It’s no secret that I am not the biggest fan of DreamWorks animation. Particularly their comedies are very hit and miss for me. However, the one consistently great series from the studio is the How to Train Your Dragon films. They are epic in scale but with sweet moments and the animation is always stunning. Now we get the 3rd and last installment entitled How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (breaks continuity with the other 2 that had simple numbers in the title but oh well!). While I did have my issues with the film, it’s still a very sweet and lovely way to end the series and most fans will be very pleased with it.
The story of How to Train Your Dragon: the Hidden World starts in Berk where dragons and humans are living peacefully with Toothless being the alpha or intermediary between the two groups. One day they find a new Night Fury (Toothless was supposed to be the only one) but this dragon is white and is a female, which of course is very exciting for Toothless. Unfortunately a dragon hunter named Grimmel is after the dragons and wants to destroy everything in Berk. I won’t tell you any more so you aren’t spoiled but there is a lot of action, romance, and some sweet moments of friendship.
The strongest parts of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World are in the animation and character moments. There is a particularly stunning sequence when they find the Hidden World and things look like under a fluorescent black light. It’s truly breathtaking. While I missed the flying sequences of the first 2 films (Toothless and Hiccup are separated or battling in most the movie), it is still a very beautiful film.
Also we see growth from Hiccup as character as he comes to understand Toothless, Astrid, and even his father better through the course of the movie. A lot of the side characters who we have come to love during the movie including Astrid get nice endings and moments to shine. Some of the comedy with Ruffnut (Kristin Wiig) wasn’t my taste but the kids in the theater seemed to enjoy it so I may not be the target audience.
My criticisms of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World may not be an issue for you if you love fantasy adventure and action. Aside from slasher flicks, fantasy action is probably my least favorite. There are a lot of battles and fighting in this movie and I found them to be more than a tad dull. I know other people will enjoy them but I kept nodding off during these sections. You would think with all the flames and warfare it would be exciting but it isn’t for me at all. At the very least they were too long and repetitive. I would have much rather had less action and more flying sequences or time in the Hidden World, but that’s probably just me.
Other than that I enjoyed How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. It is a beautifully animated ending to our trilogy and one I bet you will find very satisfying if you loved the previous 2 films.
Hi guys! The next year is up in my review of the animated Oscars. We are at 2010 and this is the first year where I really think the academy got it wrong with the Tangled snub.
I think Tangled was the best animated film of 2010 for a lot of reasons. First, it looks beautiful and I saw it in 3D and scenes like the lanterns was breathtaking. I also love Rapunzel because she isn’t weak like an Aurora but she’s also not a cliched warrior woman. She has pieces of both inside her. I think Flynn is a great character and I LOVE Mother Gothel. I also like the music unlike some people.
Anyway I think they got it wrong but that’s what they did. Here are my thoughts on the 3 nominees.
The Illusionist is by the Sylvain Chomet who directed The Triplets of Belleville. It is from a screenplay by the French actor, director, mime Jacques Tati. It basically tells the story of a magician who is old fashioned and can’t get a good gig.
He meets a girl who is in awe at his tricks. He buys her presents because her adulation feels so good. The animation is beautiful but I didn’t respond to the film. I never felt like I got into the heart of the magician. It kept me at a distance which made the tragic story less compelling.
The next nominee is How to Train Your Dragon which is one of my favorite Dreamworks films. I really like the character of Hiccup and find the story of his bonding with Toothless to be very engaging. I have a few little complaints with the Jay Baruchel vocals, the treatment of the Astrid character and some of the design of the dragons but they are minor. It also has a lovely message about having the courage to see things in a totally new way and from a new perspective.
I just wrote about Toy Story 3 so I won’t repeat myself too much. It’s a beautifully animated, thrilling prison escape movie. The villain is menacing and the ending is pitch perfect for the Andy part of the series.
In my opinion the right film won of those 3 nominees. What would you pick?
I hate to say it guys but I’m calling it- Dreamworks time of death, March 2015. Let’s give a little bit of background. For years Dreamworks has been battling it out with Disney and Pixar scoring some hits with particularly the Shrek films being the apex of their financial success. They’ve also had creative victories like the How to Train Your Dragon series, Kung Fu Panda and Prince of Egypt. Unfortunately they have been unable to curtail costs so even seeming successes were actually studio failures.
Last year it all came to fruition with 3 releases. Mr Peabody and Sherman with a budget of 145 mil (ridiculous for a comedy like that) made 272 million at box office. This might seem pretty good but when you take into account theater shares and marketing they took a 57 million hit on it. Then they had How to Train Your Dragon 2, a healthy success, with budget of 145 million (see Sherman should not have cost as much as HTTYD2!) making 618 million. Most of these proceeds were overseas (over 400 million of it) and it was significantly less than its predecessor so on the whole a disappointment (total profit 107 million).
Then we had Penguins of Madagascar, a fun comedy which cost $132 million and made $367 million Sounds pretty good right? Nope that 132 doesn’t include incentive based pay to the actors! So in the end they took another 57 million hit on Penguins. This is after losing 87 million on Rise of the Guardians and 13.5 million for Turbo in 2013. As you can see whatever good Dragon did is quickly evaporated.
Then at the end of last year they closed their PDI animation studio laying off 1/3rd of their artists.
That’s where we get to their latest release, Home. I think many of us were hoping this could be a Frozen size savior for the studio but sadly it is far, far, from that. In fact, if I am honest it is closer to this years’ George Lucas offering Strange Magic than anything else. It cost $135 million to make and I have a hard time believing it will do better than Mr Peabody and Sherman which was actually pretty clever. So in other words another loss.
I’m grasping at straws to find things I liked about Home but there isn’t much.
The best thing I can say about home is that it is harmless. Kind of like Strange Magic there is nothing offensive or off putting. Your kids will be moderately entertained so if you need a babysitter you could do worse but that is about it.
Home is based on the book The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, which my sister says is quite brilliant. It is about an alien named Oh that is the ‘most special’ character in his entire race like we’ve seen in movies from Twilight to the Host to Harry Potter. What makes him unique? Well, he makes mistakes and likes to have friends and be happy. Not exactly defeating Lord Voldemort but we will go with it.
He is part of a race called the boovs who run away from their nemesis and conquer other planets. They have just conquered earth and sucked up all the humans relocating them all to Australia. I suppose if I had been more engaged I wouldn’t have been left asking so many questions about this basic premise. For example, why do the boov know enough about humans to build houses for every human family, evidently recreate hospitals, schools, and even an amusement park and yet they do not know something like ‘humans live in families and have a Mother and a Father’?
How do the boov know how to run everything in a city like New York and yet are eating paintings, footballs and using a hair dryer for an inhaler? How do they know how to work a power plant and yet the lights are always on? How are they planning on getting food in this land they have conquered and wouldn’t gathering all of the human race in one place be a really bad idea? Nothing like 6 billion humans that have mastered interstellar flight and atomic warfare all together on an island…especially for a race that is evidently so gun shy?
Also why does Oh drink gasoline, motor oil, eat plastic and yet is disgusted by a blue tablet and urine from a restroom? I think that is an attempt to be funny but it doesn’t really make sense so it didn’t make me laugh. It would have been more funny if he had loved the urine and blue tablet. I mean if we are stooping to that level isn’t that funnier?
I know I’m overthinking it but again it just shows how disengaged I was with the story and characters that I started asking these questions.
So our misfit Oh tries to throw a party for his new neighbors but nobody in his race likes him or parties (which again makes me ask how does he even know what a party is? And yet he has a banner, appetizers, the whole works..).
Nobody comes to his party and so he goes outside to try and get people to go but his ‘friend’ doesn’t want to so he sends him an ‘e-vite’ (these aliens still use email and internet just like us) but the email to the party he is currently having goes to the entire galaxy including their sworn enemy, a woefully undeveloped ‘bad guys with spaceship’ called the vrogs I think.
The leaders of the boov’s try to arrest Oh with the captain played by Steve Martin who is actually only in 3 scenes of the movie.
But Oh runs off before he can give the boov his password to stop the email. (Always bad in a movie when the entire plot could be resolved by a 3 minute conversation…). In his running he bumps into a girl named Tipp who was left behind by the human relocation and is trying to find her Mother. She is far too calm and collected for someone who’s entire race and Mother has been sucked up by aliens. Plus, her car has been hidden by trash. How did she know to do that? And why hasn’t the trash been sucked up by the unnecessary item balls? They are sucking up bikes wouldn’t they suck up her car? And would she have been the only human to escape? Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to have had a few that band together with Oh?
She is voiced by Rhianna and it is a terrible piece of voice casting. She sounds like a grown woman and I was never exactly sure how old she was supposed to be. She sounds like a grown up, looks like a child but can drive and yet she talks about getting an A in 8th grade geometry. At best it is completely bland.
Oh is voiced by Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parson and the two of them are the only characters in the movie for 90% of the film and he isn’t right for the part either. It just sounds too much like Sheldon which was distracting. But I have a hard time blaming him because the part was written a lot like Sheldon and didn’t give him much to work with. He’s socially awkward and oblivious most of the time. I like Big Bang Theory but I know it has its haters and they will definitely find the voicework very annoying but again I don’t think anything Parsons could have done would have saved the character.
Most of the movie is a road trip story full of road trip movie cliches. Tipp and Oh must go to Paris to enter the password (I guess no cell phones in this world even though the Boov have these little tablet things) and then to Australia to find Tipp’s Mother voiced by Jennifer Lopez who has maybe 3 lines in the movie.
There were about 6 kids in the theater with me and they laughed at a few bits of toilet humor but they seemed squirmy and disengaged.
A lot of people will want to compare this to Lilo and Stitch, a movie that grows on me the more I see it. Lilo and Stitch is not a perfect film but it is far superior to this mess. First of all Lilo is a much more complex character than we ever get from Tipp. She is strange but in interesting ways. We see her interacting with students and fighting with her sister. We see her crying and mourning her parents before Stitch is even introduced.
Stitch is also a consistent character. He is a wild creature and pretty mean throughout, to the point of frustrating me as a viewer. Here Oh is sometimes smart when the plot needs to be and other times stupid. He sometimes understands complex words and other times speaks in 2 word phrases. He’s whatever the plot needs him to be which makes it really boring and hard to root for.
I really did not care about Oh or Tipp’s journey because I knew exactly what was going to happen and the movie didn’t give me any reason except for telling us ‘people think I’m strange’… Lilo is pulling heads off of her dolls. We know she is strange and we are rooting for her because of it.
It’s also a little unclear if the Steve Martin character is intentionally lying to everyone about their enemy and the ‘shush stick’ or if he is just too stupid to know. If he is lying on purpose than he is a really bad alien and that sense of evil is never laid out at all. I mean this is Darth Vader bad if he is conquering planets and relocating everyone.
The lesson of the story is that ‘everyone makes mistakes’ and that you should ‘run towards your fears’ not away from them (I don’t know if I agree with that last one…). Again this is usually told to us not actually shown. Lilo and Stitch conquers weighty themes of family, grief, loss and it does it with the gravitas perhaps only Disney can muster. Plus, it looks so unique with the watercolors and the Hawaiian feel. Home looks anything but unique.
A movie like Penguins of Madagascar works because it was funny. The script was very clever that it could overcome a silly story. I’m not saying it was a masterpiece but it made me laugh. Same with Mr Peabody and Sherman. Home did not make me laugh one time.
Like I said at the intro if you take your kids they won’t be miserable. It’s harmless but I said the same thing for Strange Magic and that movie at least had voicework that made sense.
I’m sorry Dreamworks I want to help you out but I can’t in good conscience give this any higher than the D I gave Strange Magic. It just doesn’t deserve it. (This movie has 5 people listed in the voice cast. Why on earth did it cost $135 million to make? In contrast, Pixar’s Bugs Life with a huge cast cost $120 million!).
The music is by Rihanna and it is nice but feels like it is written for a different movie. It is dark and solemn when they are just flying across the ocean or walking around. It’s not nearly fun enough for this kind of movie (think Happy by Pharrell for Despicable ME 2. That made sense.). The whole Rihanna choice was just wrong all the way around. What a disappointment and the absolute worst timing for a Dreamworks dud.
What a year in animation 2014 has been! If Big Hero 6 is the masterpiece it looks to be (currently 100% on Rotten Tomatoes!) than I wonder if this is the best year in animation since the renaissance? 2010 was a also great year too with Toy Story 3, Tangled, Secret World of Arriety, Megamind and the original How to Train Your Dragon.
That film was a fun adventure about an underdog kid named Hiccup in a viking culture that thinks Dragons are an enemy. He befriends a hurt dragon named Toothless and realizes they are kindly, peaceful creatures. Unfortunately nobody including his father Stoick will believe him and they insist upon hunting down the nest of the dragons. Eventually Hiccup helps the dragons prove their worth and they win over the town including Stoick.
For this update Hiccup is now a young man and expected to follow his father Stoick as Chief of the town. His girlfriend Astrid is a winner in the dragon races. The plot gets going when an enemy named Drago threatens to conquer them and take all of their dragons.
Hiccup wants to talk to Drago but his father says it is madness and they must prepare for war. It is a great very grown up discussion for kids about whether seeking peace is correct or appeasing your enemy. When do you fight for your family or seek peace at all costs? Dawn of the Planet of the Apes had a similar debate and I LOVED that movie.
I don’t want to spoil it for any of you but this is an epic movie. If your kids are frustrated they can’t see Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter this is a perfect option for them. It feels like that kind of epic fantasy. As fun the first one is, this sequel is even better. It’s bolder, it says more and has a very meaty story.
New characters are introduced including a special relation to Hiccup. And the villain Drago and his hypnotizing Beast called the Alpha are very effective. It does a good job of making things seem without hope for our heroes which is key to this type of movie.
The animation is stunning. I still wish they wouldn’t make the dragons so separated from the styling of the rest of the film. All the fluorescent colors don’t seem to fit in well. I love in animated movies when characters fly and in this movie Hiccup even does some base jumping!
While I am still not in love wiht Jay Baruchel as Hiccup’s voice, he is fine. Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera and Jonah Hill all return and do a good job as their characters. Cate Blanchett and Djimon Hounsou are new to the cast and both good; although the inconsistencies on accents is a little annoying. Why does Hiccup and Astrid sound like Americans, Blanchett’s Valka sound British and the rest Scottish? But that’s a nitpick. It’s a good cast .
The disappointed Dad storyline is a little tired but there is so much else going on I didn’t mind it. It might be a little complicated for some kids but there is enough excitement that I think they will still enjoy it. There are also some scenes of real heart and not to repeat myself it is an epic fantasy story!
The score is phenomenal by John Powell who earned an Oscar nomination for the first movie and he should win another. It was so good in building tension and excitement without being overbearing. Evidently they used an array of Viking and Celtic instruments including harps, uileann pipes, tin whistles and bagpipes and you can hear it. It’s gorgeous.
The official trailer gives away a big spoiler so I wouldn’t watch it if you care about spoilers. This one just shows the amazing flying sequences.
Aside from a few squabbles it is a very strong film and should be a huge hit for all ages of kids and adults. I loved it!
For very emotional kids there are a few moments of death and sadness and battle that gets intense. It’s also probably a little long for very small kids at 1 hr 41 minutes.
I just thought you might be wondering what my opinion is on non-Disney animated films. I’m not talking Pixar,Studio Ghibli or other Disney wings because they should get their own list. I’m talking about other studios like Dreamworks, which while not as consistently my favorites like Disney, they have made some great animated films.
So here we go in no particular order.
1. The Adventures of Tintin- underrated action adventure movie. Yes, it is motion capture not traditional animation but I figure if it looks, feels, acts like an animated film it is an animated film. More people should have seen this movie. It was so entertaining!
2. The Lego Movie- one of the most visually inventive movies I’ve ever seen. The effects with the legos blew me away. Great voice work by whole cast, and the script is so well written. Every joke got a laugh from me and then there’s moments that were surprisingly tender. It is the best movie I’ve seen at capturing how a child plays with their toys and how incapable adults are at understanding that play.
3. Kung Fu Panda 1 and 2- both films are very entertaining with a likable lead character, fun action, beautiful visuals, and great villains.
4. Secret of Nimh- wonderful movie featuring one of the toughest Moms in movies. She doesn’t want to be a hero but will do anything for her son. There’s humor, adventure and most importantly real heart.
5. Anastasia- one of the best animated romantic comedies put onto film. Great chemistry, a fun villain, and decent music. The story is silly but I still find it very entertaining.
6. How to Train Your Dragon- haven’t seen sequel but want to. Original was very entertaining. It’s a predictable story but told very well. Great voice cast and a great heart to the story of Hiccup and his desire to please his demanding father. The relationship between him and the dragon is very absorbing. Beautiful flying visuals.
7. Prince of Egypt- some people have problems with the changes from the Biblical story but not me. I am mad for the music, just love it and the scene where Moses communes with the burning bush is breathtaking. I’m a huge fan of biblical epics and this stands with the best.
8. Arthur Christmas- A movie I thought looked really stupid and then totally surprised me. Santa’s youngest son Arthur believes in bringing Christmas to every child and when he finds a girl has been missed will do anything to make it right. I love the idea that even the North Pole has become over-commercialized for Christmas. I love Christmas movies so this is a big win. Great voice cast. Real heart.
9. Chicken Run- An homage to Dirty Dozen and other prison escape movies from the 50s. Great writing and voice work. Terrific villain and the stop motion animation is fabulous.
10. Transformers 1986- Michael Bay should be strapped down and forced to watch this movie for a week straight to understand how it should be done. Those bloated, obnoxious mess of movies don’t have 1/10th the heart of this animated film. Orson Wells is Optimus Prime and he is great. It’s got action and fun characters and with every Michael Bay monstrosity it looks better and better (Transformers 2 and 3 are 2 of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. I just can’t see 4. It’s too much.) Boys deserve better transformers movies and this animated film gives it to them. .
11. Charlotte’s Web- One of the best non-Disney animated musicals. Sweet songs with great vocal performances by Debbie Reynolds and Paul Lynde. It’s actually pretty sad but in a way that will teach kids about friendship and sacrifice.
12. Iron Giant- If you haven’t seen this film, stop what you are doing, go out and watch it. The animation is stunning. The story has real heart and lovely characters. It is a total winner!
13. Paranorman- everyone who thinks I’m a total softy when it comes to darker movies will probably be surprised to find this on my list. I like a good ghost story and this definitely fits the bill. It’s more for teens than children. Some of the images are pretty scary and the humor, like the jock actually being gay, is probably more for teens than little kids. It looks amazing. Has some genuine scares and the story surprised me. Very well done.
14. Simpsons Movie- Everyone is always shocked to find out I love the Simpsons. My favorite show of all time. My brother and sister and I would watch it every week and 26 seasons later still do. The movie is overwritten and could have been better but I still really enjoy it. I love the characters and the HD colors add a nice touch to the movie over the TV show. Simpsons has given me so many laughs I love it. Lisa is my particular favorite.
15. Pirates: Band of Misfits- A movie nobody saw but I really enjoyed. It’s funny with Charles Darwin as our unlikely hero. The stop motion looks great and voice work is engaging. A hidden gem!
16. Curious George- So few movies are made well for children under 5. Curious George is one of those movies. It is sweet and engaging with lovely songs from Jack Johnson. One that is unabashadly for the smallest of children and yet adults won’t be miserable.
17. Lord of the Rings (Bakshi)- It’s not as good as the Peter Jackson movies but it is also a different take on an epic story. To me there is room for multiple retellings of the Lord of the Rings and Bakshi crams a lot of story into this film. Maybe not a masterpiece but I enjoy it. The music is wonderful and characters engrossing. If you like the story of Lord of the Rings give this animated version a chance. I think this is what the Black Cauldron was trying to be and it isn’t near as successful.
18. Batman Mask of the Phantasm- Still my favorite Batman movie (yes, you read right). Intense without being too violent. Batman is interesting without being over-the-top. I hate in the live action movies how the villains are always more interesting than Batman. Not the case here. Great animation. Great voice work. If you haven’t seen it and love the Nolan films give it a shot.
19. Happy Feet- A flawed film but I love the music and it is so unabashedly cheerful I enjoy it. It’s the kind of movie I put in when I’m sick and it brightens my day. Huge talented cast and serviceable story.
20. Charlie Brown Christmas Special- I realize this was for TV but I couldn’t not include it. One of the best Christmas movies ever made. Perfect soundtrack. Lovely message and delightful characters. It focuses on the Christ message of Christmas in a way that is powerful without being overbearing.