Tag Archives: animated

Review: ‘Home’

'Home' (Dreamworks)
‘Home’ (Dreamworks)
Alien invaders have never been so darn cute!

Tiny balls of joy, the Boov are constantly on the run from the Gorg, their mortal enemies. The Boov have developed a modus operandi: they flee to a new planet, move the entire native population to a remote refugee camp, and then adapt the planet to their own taste. When the Gorg are inevitably sighted, the Boov abandon the planet before the Gorg destroy it, and start all over again.

Sounds like fun, right? And the aliens are so darn cute!

Adapted from The True Meaning of Smekday, a children’s book written and illustrated by Adam Rex, the animated film Home has taken certain liberties with its source material. For one thing, the lead alien is named Oh, rather than the book’s J. Lo. (Never fear, though, since J. Lo herself voices another character in the movie.) Certain other story elements have been changed as well, and, although I have not read the book, I could easily imagine that the tone of Home is different as well.

That’s because Home wants to be cute, aiming directly for an pre-adolescent audience, and so fills out its running time with a relentless display of cuteness, removing even a hint of menace. It’s a remarkable feat for a movie whose central idea is that aliens have herded all of mankind into an internment camp, where they will remain until they are destroyed along with their planet by another race of aliens.

The cushioning factor is that we know humanity will somehow be saved by its lead characters. Oh (voiced by Jim Parsons from TV’s Big Bang Theory) teams up with Gratuity Tucci (voiced by Rihanna), better known as Tip, who has avoided detection by the Boov and thus is the only free human remaining on the planet. She wants to be reunited with her mother Lucy (voiced by Jennifer Lopez), and so Oh agrees to help her in her search, which will also keep him safe from his people, since he has received a death sentence because he accidentally sent an email to the Gorg.

The plot should jerk tears. Oh is a classic innocent and also a stumblebum. He and his people lack any natural empathy for other races, which excuses their clueless behavior toward other living beings. Oh himself doesn’t mean to make so many mistakes that anger his people; really, though we never learn his age, he’s just like most kids, harshly blamed for doing things that don’t seem that serious.

Tip is another confusing story. The Boov are a very diminutive race, and Tip appears quite tall next to them. She drives a car, and has a very adult-sounding voice. She is very weepy about her separation from her mother, but that seems natural in view of the intimacy of the mother/daughter relationship and the general situation. Then, about halfway through the movie, she implies that she’s not yet 16 years of age! Slowly, her often-childish behavior makes more sense, because, all appearances and sounds aside, she is a kid. (In the book, she’s 11.)

The story is silly (for adult viewers) anyway, so the question about Tip’s age only further clouds the issue in a manner that’s not, perhaps, important for youngsters. Instead, it’s a reflection of the celebrity voice casting preferred by Dreamworks, which produced the movie. In their view, the popularity of the celebrity trumps any appropriateness of the casting, and so everyone pretends that Rihanna can sound like an 11-year-old girl; she cannot, but what does that matter in view of the potential marketing upside?

The same kind of philosophy extends to Home as a whole. Cast a very popular singer to play a young girl? Check. Recruit Steve Martin to voice Captain Smek, the leader of the Boov, and give him nothing remotely humorous to say? Check. Animate the heck out of the movie, filling the screen with gorgeous yet empty imagery? Check. Mitigate the more squeamish aspects of the story with an abundance of color and cutnesss? Check.

There’s no place like Home, which is a good thing, since this particular Home is entirely forgettable; no one will want to live there.

The film opens wide across Dallas and Ft. Worth on Friday, March 27.

Review: ‘Free Birds,’ Rise Up, My Turkey Brothers, Rise Up

'Free Birds' (Reel FX / Relativity Media)
‘Free Birds’ (Reel FX / Relativity Media)

Turkeys travel through time in order to right a historical wrong in Free Birds, a charming animated movie that is more radical and subversive than it lets on.

The first feature-length project from Dallas-based indie studio Reel FX, Free Birds is a strong and sturdy affair that is enlivened considerably by director Jimmy Hayward’s off-beat sense of humor. Owen Wilson voices Reggie, a skinny turkey who is constantly encouraging his fellow free-range birds to look around and realize that Thanksgiving is the worst day of the year, that the farmer actually is not their best friend. But then he is whisked away to Camp David when the daughter of the President of the United States picks him to be the beneficiary of the annual turkey pardon.

Reggie quickly comes to enjoy being “the pardoned turkey,” becoming fat and lazy as he sits around watching television and ordering pizza as the privileged pet of the President’s very young daughter. But then he is whisked away by Jake (voiced by Woody Harrelson), a somewhat delusional turkey who believes that Reggie is the key to freeing turkeys from their eternal bondage as the featured item on the Thanksgiving menu. To accomplish this, Jake and Reggie make use of a secret government time machine in order to travel back to the first Thanksgiving in colonial America.

The humor is extremely silly, of course, and aimed squarely at pre-pubescent young people, but the story is filled with gentle slapstick and good-natured knockabout antics. The plot is a bit convoluted, yet it’s easy enough to follow, with the basic theme — get turkeys off the menu — restated every so often as a reminder. Therein lies the subversive aspect: this is a movie about a great American holiday that, ultimately, advocates a radical vegetarian menu! (Or, at least, one that doesn’t feature meat of any kind.)

Reggie and Jake travel in a friendly, egg-shaped capsule operated by an artificial intelligence called S.T.E.V.E. and voiced by George Takei. He gets a lot of mileage out of his stentorian approach to voice work, but his maturity is a kindly authority that gives shape to the nebulous plans of Reggie and Jake. As soon as they’re back in colonial times, Reggie is instantly smitten by Jenny (Amy Poehler), the take-charge daughter of the tribal leader of the turkeys, Chief Broadbeak (Keith David). The tribe has a distinctly Native American vibe, which contrasts nicely with the pilgrims, epitomized by the lower-class British tones of nasty hunter Myles Standish (Colm Meaney).

Hayward, an animation veteran who previously directed Horton Hears a Who! before into live-action with the disastrous comic book adaptation Jonah Hex, returns quite successfully to the animated field. Like the humor, the pace is gentle, but the film as a whole is well-divided between present-day antics, an extended (and somewhat wondrous) time travel sequence, and then the bulk of the action in colonial times, with a dextrous action scene that resolves the differences between the turkeys and their would-be human overlords.

Free Birds is, primarily, a delightful film for children, but that needn’t scare away older people, especially those who are open to dietary alternatives to scarfing down turkey on Thanksgiving Day. On their first feature-length try, Reel FX has delivered a winning picture.

The film opens wide across the Metroplex on Friday, November 1. Visit the official site for more information.

Review: ‘Brave’ Introduces the Pixar Princess

'Brave' (Disney-Pixar)
‘Brave’ (Disney-Pixar)

Pixar Animation Studios has created a consistently impressive body of work since Toy Story was unleashed upon the world in 1995.

That debut was immediately noteworthy because of its advanced computer graphics, but as the company hit its stride with Finding Nemo (2003) and The Incredibles (2004), it became apparent that Pixar was even more concerned with honing their stories and characters to the highest quality possible, to a point well beyond the dismissive “good for a kiddie flick” or “not bad for a cartoon.”

Cars was considered a dip, falling below their standard of quality, but upon reflection (and repeat viewing) it’s more comparable to A Bug’s Life or Monsters, Inc., enjoyable comedies, though lacking in emotional and thematic heft.

Pixar upped its game with its next four releases (Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, Toy Story 3); each deserved placement among the best films of its respective year. Cars 2 was a greater disappointment, as much as anything because the brain trust behind the film failed to learn much from the shortcomings of the original.

And now we come to Brave, which is a good and ambitious film, yet betrays several weaknesses in its narrative structure that keep it from fulfilling its potential for greatness. Nonetheless, it stands up on its own as a charming and rambunctiously entertaining story with absolutely gorgeous animation.

Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) grows up in the royal household of a kingdom in ancient Scotland. She is a princess, but the crown worn by her father Fergus (Billy Connolly) is meant to be passed on to the man she will marry, to be chosen from among the first-born sons of the other three kings (Craig Ferguson, Kevin McKidd, Robbie Coltrane) who rule in the land.

Naturally, Princess Merida is not happy about the prospect of an arranged marriage to a complete stranger, but she is even less enchanted by her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson), whose entire life is focused on making Merida’s day to day existence a nightmare. At least, that’s how Merida sees it: her mother enforces rules that restrict Merida’s personal freedom and trains her relentlessly for her future role as Queen. The young woman wants nothing more than to be free to live her life the way she chooses, without any rules or restrictions.

Oh, if only there were a spell that could get Merida’s mother off her back …

Quicker than you can hum “When You Wish Upon a Star,” Merida is heading deep into the forest and emerging with something that will change her mother, er, profoundly and unexpectedly. Let’s just say that it leads to some unbearable excitement before the credits roll.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to shrug off the idea that Disney’s long-established “princess ideal” has rubbed off on Pixar. Brave is Pixar’s first film to feature a female protoganist, and yet choosing a princess seems to be a backwards step. Unlike Disney’s traditional efforts, or even the studio’s recent Tangled, however, the relationship between mother and daughter feels grounded on a very human, relatable scale.

Writer/director Brenda Chapman conceived the project as a dark fairy tale, and drew upon her own experiences with her daughter. Creative disagreements arose, however, and Mark Andrews took over as director in the midst of production. That’s not unusual with animated films, which have been re-shaped time and again through the long period it takes for production, but in the case of Brave, the film does not emerge as a unified whole.

There is a clash of sensibilities, the story takes several perplexing turns, and the characters are not well-defined. It’s especially disappointing that the extremely vital mother/daughter relationship takes a back seat right at the point in the narrative where it’s ripe for further exploration.

Still, the film is above average in quality, it’s very funny, and it’s refreshing in that it expands Pixar’s palette into even more adult territory. Maybe the next time or two out, the result(s) will be completely successful.

Brave opens wide across the Metroplex on Friday, June 22.

‘Rango’ Rides ‘Em High, Cowboy

The Old West gets a fresh new coat of paint. (Paramount)

I loved this weird little animated movie. Directed by Gore Verbinshi from a script by John Logan, ‘Rango’ pays homage to all the great Westerns of times past (as well as Johnny Depp’s ouevre) and then spins off into wild new territory in fresh and amusing ways.

“Off-beat, charming, and downright refreshing. …

“The difference with ‘Rango’ are the digressions, both visually and in a narrative sense. It’s very much an adventure oriented toward adult viewers, as opposed to a “cartoon” targeted at kids. No question that younger viewers will enjoy the flick, but clearly the filmmakers are mostly concerned with telling a good, sometimes sprawling story than with pleasing the taste of the pre-adolescent set.”

You can read my entire review at Twitch.

The film, highly recommended, is now playing wide across the Metroplex. Check showtimes via Google.

Review: ‘Despicable Me’

The minions of 'Despicable Me'
Two of the many minions of 'Despicable Me'

Delightful and droll, Despicable Me is also refreshingly modest. And it’s fun.

All animated films fall under the shadow of mighty Pixar, which has set the gold standard. But that doesn’t mean that every animated film must follow the same pattern. Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, Despicable Me is less story-driven and more gag-oriented than the typical Pixar outing, and less dialogue-oriented than the usual Dreamworks product. It plays like an interconnected series of skits and blackouts, tied together with the connective tissue of a featherweight fable.

Really, it’s a comic misadventure, featuring a villain as the good guy. Tall and dressed in black, Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell) should be a fearsome sight, but instead he’s a bit pathetic and sad. We quickly learn that he only became a villain to win the affections of his unsupportive mother (voiced by Julie Andrews). He’s a lost little boy seeking approval.

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