Early Man Review

One could easily make the argument that Aardman animation is the most consistently great studio working today. Even more so than Pixar, their films have an amazing track record for being smart, funny and visually delightful. It is with this reputation that I was eagerly anticipating their latest release Early Man and it is also part of the reason why I left feeling disappointed.  It’s not a terrible movie but it is probably my least favorite of their films.

The trailers for Early Man make it seem like the film is going to focus on Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his group of cave dwellers as they come to interact with more civilized people led by Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston). Unfortunately that is not entirely the case. After a brief introduction to the cave dwellers, Dug and Lord Nooth meet and challenge each other to a soccer (or football as the Brits say) match. Almost the entire movie is then this game.

If you are super into soccer you might find the jokes funnier and the game more interesting, but I really didn’t. I hardly laughed at all.  It’s also really hard to have dialogue or develop meaningful characters within the confines of a soccer game. I honestly started to yawn at a point and grew restless in the theater- something shocking to say about an Aardman film. If I didn’t look up the information I couldn’t tell you a single character name or what was important about them. That is definitely not the case with Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, Shaun the Sheep or Arthur Christmas that had such memorable characters. Some don’t like the Aardman film Pirates: Band of Misfits but the jokes with the monkey alone in that film stand out way more than anything in Early Man.

There are some cute moments between the characters and the animation is adorable so it’s enjoyable on that level. The theme of teamwork is nice to see and you can root for the underdog like any sports movie. The voice acting is all good and if you like soccer you will probably get a lot of jokes that went over my head (there are jokes about DC United and teams like that which Brits will get).

In the week since I saw it I have kept looking for excuses for Early Man because I love Aardman so much. However,  if I am going to be tough on studios like DreamWorks and Sony Animation I have to be tough here to:

They made a boring movie that I didn’t think was funny (Sorry Aardman!)

Overall Grade- C

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DreamWorks 16: Flushed Away

Do you ever have those movies that you feel like you should like so you keep going back to hoping that time will do the trick? Flushed Away is such a movie for me. I love Aardman Animation. I love the voice cast and the story although generic would be fine if the execution worked for me. My nieces and sister  love it so that makes me want to love it. Sadly I watched it again today and walked away  not loving it or even liking it much to be honest. Let me try to explain why. Flushed Away is about a pampered rat named Roddy. He is the pet of a rich family and one day he is flushed down the toliet by a common sewer rat named Sid. This is the first problem. I hate Sid. He’s supposed to be funny but comes across as super annoying instead. Such is the case with many of Flushed Away’s characters.

The second problem is Roddy has no motivation as a character. He’s flushed down the toilet against his will and then spends the rest of the movie trying to get back home, except for him home isn’t family or something like that. It is luxury and fine living. Getting back to the high life doesn’t make for a super compelling character.

Once in the sewer he meets a tough talking rat named Rita who is trying retrieve a stolen ruby from an evil toad. She is doing this for her family, which gives her some motivation but in the end it is a buddy road trip movie and nothing more. I expect more inventive storytelling from Aardman Animation.

The villainous Toad has some fun moments but nothing that made me warm up to the movie as a whole. The animation is also very rough in patches with cgi trying to mimic the look of Aardman’s stop motion, which is  a real shame since I love their stop motion style. There are times when the rendering looks pretty bad. I realize it is way back in 2006 but it is the same year as Cars and Happy Feet- both films with way better animation. The next year would come Ratatouille, which just the Paris cityscapes  alone triumph over anything in Flushed Away.

A lot of the enjoyment of this film will come down to whether you find it funny. I did enjoy the singing slugs. They made me laugh and brought some good tunes into the mix. Unfortunately the rest of the jokes either annoys me or lands flat. Like I said, my sister and nieces think it is hilarious so it depends on your sense of humor I suppose.

I like the overall message about family and that even if they drive you crazy those bonds are special and should be treasured. Single life could have been portrayed with a little more nuance but it’s a movie for small children so I will give them that one. Most people will feel good with the message of the film.

Sometimes with films we just have to say ‘this one isn’t for me’ and that’s the case with Flushed Away. I see why other people enjoy it but it doesn’t work for me. I don’t enjoy watching it and really have no desire to watch it again. I recommend watching Pirates! or Shaun the Sheep Movie instead

Dreamworks 12: Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Ware Rabbit

After the horrors of last week’s Shark Tale I had to give myself a gift of one of Dreamwork’s two Oscar winning films- Wallace and Gromit: the Curse of the Ware Rabbit. This film is made by Aardman Animation in partnership with Dreamworks. I don’t think of it as a true Dreamworks film but it is in the canon so I get to review it. 🙂

Wallace and Gromit are two characters created by director Nick Park as characters in a series of British stop motion shorts. Wallace is the stupid but well meaning inventor and Gromit is his genius dog. Most of the shorts are Wallace getting into trouble and Gromit finding a way to get him out of it.  They are charming and full of laughs for the entire family.

Now they make their jump to the big screen, and fortunately they do it rather well. In Curse of the Ware Rabbit, Wallace  (Peter Sallis) and Gromit are running a business to remove pesky rabbits from the towns gardens.  There is great urgency because the rabbits are eating up all the jumbo sized prize gardens of the townsfolk.

One night Wallace sets up an experiment where he creates a Frankenstein Rabbit called the Ware Rabbit who starts terrorizing the neighborhood gardens. This includes Lady Tottington who becomes a love interest for Wallace.

Wallace and Gromit get on the case and all kinds of shenanigans occur.

This film is a complete delight. It’s funny, the animation is amazing and there is a nice heart to the relationship between Wallace and Gromit. Wallace may be stupid but they do love each other.

I also love Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) and the evil Lord Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes). It’s a comedy designed for kids but it has those British moments adults will enjoy also.

My only flaw with the film is occasionally the pacing can sag but then it picks back up again pretty quickly with a slapstick sequence or tender scene. Other than that I am glad it won the Oscar as I think it is Aardman’s best stop motion film followed by Shaun the Sheep Movie and Chicken Run. It’s definitely in the top 3 Dreamworks films if you include it in your ranking.

Overall Grade- A

 

2015 Animated Oscars: Did the Right Film Win?

I’m very excited to announce my next video reviewing the Oscar nominees for Best Animated Feature Film is up!  I have reviewed every year from 2001-2015.  Here’s the entire playlist and the Animated Oscars Tag videos people have done.   It’s a long video, so perhaps a good one to listen while doing another task.  If you like it please give it a thumbs up.  Thanks!

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7wz447AgL4x2fxnrGhVdu-6ZZa8v18Vl

Here are my base thoughts on each of the nominees.

boy and the world poster2Boy and the World-

A beautiful hand drawn animated film by Ale Abreu that tells the story of a little boy looking for his father.  Using basically no dialogue Abreu creates a kaleidoscope of colors and textures as the boy ventures into the city and confronts war, waste, commercialism and fear.  Sometimes it can be heavy handed and a bit self-indulgent but it’s also bright, colorful and fun.  The music is infectious and will make you smile.

anomalisaAnomalisa-

A somewhat cynical yet thought provoking stop motion animated film from Charlie Kaufman for adults. The animation is fluid and smooth as it focuses on a man named Michael who has become disenfranchised with the people in his life.  Everyone looks, behaves and even sounds the same.  Then he meets Lisa who is different and this excites him.  Some of the adult content I felt was distracting from what really made Lisa special. We could have dug deeper but instead we get superficial differences like a scar or voice. Still, it will definitely make you think and if you can handle the content worth a watch.

inside out3Inside Out-

I don’t know how I could say more about this film.  It was my favorite film of 2015 and it is rapidly becoming one of my favorite animated films of all time.  I have found myself watching it most weeks since I got it on blu-ray.  There’s just something about the dual stories of Riley and Joy that doesn’t age for me.  It improves each time I see it.  I love the humor, visual splendor, and heart.  The end when Riley admits to her parents ‘I miss home’ is perfect.  Joy’s journey when she finally realizes that happiness requires sadness is equally strong.  Perfection from Pixar.

shaun the sheep posterShaun the Sheep-

A delight from the team at Aardman.  A spin off from the TV show (which is great and you can watch on Amazon Prime) Shaun is tired of his boring routine and wants a day off.  So him and his friends go to the big city and have an adventure.  It has the spirit of a silent comedy with minimal dialogue and some great visual jokes.  I loved when the Farmer becomes a barber to the stars.  It’s a sweet, simple, endearing film.  And of course, the animation is wonderful as is usually the case from Aardman.  I wish more people in US saw their great films.

when marnie9When Marnie was There-

This film really impacted me emotionally.  Seeing the journey of Anna as she struggles with deep depression and her family’s effort to save her is very beautiful.  The main message is that we all have love in our lives.  The key is recognizing that love, both here on earth and from those who have passed on.  We all have love, and that love has power to rescue.  The animation is stunning.  I particularly loved the sound mixing and how lush everything felt.  The ending may not work for everyone but I thought it was pure truth. Great way for Studio Ghibli to go out. The music and song by Priscilla Ahn is gorgeous.

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So 5 wonderful films!  It’s funny looking over these 5 nominees I feel 2015 is a bit of a an underrated year.  It certainly was a diverse year especially when you consider 2 very strong films, Peanuts Movie and Good Dinosaur, that were not nominated.  And how amazing is it to have a year with only 1 CG film nominated for Best Animated Feature Film.  2014 only had 2. Take that 2D animation is dead crowd! 😉

Anyway, I think you guys know Inside Out is the clear winner in my books; although, I think all 5 are quality films.  As I said earlier, Inside Out is a game changer for me.  A film I will never forget.

What about you?  What do you think of the nominees and do you think the right film won?

Did the Right Film Win? 2012 Animated Oscars

So I finally finished my video on the 2012 Oscars.  Sorry this one took me so long (and it was a pain to edit today also!).

In 2012 we had 5 nominees and they all have their strengths.

Brave– I recently talked about that in my Pixar review.  It is a flawed film that doesn’t deliver what it promises in the first 15 minutes.  It is supposed to be an epic legend but turns out to be a domestic dispute between a mother and a daughter.  I don’t mind that but it is a letdown when we are promised something mythic.  I do like Merida, the music and the animation is top notch.  I personally feel they took a lot of the lessons from Brave and used them to make Frozen better.

Paranorman- My favorite Liaka film and a film that made my top 50 animated films (so clearly I like it).  I really like the character of Norman and the fresh take they have on the bully narrative with the bullied becoming the bully.  I think it is very scary and funny with unique world building and character design.

Frankenweenie-  This was a new one for me.  I had avoided it because I really don’t care for Tim Burton’s style of movies.  However, I must admit that I thought it was charming.  I really liked the relationship between Victor and Sparky.  It makes you want to cry when he loses his dog and all the homages to the classic horror films are a lot of fun.  I also enjoy how they made it in black and white.  Overall a very entertaining film with a lot of heart.

Pirates Band of Misfits- One of Aardman’s best films with incredible attention to detail it is an underrated film.  They pack in the laughs and yet still tell a good story with the Captain wanting to win Pirate of the Year and his interactions with both Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria.  If you haven’t seen it trust me it is worth a watch!

Wreck-it Ralph– A film that starts out and ends strong but gets mired in a bland Sugar Rush world in the middle section.  Most people love this film but I think it is good but not perfect.  I like the character of Ralph but Vanellope I find annoying.  With the power cord train station they promise you all the worlds of the video games and yet spend 75 minutes in Sugar Rush, which to me is a disappointment.  But it is still an enjoyable film.  The villain reveal is done very well and I love Sergeant Tamora.

Like I said in the video, I think most people would pick Wreck-it Ralph for 2012 Oscar.  I can totally see that.  Of course, Brave won in a bit of an upset.  I personally would give it to Paranorman but I know I’m in the deep minority on that.  They are all enjoyable films. 🙂

What would be your pick?

Hit Me with Your Best Shot: Chicken Run

chicken run2I’ve been eagerly awaiting this week’s Hit Me with Your Best Shot as it is an animated film, and one that I happen to love at that- Aardman animation’s 2000 Chicken Run.

I know this is about chickens instead of turkey but it has become a bit of a Thanksgiving tradition at my house to watch Chicken Run.   It certainly beats Free Birds as a Thanksgiving film and I don’t think there are any other movies about poultry.  Am I wrong?

I watched it again today and was delighted all over again.  This will be more like a traditional review from me since animation is my blog focus but at the bottom I will have my best shot like normal.

If you haven’t seen it, Chicken Run is a claymation, stop motion animation take on a prison escape movie like The Great Escape.

It focuses on Ginger (Minnie Driver), a plucky chicken at Tweedy egg farm who refuses to be satisfied with a life at the farm.  She is really the only intelligent chicken in the lot.  Well, there is the braniac chicken but she’s the only one that seems to understand what they are up against.

The design of the farm is brilliant with hen houses that look like the cabins of the Great Escape. All of Ginger’s attempts to escape feel very reminiscent of those pictures. I like this shot the bunk has 17 on it like Stallag 17, another famous prison war movie.

chicken run9The chickens end up failing in all of their attempts and Farmer Tweedy gets suspicious the “chickens are organizing!” which his wife Mrs Tweedy thinks is insane.  She’s the main villain of the picture and a lot of fun in a Cruella Deville type fashion. Her dream is to turn the chickens into pies and she buys a giant manufacturing machine to make the pies.

chicken run6With the purchase of the new machine Ginger is about to lose hope when a rooster named Rocky comes flying in to the farm.  Ginger knows he is from the circus but thinks he has somehow learned how to fly.  To Ginger this could be their salvation.  Perhaps he can teach them how to fly!  chicken run17Of course what he isn’t telling them is he is shot out of a canon and can’t fly, but he needs to hide out from the circus while they are in town so he plays along and begins training them on how to fly.  This involves a really fun montage of chickens doing pushups and the like.

chicken run20There’s also an amazing sequence where Rocky and Ginger get caught in the pie making machine.  It’s in the spirit of Indiana Jones and adventure movies with all kinds of obstacles to conquer.  It blows my mind when you watch this scene and remember it is all done with moving clay figures inch by inch.

The ending plays out in a fairly predictable way for this genre of movie but Mrs Tweedy is pretty scary, maybe too much for some kids? As is always the case it depends on the child.

chicken run19

Thing that makes this movie special is the writing.  It is funny throughout.  Not just the homages to escape movies but the dialogue is witty and will make you laugh.  Pter Lord and Nick Park bring the same type of humor we got in Wallace and Gromit with perhaps more of a visual component added in.  (Karey Kirkpatrick is the screenwriter with a story by Lord and Park).

All the other aspects are very strong including great music by John Powell and Harry Gregson- Williams.  I particularly like “Flip, Flop, Fly” a great swing number!

Plus, I like the way the chickens look.  I like the smoothness of the skin and the feather collar and feather underneath.  To me it is a pleasing design. All the sets are incredibly detailed and intricate especially when you consider they are all done by hand (stop motion animation is unbelievable).

chicken run10I always say when I judge a comedy the number one factor is- Did it make me laugh?  The answer for Chicken Run is Yes!  I laughed back in 2000 and I laughed today watching it.  It’s a delight in every other way so I can ignore a somewhat predictable story.

For me it is a big win!

Overall Grade- A

BEST SHOT-

Hit Me with Your Best Shot can be difficult because do you pick the shot that gave you the most pleasure or the one that looks the best?  The two are not always the same.

My favorite joke in the movie is when Ginger tells the girls about the pies and Babs (the knitting chicken) says “I don’t want to be a pie.  I don’t even like gravy”.  I don’t’ know why but that cracks me up every time.

But the shot of her saying that line isn’t that great.  I will go with the line just after it and you can see the mayhem on the part of the hens at this news.  I think it is emblematic of the entire film, the claymation style and I love the expressions on the chickens faces.  So great!

chicken run12My youtube review can be found here

Shaun the Sheep Review

Believe it or not the next animated film of 2015 is here, Aardman Animation’s delightful Shaun the Sheep.  Based on the BBC series of the same name (which I had not seen till today) it is a spin off of the popular Wallace and Gromit movie and series created by Nick Park and team.  However, most of Wallace and Gromit’s humor is based on the PG Wodehouse type dialogue where Shaun the Sheep has literally no dialogue at all so they are quite different films.

shaunthesheep10The better comparison for Shaun the Sheep is the recent Minions.  Both movies are about adorable creatures who can’t speak English and go on an adventure.  In my opinion Shaun the Sheep is the much better of the two.

I went with a friend and her two kids.  They seemed a little tired so that may have been part of it but they weren’t super into it.  I think I laughed much more than they did so make of that what you will.  That said, I think this is a funny movie for the whole family without any of that wink-wink humor Minions had in droves.  There is a little bit of potty humor but not much.  Mostly it is just funny sight gags and slapstick.

shaunthesheep7The plot is pretty simple (also an improvement from the convoluted plot of Minions).  Basically Shaun and his buddies decide they want a break from the farm so they put the Farmer to sleep and attempt to make their escape.  Unfortunately the Farmer ends up in the Big City and loses his memory.  They must go after him and help him remember who he is.

There is a nice relationship between the Farmer and the sheep I liked.  As crazy as it sounds it felt genuine.  The sheep seem genuinely worried about their owner.

shaunthsheep5There is a ‘Animal Containment Specialist’ named Trumper who is the villain of the film.  He is kind of like a Home Alone style villain who gets fixated on catching the sheep to his own funny detriment. (A little like the Farmers Wife in Chicken Run).

shaunthesheepShaun the Sheep is a brisk 85 minutes and despite having no dialogue aside from grunting and ba,ba,ba, I was engaged.  It’s pretty funny the humans all talk like the Swedish Chef in the Muppets but it works because we get just enough of it.

I don’t know if Shaun the Sheep is quite as memorable as Chicken Run or Wallace and Gromit but I suppose that is a tall order.  Is it one we will be talking about in 15 years like we do Chicken Run (can you believe it is that old!)?  Probably not but I enjoyed it.  And like I said compared to Minions it is so much cleaner, smarter and enjoyable.

I also like the design of the sheep.  They are so cute but they also talk out of the side of their mouth in a funny way.  Stop motion animation is so amazing to watch.  It always blows me away.

shaunthesheep4If any of you get to see it let me know what you think especially if you are a fan of the series, which I am definitely going to check out.

Overall Grade- B+

Here is my youtube review.