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Animated

Moana

Moana

Ohhhhhhh, who lives in a pineapple under the sea, Dwayne The Rock Johnson!
Absorbent and yellow and porous is he? Dwayne The Rock Johnson!

dir: Ron Clements and John Musker

2016

Another year, another Disney princess movie, another attempt from Disney to wring another billion or two out of the world through ticket sales and cross-promotional opportunities.

And this year’s princess is dark skinned! Hooray for diversity and equality and the melting pot and all that.
The fact that it’s “just” another princess flick is mocked within the flick itself, when the only other character chastises Moana by pointing out that she’s a girl, with an amusing sidekick, on some kind of journey (unspoken: that this is occurring in a Disney flick), so she’s a princess.

So, with that out of the way, are we meant to get over the fact that it’s another goddamn princess flick from the mega-entertainment Leviathan that is the Disney dream factory, and just sing along with all the songs?
Yes, yes we are.

I am cynical enough to see the naked self-aggrandising in something made so shamelessly with input from teams of marketers and sensitivity-focused PR flacks. I am not so cynical as to be incapable of enjoying it anyway. I don’t care about the ethnicity of the people doing to voices, I just care if what those voices are saying, singing or muttering is funny / entertaining / diverting / awful or whatevs.

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Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings

He's got a sword, and he's going to stab the moon with it

dir: Travis Knight

2016

I wanted to love this, I really did. I love most of the stuff that the animators at Laika Entertainment have come up with thus far. They’re idiosyncratic as purveyors of animation, getting the distinctive look you’re not going to confuse with any of the other studios that comes from still using a lot of stop-motion (physical) animation in their movies.

It’s certainly the brightest and best looking of their works, shiniest and cleanest, compared to Coraline, The Boxtrolls and ParaNorman, which all looked somewhat gothic (in Coraline’s case) or a bit gangrenous. They were shooting for a mass audience, and they didn’t get it, which is a bit of a shame.

It’s ambitious, too. It opens with a woman in a boat trying to get somewhere in a terrible storm, one which wrecks her little boat and wounds her terribly, but even worse she is not alone. A baby boy is with her, and they crawl together into a cave to die.

It’s a very idyllic cave, beautiful ocean views, though probably a bit drafty. Some time passes, and the baby becomes a boy, and what a boy. He looks after his damaged mother, who sits motionless all day, and raises money for some rice by telling stories at a nearby village.

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Zootopia

Zootopia

Wow, streets of New York are looking more like a zoo
every day

dir: Byron Howard and Rich Moore

2016

Though it seems unlikely, in the same week I get to review two movies with Zoo in the title, and one of them is utterly synapse-fryingly terrible, and the other one is truly great.

Guess which one is which: Zoolander 2 or Zootopia? Go on, take a minute.

Zootopia is wonderful, sweet and smart, even if it comes directly from Disney, and not one of its million acquisitions and appropriations. This is Pixar Quality! Well, maybe not as soul-renderingly touching as Inside Out, but it’s definitely up there.

Also, did you ever think you would get a Breaking Bad reference in a Disney animated flick in this, and not some other, universe?

It’s a strange world that gets conjured up here. Perhaps it’s as weird as one in which toys are alive when we’re not looking, or where the primary organisms in a world are all cars, but it’s novel all the same. In the world depicted here, all of what would be the ‘humans’ are all mammals, either herbivores or carnivores, but mammals all the same. It would be impossible to draw a one-to-one equivalent of a species standing in for a particular grouping or race of humans, but it’s undeniable (and unavoidable) that the film plays with notions of stereotyping and bigotry based on the perceived or actual qualities of classes of animals.

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Anomalisa

Anomalisa

Is there a word for a type of mental condition where you see movies and think
that every character in them is played by a puppet and that they all have
the same voice?

dir: Charlie Kaufman

2015

Anomalisa is a pretty depressing film, at least I found it depressing. It’s possible that I found it depressing because it seems to be about depression, or at least the main character seems to be suffering from it.

It’s also… an odd film to describe, and it sounds far more amusing to describe than it ends up being. Being from the mind of Charlie Kaufman, he who came up with the screenplays for such out there and phenomenal stuff as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you are right to expect that there’s some strange artistry going on. And there is.

To say that the story is entirely told with puppets again makes this sound comical, but in reality this is stop motion animation with some very expressive and articulated puppets. It’s also in the service of a story mostly set in or around a drab hotel room.

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Minions

Minions

Yes, they are stupid, adorably stupid, like all the best movie characters

dir: Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda

2015

Minions. Small yellow idiots. Minions.

They have their own film now. The makers of Despicable Me thought there was too much of talking humans in those flicks, too much Steve Carrell using a Russian accent. So they felt the need to give us the origin story of these allegedly lovable yellow idiots.

Make no mistake, they are complete idiots. They are also, strangely enough, immortal beings, the movie posits, that have been alive since the dawn of life on this hellish planet. And through the ages they have latched onto whichever is the biggest and baddest predator they can find.

It may seem like evolution has dictated that they have a symbiotic relationship with nature’s greatest ‘villains’, but their innocent, mindless actions usually end up killing the thing they love. Maybe evolution doesn’t really come into it, since they don’t die, they don’t change; they just keep accidentally doing what they do best.

Maybe that is Nature at work: maybe some of these predators, be they Tyrannosaurus Rexes or Napoleon, need to be put down in order to restore balance to an ecosystem, be it during the Jurassic era or 18th Century Europe. They don’t want to kill their master, but they do it anyway. Maybe they are divine yellow Furies, sent by the gods to punish egomaniacs for their hubris, for their temerity, for daring to think themselves the equals of the gods.

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Inside Out

Inside Out

Some things are more powerful than Joy, and last way, way longer.
Ah, hello Sadness my old friend. It's time to drink with you again.

dir: Peter Docter

2015

Finally.

We’ve missed you, Pixar. I’ve missed you. I’ve missed the days when you made beautiful, touching, insanely fun animated movies that we could watch again and again and feel joyful about each time.

It’s been a while.

The supreme virtue Pixar used to hold, prior to its purchase by Disney, wasn’t just that it was producing the best looking computer animated movies of their day. It was that it was making the kinds of movies with the kinds of stories that other shittier companies wouldn’t or couldn’t make. Anyone can make an animated movie, seemingly. Only Pixar was making Pixar-like movies, if you’ll allow the obvious tautology.

Its run was almost unprecedented. The only other company I can think of that had such a sustained consistent run in terms of originality and quality is probably Studio Ghibli. That came to an end seemingly after Up, I think. I mean, some of the other Pixar flicks haven’t been completely terrible (Brave was an okay attempt at doing something ‘different’ for Pixar but the same as everyone else, but there just isn’t any compelling reason to ever pop that Blu-Ray in the machine, ever, no pressure from the kids, either).

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Home

Home

Your movie is bad and you should feel bad

dir: Tim Johnson

2015

The wholesale destruction of the Earth never looked so cute.

If ever you wanted to watch a cutesy version of global genocide, Home is the animated kids movie for you.

Let’s be honest about this: sure, the whole flick fixates on an alien called Oh (voiced by Jim Parsons) and a human called Tip (voiced by pop star Rihanna), but in the background of this whole story, Earth has pretty much been destroyed through alien invasion. The remaining humans have all been forcibly relocated to a white picket suburban ghetto in outback Australia. One human remains on the outside, trying to rescue her mother. Hilarity doesn’t ensue.

The aliens don’t do any of this stuff maliciously, or sadistically. They very humanely abduct all humans without too much violence and deposit them in their concentration camp without harming a hair on their pretty heads. To this vaguely octopus-like species, we’re not seen as being any more advanced than dogs. With their superior technology and scientific advancement, it’s seen as less Manifest Destiny and more like an average day at work.

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The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water

SpongeBob Movie

These superpowered jerks are idiots, like a version of
the Avengers with more impulse control, and less angst

dir: Paul Tibbet

2015

School holidays can definitely be a slog for parents. SpongeBob Squarepants movies can be a definite slog too.

School holidays just passed. I took two kids to see this in 3D. They were there voluntarily. Me? Not so much.

It turned out that the two kids weren’t really there by choice either. I thought they were, but they were under the mistaken impression that we’d be watching that other animated movie that came out at the same time called Home.

Home has that commercial where the annoying guy from The Big Bang Theory with Asperger’s plays an alien character that declaims that his hands are in the air like he just doesn’t care. I wonder why I didn’t leap at the chance to watch that one.

Timings weren’t right to see it on that particular Sunday, so instead we saw this. In 3D no less. Cost me nearly $80 fer crying out loud…

But that’s neither here nor there. It’s not a cartoon I enjoy that much, so I was never really ever going to love this either, I’m sad to say. When I consider the cartoon riches that are out there at the moment, that I get to enjoy on a regular basis with my daughter and her friends (the short list contains Adventure Time, Steven Universe, Regular Show, Gravity Falls, and that’s keeping it real short), SpongeBob is not really up there.

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The Book of Life

The Book of Life

Live your life so people remember you fondly, seems to be the
message, either that or "Don't Die!", whichever.

dir: Jorge Gutierrez

2014

Sure, there are plenty of animated movies, perhaps too many of them, but few of them are based around the Mexican Day of the Dead, which isn’t, inherently, the kind of topic you’d think appropriate for kid fare.

There have been a few death-themed animations of the modern era, connected to Tim Burton (but not directed by him, since he never directed Nightmare Before Christmas, ParaNorman, Coraline or any of those: people just always assume he must have). It’s understandable, in that they aren’t that common. It’s a tough sell as a theme to the marketplace. Not the kids, who I’m sure mostly would be curious, if not Delighted!

It’s more their uneasy parents. Uneasy parents like me. I have long held that there is an association, a connection between kids accepting the mortality of the people around them and their own mortality, and the end of childhood. In the otherwise deeply terrible movie The Crow, the villain is introduced talking to his sister, saying something along the lines of “Childhood ends when you realise you’re gonna die”.

It’s irrational, I know, but I’ve never let go of that line. You’d think the take away I should have, um, taken away from that terrible movie is not to watch The Crow movies ever again. Instead I’ve managed to make the avoidance of talking about Death a staple of my lackadaisical and lacklustre parenting.

Rating:

Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6

I think the Japanese title was 'Delightful Robot God
and Smelly Hangers-On'!

dirs: Don Hall, Chris Williams

2014

It’s not that I didn’t like it. I did, I did, I swear. It’s just that sometimes the obviousness of the formula sticks out like dog’s balls, as the phrase goes, and I can’t ignore it. During what should have been a sweet and uplifting moment, when our Hero called Hiro takes flight, all I could think of was “wait, isn’t this moment straight out of How to Train Your Dragon? And what is that smell coming from the back of the cinema?”

And it was. And then I started thinking about while I realise the movie is called Big Hero 6, and that it’s based on a comic book, and that it’s a kids version of something like a superhero supergroup like Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy etc, there was absolutely no reason I could figure out why the hero and his loyal robot Baymax needed the other generic sidekicks by their side. They didn’t really add anything to the mix, other than occasional one-liners. They are all, I’m sorry to say, superfluous. In fact pretty much everything other than the robot is superfluous.

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