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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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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).

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

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.

Rating:

The Boxtrolls

The Boxtrolls

Sure, it's all about the bloody Boxtrolls. But where's
Archibald P. Snatcher's medal, where's his parade, hm?

dir: Graham Annabele and Anthony Stacchi

2014

The Boxtrolls is another of those somewhat anachronistic animated movies that uses a lot of actual, physical, stop-motion animation to tell a story. As such it possesses a physicality missing from most of the purely computer generated animation we see these days, and that’s its curse and part of its charm.

In and of itself, that doesn’t guarantee a blissful experience. This mob, calling themselves Laika, have put together a decent animated film before (Coraline) and an okay one (ParaNorman) as well, so it’s reasonable to believe that they know what they’re doing.

The Boxtrolls is better than ParaNorman , and perhaps almost on a par with Coraline, though not as thematically rich or inventive. Despite what some might call a grotesque and macabre aesthetic, this one, from a kids’ perspective, is not as personal and frightening as Coraline, or as horrific as ParaNorman (which had, as its Big Bad, the vengeful spirit of a murdered child, if you can believe that, and sadly you probably can).

Rating:

Rio 2

Rio 2

People who write lines like the above will be the first up against the
wall come the revolution

dir: Carlos Saldanha

2014

Rio… Brazil… So timely, you’d think, what, with all that World Cup stuff going on. Instead of punishing your kids by making them sit through this, why not wake them up in the middle of the night and compel them to watch Paraguay play Burkina Faso at 3am, and see their delight when it’s a nil all draw after 90 minutes of play?

That’s pretty much the closest parallel that I can come up with in regards to watching this flick. Of course, trying to get my kid to watch soccer would be virtually impossible, and would be an even greater torment for me. Wait, the parallels are multiplying!

Rio 2 is the sequel to, um, some other animated flick whose name escapes me, and is a film uniquely suited to existing solely as a sequel.

The reality is that it's not actually a sequel to Rio. It's a remake of a previous sequel, being Meet the Parents.

Blu (Ben Stiller Junior, also known as Jesse Eisenberg) is an allegedly rare blue macaw from the jungles of the Amazon. He is forced, by circumstance, to spend time with his hardass father-in-law (Robert DeNiro surrogate Andy Garcia), who utterly hates him for most of the film, and the plot contrives to have Blu embarass himself continuously in the old man's eyes until the very end, where Blu can do one thing to redeem himself in the eyes of his father-in-law, his wife Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and random strangers.

Rating:

Mr Peabody and Sherman

Mr Peabody and Sherman

Wow, she really, really loved her cake. I wonder if she had
a single other definable trait

dir: Rob Minkoff

Everything you even vaguely remember, and don't even remember that fondly, is going to come back and be made into a movie, probably an animated movie.
Bringing every vaguely shitty thing lurking in the back of your memory back to the forefront is done, primarily, I think, because the stuff is so, so good.

I mean, who doesn't have fond memories of, uh, this annoying boy and his pedantic, pretentious dog?

Perhaps I should have phrased that differently: was anyone wanting this to come back?

I swear, Your Honour, the only reason I saw this is because my daughter asked if we could see it. I thought it would slip through to the keeper this time, as in, it would be one of the kid's flicks I didn't have to pony up and see in the cinemas during the school term / Easter break. At least I didn't have to see it in three dimensions, two being more than enough for this historical extravaganza.

If any part of me wanted to see this, or wanted my daughter to see this, it was that wheezy, whiny part of me that makes excuses for caving in on issues, no matter how important or negligible. Someone mugs me on the train and takes my phone? "Well, it was a shitty phone anyway, and now I can get a new one!"

Fired from my job? "Opportunity to study or spend more time with the family!"

Unjustly convicted of murder? "I can catch up on my reading!"

Sure, I can find a silver lining to every cloud. It's what I do.

Rating:

The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie

Pretty soon, everything will be made of Lego. Even Lego.

dir: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

It's time. Time to go to the cinemas again. Time to embrace the magic of the silver screen.

Time to laugh at movies made entirely of Lego.

Is it too much to ask, is it a bridge too far? I was always going to eventually see this, because there was that law passed by the United Nations that everyone with a kid under ten had to take their kids to see this or they'd be shot into the centre of the sun, but this is school holidays time, and I have a child under ten. So it became obligatory to do it now now NOW!

I am, and this is going to sound quite perverse, considering how all-pervasive and ubiquitous the stuff is, not that big a fan of Lego. They didn't play much of a part in the theatrical off-off Broadway version of my childhood, and I've never really cared for them. When you've got kids, of course, or have to get presents for other friend's kids and such, well of course you're going to be buying them all the time, but I do it without really appreciating it, and I don't have that obsessive desire to encapsulate, build and control a 'world' that I think you have to have for Lego to be like crystal meth cravings.

It's not in me. I've got plenty of other geek obsessions to obsess over, don't need any other addictions, thankyouverymuch for asking.

Rating:

Frozen

Frozen

She looks pretty villainous to me. She should have a catchphrase like "Ice
to see you!" or "Let's kick some ice!"

dirs: Jennifer Lee & Chris Buck

2013

When they’re this enjoyable, watching kids movies, or at least movies aimed at kids and their guardians, is a joy, and you thank the heavens above that you’re a parent and that you get to share these sublime experiences with your kids.

When they’re the usual terrible children’s fare, be it Smurf this or Shrek that, then it’s a purgatorial experience that makes you curse the universe for ever fooling you into breeding in the first place. You start making appointments to get your tubes tied before you even leave the cinema.

Thankfully, nothing needed to be ligatured or sterilised as a result of watching this film with my glorious child in tow. We both enjoyed the hell out of it, and that is exactly as it should be. It may not be as almost completely perfect as Tangled was, since while I liked some of the songs here, I loved the songs in Tangled, and that matters when it comes to a musical comedy animated movie thingie etc.

So some of the songs aren't that great, though the central one, sung by one of the sisters when she turns evil, is pretty strong. They're that musical theatre kind of songs, that's fine if you can handle that sort of thing, but purgatorial if you can't.

Rating:

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

So adorably edible, for those of you who like
seafood / primates

dirs: Cody Cameron, Kris Pearn

There I was, basking in the glory that was the presents, breakfast-in-bed, happy birthday birthdayness of my actual birthday on Saturday, when my daughter loudly and joyfully asserted that since it was my birthday, we should do what I wanted on this hallowed day.

And if that meant I wanted to watch a movie, then, by gum we were going to watch a movie. And if that movie happened to be Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, then that was the best birthday present that I could possibly want.

How did this happen? Maybe I was hungover and very suggestible, or, like most parents, I gave in to forestall having to see that look of manufactured yet still heartbreaking disappointment on a child’s face. Whatever it was, somehow I agreed to go to the cinemas to see an advanced screening of this movie.

This movie? On my birthday I should have had the gods-given right to insist that everyone watch the most spine-crackingly boring movie I could find (as long as it was no more than PG-rated). I should have made them sit through 2001: A Space Odyssey, or the even more boring Russian version of Solaris. I should have had the dictator-like right to make my family sit through all 8 hours of Bela Tarr’s Satantango without being arrested for domestic abuse.

Instead, we watched a flick where food comes to life, and it’s meant to be a good thing.

Rating:

The Smurfs 2

The Smurfs 2

You will die a terrible, terrible death. Oh, I'm sorry, that was
the characters from the last film. You, on the other hand,
all of you, I hope will die a terrible, terrible death

dir: Raja Gosnell

You make sacrifices for the people you love. It’s what decent people do, whether human or smurf. So when you go see a movie called The Smurfs 2, because your daughter has asked you to, you console yourself with the fact that you’re taking one for the team.

Something like this... how do you review it? What purpose would such a review serve? Would it just be a collection of words, in sequences that make some kind of sense, that merely takes up space? Can the world do without it?

These are valid questions, but, let's be honest with each other: If the millions of people posting their thoughts, opinions, idiocies and brilliances to the tubes of the internets evaluated everything they were about to post to the net for importance or universal value, virtually none of us would be sharing ourselves in this fashion, and this internet thing would have died out a long time ago, to be retro replaced with smoke signals, snail-mailed messages etched in vinyl and tin cans, requisite lengths of twine, taking its place.

I know, I know, the world would spontaneously become a utopia anew. This current world, however, is the one we work with; the internet demands words the way Old Testament gods required sacrifices, and I have a compulsion that compels me to write even about the most banal movies you could possibly imagine.

Rating:

Monsters University

Monsters University

Knowledge Brings Fear, and a whole
multicoloured menagerie of characters
designed by marketers

dir: Dan Scanlon

I know, I know. I start practically every other review pointing out that the film I’m about to review shouldn’t really exist, but I am nothing if not a creature of habit.

Monsters University is the prequel we didn’t really need to have, but it’s still very, very welcome to me. I watched it with my daughter, and she thought it was great. This is, after all, school holiday time, and not taking your daughter to the cinema, even for a deadbeat dad like me, would be tantamount to monstrous negligence.

She specifically wanted me to quote her in the review, and she even told me how I should depict that quote. She told me to put her name at the start of a sentence, with the two dots on top of each other after the name. You know, a colon, as thusly:

Dawn: "Monsters University is a good film because most films are about normal days with a character that wants to be different but Monsters University was about a few characters who wanted an achievement but when they got that achievement it ended up different but they still enjoyed the gift that the achievement had given them plus Monsters University is great."

I can’t argue with that. That's a verbatim quote. I mean I can, but I’m probably outgunned, and who wants to lose to a six-year-old in an argument? The crying, the screaming, and then there’s no telling what she’d do in response.

Rating:

Despicable Me 2

Despicable Me 2

What wouldn't you be able to achieve with this
legion of idiots at your beck and call?

dir: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

I know, I know. There are far more 'important' recent flicks to review. Far more worthy. The list of stuff I've seen recently keeps growing, and my unease and terror at letting them get too old before putting them out there in review form keeps me up at night. So are you finally going to get to read my trenchant thoughts on The Great Gatsby? No. World War Z, or Hangover III, or Fast Furious 6, or worthier arthouse fare like The Place Beyond the Pines, or Mira Nair's latest The Reluctant Fundamentalist?

No, alas and alack, I'm sorry to say - no. In short, having watched Despicable Me 2 in the last few days, I am forced by my own psyche at virtual gunpoint to review this blessed film.

As sick as I am of the ubiquitous Steve Carrell, there's just something about these flicks that I really, really enjoy. The main premise of a monstrously egomaniacal super-villain becoming a nice person through the love of three little adoptive waifs is nothing new in the realms of fiction even if the setting and CGI and 3D make it seem flashy and shiny and new. Horrible misanthropes have been redeemed (incredibly, as in 'not credibly', much of the time in my humble opinion) in books and movies for the last century to the tune of one a week, probably. It's the premise of every Clint Eastwood film where he's not shooting people for looking at him funny or for not answering politely when he asks them to make his day. It's the premise of almost every film ever made - well, at least the one's where it's not about killing some guy for REVENGE.

Rating:

The Croods

The Croods

It's a Cowardly, Smelly Old World

dir: Kirk DeMicco & Chris Sanders

It's about time Nicolas Cage brought his particular brand of crazy to the 3D animated realm. He's so perfectly suited to playing a Neanderthal that I'm surprised it's never happened before.

He's not the main character here, I think, in The Croods, but it's pretty much him blathering on all the time. It's very possible the producers of this film shut Nicolas Cage in a room with a mound of coke and just recorded everything he said over a two day period. And they built a film around that. For the kids, of course.

The main character, I guess, is Eep, voiced by Emma Stone. She is the Neanderthal daughter of Cage's character, artfully named Grug. They have a whole family of Neanderthals around them, to provide the laughs and the jolly japery. And, even if you know nothing about this movie, you could probably guess that there is a grandma character, possibly voiced either by Betty White or Cloris Leachman. Cloris must have won the toss.

And there's a feral baby character, but it's not like it matters. The once-great distinction between Pixar, before their selling-out to Disney, and the rest of the animation studios was that Pixar seemed like it was telling stories because it wanted to tell particular stories, not because of the marketing opportunities or covering all the possible audience demographics.

Rating:

Frankenweenie

Frankenweenie

See a 3D movie, in Black and White! Also, it's a silent movie!
And you get war ration stamps and polio from watching it!

dir: Tim Burton

I admitted, in my recent review of ParaNorman, that I often make mistakes when it comes to allowing my darling daughter to watch stuff that’s perhaps inappropriate for her age, which was, at the time, five. What I neglected to mention is that I’m really not the kind of person you look to for the actual, mature process of ‘learning from one’s mistakes.”

That’s not something apparently that I do. So when my daughter, primed by having seen ads for it, insisted we go see Frankenweenie, I said “why the hell not?”

In the end, it turned out to be far less terrifying than I feared, and better than I expected.

It is, after all, a story about a boy and his dog.

Well, actually, it’s about remaking the ‘original’ James Whale Frankenstein in the most kid friendly manner possible, while also finding time to coat the whole story in the visuals and tropes Burton has been trading on for decades, as well as doing some stuff with the old Japanese monster movies.

And by ‘tropes” I mean the aesthetics and imagery he’s ripped off from people like Charles Addams and Edward Gorey from day dot.

This isn’t a brilliant movie by any estimation, but I loved the hell out of it. It didn’t tell a particularly original story (how could it), but it tells it aesthetically in the best manner possible for what the story requires, which is all we can hope for.

Rating:

ParaNorman

ParaNorman

This is blatant false advertising - Norman never gets
para, not once

dir: Sam Fell and Chris Butler

Mistakes, grand follies, profound errors of judgement… I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. That should be patently obvious to you by now. Most of them I deeply regret, some of them I don’t, but it’s safe to say that mistakes and bad decisions seem to define parts of my life far better than any decent choices I’ve ever made.

What am I nattering on about? Well, let’s just say that since I became a parent, all my bad decisions tend to revolve around parenting. The propensity for making mistakes, if you’re going to survive for any length of time in this life, has to be counterbalanced by having some capacity to learn from those mistakes, and to not repeat them throughout the generations.

That is one of my only virtues, in that hopefully I don’t make the same mistakes too often before learning “Fire? Hot!!!” after burning some fingers fourteen, fifteen times.

The mistake I made in relation to this movie is that when your five-year-old daughter says to you, after watching the trailer for ParaNorman in front of Rise of the Guardians, “Daddy, I really want to see ParaNorman!”, you exercise good judgement and say, “Darling-heart, apple of my eye, daughter and only heir, you’re too young for that movie, maybe when you’re a bit older.” You don’t think about it for a few seconds, belch out some popcorn, and then mutter “Sure.”

Rating:

Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck It Ralph

You just Wreck everything, don't you Ralph? That's just what
you do

dir: Rich Moore

Yes, it’s school holidays time. It’s Christmas time. It’s that time of the year where I’m not going to the cinema at all odd hours of the day or night in order to squeeze a film or two in a week as well as keeping all the juggling balls of life and work up in the air.

No, this is the time where I can stride into a cinema in the middle of the day with my head held high, with a huge tub of popcorn (which I otherwise never buy), holding hands with my daughter. The problem, of course, is that I can’t exactly take her to screenings of The Master, Lincoln, Holy Motors or Hitchcock without it rightly being considered a form of abuse.

Especially The Master. Forgetting some of the content for a moment, inflicting that level of tedium on a kid should be a criminal offence.

So bring on the highly animated kids movies, so we can all be happy. Well, so we can be somewhat happy, I guess. There’s always the trade-off between what entertains a kid and what a parent can sit through without wanting to chew their own arm off in order to escape from the theatre.

Rating:

Hotel Transylvania

Hotel Transylvania

Perfect for Deadbeat Dads to take their non-custodial progeny to on the weekend

dir: Genndy Tartakovsky

When the school holidays ended in Melbourne a week or so ago, so too did the simultaneously exciting and terrifying prospect of having to take a child or children to the cinema in the pursuit of an hour or two of entertainment for the munchkins. It’s exciting because I love taking my kid to the cinema. It’s terrifying because most kid’s films are eye-bleedingly awful and make you wish you’d never been born, let alone them.

I’ve been lucky in the last month or so in that the films I’ve taken her along to haven’t been bad enough to make me want to shoot myself inside a cinema filled to the brim with children (not that I would there or anywhere, no need to get the Crisis Assessment Team out to pay me a visit, thanks), even if they haven’t been especially strong. I can’t expect Hayao Miyazaki or Henry Selick or Pixar to make eight films a year just to cover the school holidays for my benefit. Hotel Transylvania is good enough. It’s not good, it’s good enough. There’s a difference, but not enough of one to really matter.

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Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

Madagascar 3

Now, are there any questions, keeping in mind that I
already explained about the hair?

dirs: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon

You might be wondering why I'd be reviewing this latest instalment in the Madagascar franchise, since I've never reviewed any of the others. I don't know, do you ever wonder about stuff? Maybe you wonder why I review anything at all. Or maybe you're a particularly incurious person, or you came here accidentally looking for pictures of a naked Kate Middleton spanking Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively on their wedding night as in the background Henry Kissinger reads Ginsberg's Howl to Lady Gaga on a tricycle covered in Vegemite and ambergris. They're out there, somewhere. Keep looking.

If so, how disappointed are you? Instead you find yourself reading a review about a kaleidoscopically colourful 3D kid's film, with none of the edge or sleaze you're used to from every other corner of multitude of tubes on the internets.

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Brave

Brave

Hey there, you Brave Hair Bear! Thanks for coming

dir: Brenda Chapman

Redheads, gods love ‘em. They definitely make the world a better place.

Cinema doesn’t like them, though, and with good reason. For some people, nothing brings as much visual pleasure as watching redheads doing whatever it is they’re doing. For others, they provoke pitchforks, torches, fear and jerkiness.

You know what else Pixar and Hollywood in general doesn’t like? Women, apparently. The female of the species, which is hardly deadlier than the male. Of course they (or their characters) can appear in films, but they’re not wanted as the protagonist. No one wants to depict them as having agency or self-determination. They’re usually the love interest, the prize, the acted-upon rather than the actor, which means they’re usually plot devices or props. Pretty pretty props.

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The Pirates! Band of Misfits

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Buckle my Swash and Shiver me Timbers!

dir: Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt

Ah, finally, a film with Pirates that doesn’t have Johnny Depp in it.

No-one told the lovely people at Aardman Animation that the rest of us in this non-Claymation world are sick to fucking death of pirates, pirate-related stories and even the word ‘pirate’. They just went ahead and ploughed through, adapting a book in order to generate some hilarity and some box office. I can’t imagine this flick is going to do this well, what with the school holidays being over and all by now, but it was quite entertaining for a ‘kids’ movie.

Yes, I took my daughter along, and yes, she and I both thought it was a wonderful way to spend an hour and twenty minutes in a cinema strewn with beanbags. But don’t go in expecting it to be comparable to Pixar, or for any deep environmental messages or heartfelt heartstring-pulling mawkish sentiment-fests. It’s just meant to be clever but goofy fun, and it entirely succeeds.

Although, when I tell you that two of the villains in the piece are Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria, you’ll think that I’ve been sucked in and duped by a flick produced by creationists and anti-monarchist nutbags, which would be a strange alliance indeed.

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The Lorax

The Lorax

With a moustache that big, they cannot fail to win... whatever it is

dir: Chris Renaud

I love Dr Seuss books. I didn’t know that until a couple of years ago, when I started reading them to my daughter. I don’t really remember them from my first go-round, as a kid, but this time, I delight in the rhyming nonsense and the stern moralising underpinning everything that Theodore Geisel thought up and brought out onto the page.

I don’t think they’re necessarily brilliant, or childhood defining, or fundamental to our understanding of society the way that a comprehensive understanding of Greek mythology or Jersey Shore is, but they’re all right as entertainment. Transmuting them in the crucible of Hollywood to animated movies is a relatively pointless endeavour except from the perspective of earning big cash pay offs.

And there's nothing wrong with earning heaps of big money in ethical and environmentally sustainable manners as far as I'm concerned, so hurray for more flicks based on Dr Seuss books! They can only, surely, make the world a better place.

The Lorax is possibly the least subtle and most colourful anti-rampant consumerism big budget animated movie you'll ever see that isn't WALL-E. Unlike WALL-E, however, which was never that subtle to begin with, this flick is aiming determinedly lower. This will never be confused with something put out by Pixar.

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The Secret World of Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arrietty)

The Secret World of Arrietty

It's not easy being miniscule, doncha know

dir: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

The wait in between new Studio Ghibli releases is too long, way too long. Being a man with a level of patience a saint would envy, I still find this particular wait too painful, but then, only a few new animated films are truly worth waiting for.

One of the most awesome things about being a movie-obsessed lunatic who also, by the grace of God, Allah and Satan, has been blessed enough to become a father, is having a new person to inflict my obsession upon.

Scratch that, reverse it, play it again. What I meant to say is that it’s tremendous, a tremendous thing to have a daughter to watch flicks with. And, with Studio Ghibli, it’s a tremendous thing having animated movies to watch with my kid in a cinema that are this nice, and don’t make me want to gouge out my own eyes and eardrums.

Sure, Pixar this and that, but surely we all know that the vast majority of stuff made with an eye towards the kid market are visual abominations and a stain upon our collective soul as a species. Most of these visual and auditory atrocities are the artistic equivalent of red cordial, whose only purpose is to overstimulate the kids until they become so het up and ADHDed that, upon leaving the cinema, a parent or guardian has no choice but to buy some merchandise to shut them up, calm them down and cork their cry hole.

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The Adventures of Tintin

Adventures of Tintin

Bloody Belgians are taking over, mark my words

dir: Steven Spielberg

Spielbergo’s first foray in the field of fully animated films is not going to set the world alight. The fact that it’s in 3D isn’t going to dazzle the masses much either. Whether it makes its money back, or results in dozens of sequels, or honours the Hergé source material matters not to me. But I am interested in being entertained.

There I was, then, stupid glasses perched upon my nose. Entertain us, I whispered to the screen.

And he did. It did. I had a ball watching Tintin. I remember reading the books as a kid, but they never made that much of an impression upon me, in that these aren’t to me like what the comic-book faithful often moan like sad cows over when their treasured properties are rendered unto the big screen. I feel no ownership of the character or the stories. To me they’re artefacts of the old world, like polio, diaphragms and vinyl records, when racism was cool and colonialism rocked. It’s also a kind of adventure tale which we miss, since today these stories seem to be bogged down by setup, thematic bullshit, meaning, significance and purpose.

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