sandy Cheeks. Arch nemesis Plankton wants to steal Spongebob’s secret recipe for tasty Krabby Patties as per usual. They have a tug of war over the paper containing it and it magically vanishes because uh, because uh, it just does. If you’re asking how or why then you might have an issue with this nonsensical adventure.

All things considered, Sponge Out of Water is an entertaining flight of fancy. I couldn’t follow the story but then again I don’t watch the cartoon. I’m clearly not the target audience. It’s not that it’s complicated. It’s just that it’s a really slapdash, haphazard affair. This is one of those films where you must put your brain in neutral and delight in the pure zaniness up on the screen. For example, the absence of delicious Krabby Patties thrusts the town into a post apocalyptic state. The plot includes time travel and meeting a talking dolphin named Bubbles. Pharrell Williams contributes 3 songs to the soundtrack including “Squeeze Me” which plays in the background whenever they zip through time. The two worlds, one featuring Burger-Beard the pirate and the other, SpongeBob, ultimately intersect. It spoils nothing to reveal this because the title, the poster and trailer all promise this event. The extended sequence where SpongeBob and his pals take to dry land in the physical reality of real people is indeed enjoyable. I must admit that in the beginning, I was thinking too much for this story. However once I had bought into the craziness, then I was up for anything. That’s when I enjoyed it.

02-08-15

The Tale of The Princess Kaguya

Posted in Animation, Drama, Fantasy with tags on February 5, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The Tale of The Princess Kaguya photo stars-3_zpsdbd867b4.gifA bamboo cutter find a tiny nymph inside a plant stalk. The child grows at a rapid rate into a beautiful young woman, desired by many. The Tale of The Princess Kaguya is the latest offering from Studio Ghibli. This is rumored to be Director Isao Takahata‘s swan song who hasn’t directed a film since 1999’s My Neighbors the Yamadas. You’re forgiven if you don’t remember that one. He co-founded the legendary Japanese animation house with long-time collaborative partner Hayao Miyazaki. Savvy moviegoers will likewise remember Miyazaki’s farewell The Wind Rises.

The animation is unlike the majority of what is being produced today. The look is reminiscent of the delicate approach of pre-war Japanese watercolor artists.  Hand drawn minimalist style – read unfinished – recalls the preliminary sketch cartoons that Disney commissions before making the actual feature. You know the ones. They’re often featured in the DVD extras in those behind-the-scenes featurettes. It is steadfastly old fashioned when compared with the cartoons of today. In fact the visuals have a traditional quality that make linking it to our contemporary times seem like an anachronism.  Takahata certainly doesn’t rely on comic relief either.  The saga is taken from an ancient Japanese text so it makes the timeless design most appropriate.  The story’s seeming existence in another time and place is one of its most positive attributes.

There is a magical credibility to the drama which is based on The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, a Japanese fable.  Princess Kaguya has moments of genuine poignancy. There are also long stretches where the languid narrative is simply allowed to rest. There’s something admirable about an account that is unconcerned by time.  It’s akin to watching the undulating ripples of a pond. If gazing at the quiet beauty of nature can captivate you for 2 ½ hours this will surely enchant your senses.

The chronicle is a legend full of fanciful flourishes that myths are known to have. Princess Kaguya is a mysterious protagonist compete with a secret back-story like the heroine of any good yarn. However she isn’t a particularly warm person. When her childhood friend Sutemaru is beaten in front of her, she does nothing to help him.  She gives would-be suitors false hope by demanding they fetch items to court her favor. The kicker is she has no interest in any of these men to begin with, so her requests are for impossible to get items. One even dies in the process. At least Kaguya gets depressed about it. At first she seems to praise the simple value of her previous country life over her more exalted existence in the big city, but then the fantastical ending kind of throws that idea out the window. Fairy tales always have a moral and I’m sure this one is no exception. I just have no idea what that is given the bizarre resolution. I still enjoyed The Tale of The Princess Kaguya. It’s different and that’s saying something in today’s cookie cutter world.

02-05-15

The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Animation (Part 1 of 3)

Posted in Animation, Awards, Shorts with tags on January 25, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Oscar ShortsShortsHD™, the Short Movie Channel (www.shorts.tv), celebrates its 10th anniversary of its Oscar shorts release by opening “THE OSCAR® NOMINATED SHORT FILMS 2015 in a record 450+ theatres across the United States, Canada, Europe and Latin America on Friday January 30, 2015.

I really appreciate these programs because it gives the public the opportunity to see the Oscar nominated short films in the categories: animation, live action and documentary. I’ve decided to list the animated shorts in the order that I enjoyed them from great to merely good. I dug them all so I’d at least recommend each one to a certain extent, although it’s a shame Glen Keane’s Duet didn’t make the cut.

 

The Dam Keeper
USA/18MINS/Directors: Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
The Dam Keeper
Touching tale about a young pig, his important job, the kids who bully him at school and the new classmate that changes everything. This saga tugs at the heartstrings more honestly than any nominee this year. My personal favorite. (9/10)

 

Feast
USA/6MINS/Director: Patrick Osborne
Feast
Latest offering from Walt Disney studios was shown before Big Hero 6 in theaters so chances are you’ve seen this one at least. Sweet feature recounts the love life of a human man as told through the meals he feeds his beloved dog. Succinct, remarkably emotional saga in just 6 minutes. The front-runner, although this category can be unpredictable. See last year’s winner: Mr. Hublot. (9/10)

 

The Bigger Picture
UK/7MINS/Director: Daisy Jacobs
The Bigger Picture
Two brothers argue over whether to put their mother in a home. Visually interesting design combines traditional animation, stop motion techniques, life size 3D models and wall paintings. Director Jacobs creates a tableau that elevates its simple narrative with arresting visual style. (7/10)

 

Me and My Moulton
CANADA/NORWAY/14MINS/Director: Torill Kove
Me and My Moulton
Quirky story of three sisters living in an artsy Norwegian family who yearn for a bicycle. A Moulton is an English bike manufacturer by the way. Bright color palette and simple style highlights Torill Kove’s 3rd nomination. She won in 2007 with The Danish Poet so perhaps she has history on her side. (6/10)

 

A Single Life
THE NETHERLANDS/2MINS/Directors: Marieke Blaauw, Joris Oprins, Job Roggeveen
A Single Life
A record gives a woman the power to time travel through moments of her life. At 2 minutes this is the shortest entry this year. It’s cute but not enough time to elicit more than a chuckle by the time it’s over. (6/10)

Big Hero 6

Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Science Fiction with tags on November 12, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Big Hero 6 photo starrating-4stars.jpgMeet Baymax – a personal healthcare robot invented by gifted university student Tadashi Hamada. He looks a like an inflatable Michelin man without the definition. With a quick and easy full body scan, Baymax can determine your vital stats and subsequently treat any ailment. He’s a polite, nurturing fellow of pure innocence. Baymax is the heart and soul of Big Hero 6. He makes this film soar….literally. Indeed he can fly, thanks to some creative enhancements.

Big Hero 6 starts off on a very serious note. Professor Robert Callaghan and Tadashi Hamada are killed in a fire at the university. After falling into a depression, younger brother Hiro Hamada strengthens Baymax with armor and a microchip programmed with martial arts moves. The relationship between Hiro and Baymax is at core of this adventure. It’s an engaging friendship and they are an absolute delight together.  Although only 14 years old, Hiro has created a brilliant new invention – microbots – tiny robots that can link together by swarming into any arrangement imaginable.  Hiro is now on the hunt for a mysterious man wearing a kabuki mask who has stolen his invention. The baddie wishes to exact retribution on those who wronged him.

Hiro gets support from his older brother’s four friends at the university.  Their personalities mesh well, although the screenwriters have taken a few shortcuts. The characters falls into clichéd archetypes easily discernable for young viewers. Nevertheless they have nice camaraderie together. There’s Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodríguez), a chemistry whiz who uses a designer handbag like Batman uses a utility belt. Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.) is a solidly built neat freak that screams like a little girl when he isn’t slicing people with lasers. Tough chick GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung) skates on magnetic levitation discs like something out of Tron. And lastly there’s fan boy Fred (T. J. Miller) a laid back dude with an alter ego that breathes fire. The four of them team up with Hiro and Baymax to save the city.  They are a lively bunch.

Big Hero 6 isn’t particularly innovative in the narrative department. The Incredibles kept popping up in my mind. The story is pretty standard: get the bad guy out for revenge. Yet the beginning grabs the viewer’s attention with an enticing set-up. Too bad the ending does not live up to all the excitement that precedes it. Nevertheless the production is bright, colorful fun and the animation is a joy to watch. Big Hero 6 actually bests its influences in this area. Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is a 14 year old engineering wonder. His affinity for Baymax is palpable and his upgrades to his brother’s creation inform the chronicle. Baymax is a great physical comedian. He conveys so much with so little. I mean his face is two dots connected by a line. He’s expressionless, but his sweet innocence comes through in every scene. His character is such a refreshing change of pace from the in-your-face, amped up, hyperactive personalities that often plague kiddie cartoons. His pacifist stance explores the futility of vengeance and power of forgiveness. Child Hiro emotionally matures as a human being as a result of knowing Baymax. I found their kinship genuinely touching.

11-09-14

The Boxtrolls

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy with tags on September 28, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Boxtrolls photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgOregon-based Laika Animated Studios is best known for the films Coraline and ParaNorman. Each one is an impressive feature that blends an engaging story with stop-motion artistry. Quite simply, they’re extraordinary works of entertainment. In fact, both were such successes they each made my Top 10 in the respective years they came out. Given that, The Boxtrolls was among my most eagerly anticipated releases of the year. It goes without saying that my expectations were very high. Unfortunately, I’m sorry to report that Laika’s latest offering is a crushing disappointment.

The Boxtrolls are a community of odd creatures that dwell underneath the cobblestone streets of Victorian era Cheesebridge. Legend has vilified them as evil bandits that prey on the town’s most precious resources: their cheeses and their children. The two things are not necessarily listed in order of importance. The Boxtrolls are a curious sort. They wear recycled cardboard boxes the way turtles inhabit their shells and have names designated by the cover of their box. Fish, Wheels, Bucket and Shoe are some examples. I’d be hard pressed to discern the personality of one from another. Their nonsensical babble-speak begs comparison to the Minions from Despicable Me. The Boxtrolls are a sharp contrast from those similar though much more successful critters. I mean those delightful little rapscallions are getting their own movie. One would think these oddballs were meant to be endearing given they inspired the title of this movie. However the Boxtrolls have been relegated to the sidelines in favor of two other human characters.

Laika’s latest is based on Alan Snow’s 2005 book “Here Be Monsters!” but the real protagonists of the film are two human children. Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) is a boy that, was given to the Boxtrolls to raise. He’s later discovered by Winnie (Elle Fanning), an overbearing young girl that becomes Eggs’ first friend from up above. Apparently she is there to berate him that he’s a human boy and not a troll at all. Ok, you’re technically correct, but seriously, could you please just shut up?  She’s such a killjoy. Their shenanigans didn’t amuse or interest me in the slightest. On the baddie side we have Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) as the main antagonist. He’s also got three henchman Mr. Trout, Mr. Pickles and Mr. Gristle voiced by Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade and Tracy Morgan. They provide what little humor there is. Mr. Snatcher is out to exterminate every last Boxtroll so that he can become a member of the White Hats, an elite club of cheese aficionados that serve as Cheesebridge’s city council. Yes, he’s essentially advocating genocide with his bizarre Steampunk fashioned metal contraption. Heavy stuff that feels out of place. It’s important to infuse the macabre with some emotion. This doesn’t. Side note: his allergic skin reaction to his beloved cheese is pretty disgusting.

It pains me to say this, but The Boxtrolls is a charmless, tedious bore. The picture attempts to be something that it is not, an American attempt at British humor. Aardman Studios, excels at this. Remember Chicken Run? Of course you do because it was enjoyable fun. The Boxtrolls in contrast has a meandering plot largely devoid of laughs. It’s hampered by stock characters that fail to enchant. The story and the personalities are thoroughly uninvolving. Sadly generic to the core. Despite all that, the technique is gorgeous. Visually the production is a WOW. The beautifully rendered world with remarkable attention to detail, does captivate the senses. It’s easy to forget this is not computer assisted. These puppets have been painstakingly moved one frame at a time. Although the movement is so seamless, I can’t help but question whether some trickery is being employed. Regardless, it looks stunning. The hand drawn closing credits sequence which encapsulates the entire tale, is beautiful too. It’s even accompanied by a lovely cover version of the Pete Seeger hit “Little Boxes” by Portland band Loch Lomond. Additionally a brief post-credits scene highlights the painstaking process of stop motion animation. I suggest sticking around to enjoy it. It’s the most fascinating display in the whole film.

09-25-14

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on June 13, 2014 by Mark Hobin

How to Train Your Dragon 2 photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgA lot has changed in the 5 years since the Viking village of Berk made peace with the dragons. Thanks to Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), he proved they could be our allies.  With all due respect to dogs, the reptiles have become man’s best friend in every way.  No longer feared, dragons are a part of everyday life. This includes the dizzying sport of dragon racing which opens the picture. Combatants compete atop dragons by scooping sheep and throwing them into nets. However our teen protagonist, the awkward yet sensitive Hiccup, is nowhere to be found. His father Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), wants his son to succeed him as chief of Berk. Hiccup is avoiding the issue. Instead he is hanging with “Toothless”, his Night Fury dragon. He and his girlfriend, Astrid (America Ferrera), come across a group of dragon trappers. They are in the service of a crazed madman out to conquer the world.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is that most rarest of sequels, one that not only feels like a necessary extension of the original but then improves upon it. Indeed the script admirably propels the story forward in a meaningful way. This is the legend of a Viking hero‘s progression from boy into manhood. Should I forgo the obligatory paragraph about how gorgeous the artwork is? That should be expected these days, right? We are spoiled in this area like never before. Yet even with my lofty expectations, there are still spectacles where I audibly gasped. Stunning exhibitions show off the breathtaking array of different dragon species out there. Like butterflies they swarm in displays too dazzling to describe. And I won’t even mention the impressive new Bewilderbeast, the biggest of all the dragons. A gargantuan spiky dragon with two big mammoth-like tusks – truly a sight to behold. Ok so I brought him up anyway. I couldn’t resist.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 represents a remarkable leap in narrative complexity. This is an epic that details the self discovery and personal revelations of an individual. Hiccup must contend with various personalities that enrich his own experience and ours. Figures that include Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), a tyrannical leader that cannot be reasoned with or conversely, a more generous, nature-respecting type like Valka (Cate Blanchett). There is even a touching reunion that reconciles two people that have been apart for 20 years. But above all is the friendship between Hiccup and Toothless. They develop an understanding to which most live action films can only aspire. This is a sequel that has the audacity to just relax and take a breath. The saga frequently allows silence to convey a depth that most other cartoons cannot. Their colorful animations and jokey asides are no substitute for the sophistication presented here. Interestingly it’s the action sequences that open and close this production that are the least interesting parts. That misstep aside, please do note that the chronicle has the courage to trust in the power of emotion. This is a tale with so much heart it hurts. How could anyone hate something that elevates such goodness? I imagine there will be people that don’t like How to Train Your Dragon 2. I pray for their soul.

06-12-14

Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on March 12, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Mr. Peabody & Sherman photo starrating-2stars.jpgIn both spirit and style, the feature film Mr. Peabody & Sherman bears little resemblance to the 5 minute cartoons on which it’s based. The brief segments called Peabody’s Improbable History, first aired during The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show in the 1960s. The rudimentary shorts were characterized by primitive artwork and hilarious puns. The writing was snarky and sarcastic. DreamWorks Animation has kept the same basic set-up, but not the tone. Mr. Peabody is a talking dog – athlete, inventor, scientist, and all around super-brain. He has a adopted a 7 year boy named Sherman as his son. The two time-travel back in time meeting famous figures of ancient times. There are a lot, but among those getting significant screen time are Marie Antoinette, Maximilien de Robespierre, King Tut, King Agamemnon, and Leonardo da Vinci. There’s also a subplot concerning an antagonistic school counselor named Ms. Grunion (Allison Janney) who doesn’t think a dog is a fitting guardian for a boy. These are welcome additions but the cast is populated with unwelcome personalities too. Penny Peterson (Ariel Winter) is a female classmate of Sherman’s that acts as a bully turned friend. She’s thoroughly annoying and completely unnecessary.

What sets Mr. Peabody and Sherman apart is the anarchistic sense of humor, sexual innuendos only an adult would get, and some mild potty humor. And no, those distinctions are not an improvement.  A Trojan horse appears to be pooping when Greek soldiers exit its rear. “Well Sherman, it looks like we were the butt of that joke” says Mr. Peabody when they shoot out of the back end of the sphinx. Even Bill Clinton pops up to sheepishly admit “I did worse” referencing activities best not even alluded to in a children’s cartoon.  The script has regrettably jettisoned the sophisticated wit of the source material. That’s a shame because this could’ve been an irreverent but educational romp through history. The rather lowbrow take seen here is only tepidly amusing in parts. I suspect a child will respond more favorably to the colorful animation and poop jokes. As I sat watching the seemingly endless credits, I marveled at the sheer number of people involved to create such a derivative product. It’s visually pretty. I enjoyed the look of the action, but story wise it’s an uninspired trip thorough the past.  This has been done much more successfully before. The climax in particularly is obviously lifted by writers raised on 80s comedies. I liked Mr. Peabody & Sherman…………when it was called Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

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