Anyone who has followed my reviews for any amount of time knows I am not the biggest fan of the Despicable Me franchise and in particular the gibberish-talking minions that took over the world in 2010. I even just did a podcast episode with my friend Stanford on how I think Megamind, which came out the same year with a similar story, is the better film.
I especially did not like the first Minionsmovie and found the screenplay to be off-putting and lazy. So suffice it to say I did not have much hope for the sequel Minions: The Rise of Gru and the fact I had to watch trailers for the film for 2 years did not do much to increase my enthusiasm.
Well, consider me surprised that I actually had a decent time with this film. (This is why I always try and keep my mind open to any film I sit down to watch.) I know it’s damning with faint praise but it might be the best in the franchise since the original Despicable Me movie? It still has problems and I still find the minions to be annoying but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t laugh quite a bit in this zany adventure.
The minions at their best capture a the antics of a silent movie comedy. For example in this film there is a sequence where the 3 main minions Kevin, Stuart and Bob are flying a plane and it’s ridiculous but funny in a classic slapstick way (I think it is Bob that also gets stuck in the airplane toilet which is pretty funny.
They also spend big money on music for these movies and with this one set in 1976 they get a lot of humor off of famous song drops. One of my favorites is a funeral scene where the minions in a choir sing ”You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. That was funny. Little Gru is also a big step up from Gru and Dru we got in Despicable Me 3.
Unfortunately there are some negatives to Minons: The Rise of Gru. The plot with the Vicious 6 drags and especially the action towards the end is bland. It feels like something we’ve seen a million times. I honestly just wanted it to get back to the slapstick laughs again. The animation is also fine but it doesn’t do anything to stand out or be visually special.
Also, this film is not helped by the fact it is so similar to the recently released The Bad Guys, from DreamWorks which is superior in every way. The animation in The Bad Guys is much better but also the script, story, characters and even the voice-work are better.
Perhaps Minions: The Rise of Gru is helped by extremely low expectations but I can’t deny that I laughed a fair amount. If you are a fan of the franchise you will enjoy this one and even if you are a skeptic like me it might win you over. At the least, I bet a lot of people will agree with me this is the best entry since the original Despicable Me film. Go figure!
If you have been following this blog you know I am not a huge fan of Illumination Studios. In particular their popular yellow gibberish talkers, the Minions, drive me bonkers. Occasionally they will give us a break from our yellow tick-tacks with a Sing or The Secret Life of Pets– my 2 favorite from the studio most of their offerings are mediocre at best. Pets is particularly memorable for me because it was the first time I went on Rotoscopers podcast and it helped inspire me to podcast more. Now we have The Secret Life of Pets 2 and to my surprise I really enjoyed it!
One of the challenges of these films is how many characters they establish. It almost necessitates a Toy Storyish plot where they can all contribute little bits to the journey. This makes a sequel even more difficult because do you do more of the same or try to come up with something different? I know many were scared from the trailer The Secret Life of Pets 2 would end up being a copy of Toy Story 2, but that is not the case.
Instead they divide up our team into 3 smaller stories with a vague theme tying them together (almost like a package film or TV series). It definitely has an episodic feel and will do very well when aired on television, but I didn’t mind it. I can see how some will want a more over-all plot but each part was strong enough (particularly 2 out of 3) that I left entertained.
The first plotline involves Max’s owner Katie getting married and having a child named Liam. Max is very protective over Liam and starts scratching himself out of the anxiety he feels. As someone who deals with anxiety this was handled pretty well and may be a good touching point to talk to kids about how to deal with these strong emotions. Plus the relationship between Max and Liam is very sweet and easy to relate with (it’s a dog and a baby. Who can dislike that?).
Max, Duke and the family end up going out to the country where they meet a sheepdog named Rooster voiced by Harrison Ford (I believe his first voice acting role?). Rooster is disgusted by Max’s cowardice and helps encourage him to face his fears and have more confidence. These scenes while predictable were charming and sweet.
The second subplot is about Gidget (who is my favorite from the first film) trying to retrieve a bumblebee toy Max gave her to guard while he is away. The problem is the toy is stuck in the home of a crazy cat lady with dozens of cats! She even talks Chloe (my other favorite) into giving her lessons on how to be a cat. This section had some nice physical comedy and slapstick that made me laugh.
The final plot centers around Snowball, the Kevin Hart voiced bunny who is convinced he is actually a super-bunny because of the way his owner plays with him. He meets a new doggie named Daisy (voiced by Tiffany Haddish, who evidently must be in ever animated film this year). Daisy is upset because she saw a baby tiger get taken by a mean man at the circus. Snowball and the team of pets must save the tiger and restore order to the city.
This was the least successful of the 3 plots. First of all, I felt bad the circus is once again dragged through the mud. Most circuses took very good care of their animals and there aren’t many reported instances of abuse or neglect. It would be illogical of them to do so since they need the animals to perform in the show. I don’t think the circus is much worse than any other zoo experience, and yet they are usually the evil villains (Dumbo was a better, more fair approach). However, this portrayal of the circus wasn’t really my problem. It’s that Snowball is irritating and the villains are bland. I got a little sleepy to be honest in this section.
While some may not care for the episodic nature of the story in The Secret Life of Pets 2, I didn’t mind it. The characters are cute and there are enough laughs and heart to keep my interest. The vocal performances are all good (Patton Oswalt does a good job subbing out for Louis CK) and like I said, the message on overcoming fears is really sweet.
Alexandre Desplat deserves a huge shout-out for the music. It really helped sell the comedic and action- filled scenes, making me smile. The ending credits are also very sweet and heart-warming.
I have no doubt The Secret Life of Pets 2 will make a boat-load of money but for once it is deserved. The pets are adorable and the 3 sections (especially 2 out of 3) are charming and helpful for kids. I still wish Illumination would challenge themselves artistically more but there’s value in a simple comedy where characters learn simple lessons. I walked out having had a pretty good time.
As many of you know I have been hard at work watching every Christmas movie of 2018 (over 50 new releases already!) for my Hallmarkies Podcast. However, that does not mean I am slacking off on the regular releases. I’m doing the best I can to fit them in as well. I am also still doing monthly obscure animation and Talking Disney over on my other podcast Rachel’s Reviews. We just posted one talking all about Mary Poppins I think you will enjoy.
Anyway, I thought it was about time for another one of my Current Mini Reviews post where I catch you up on the quick thoughts on recent films I’ve seen. Obviously this will not include films like Ralph Breaks the Internetwhere I have a full written review. Let me know your thoughts on these in the comments section.
With such an amazing cast and a great director like Steve McQueen it is difficult to go into Widows without very high expectations and maybe that is part of my problem. While I certainly didn’t hate Widows, I found it kind of frustrating. The writing for the characters isn’t deep enough to be a compelling drama and the heist isn’t fun enough to be an engaging heist movie. Instead it is some pretty camera work and good acting that doesn’t have much to say and was a little plodding. I also thought the lighting on the women didn’t do them any favors. It seemed to me it was being shot to take away their femininity and make them look pasty and ugly which is a very strange choice for these stunning women. Even the love scenes felt very masculine and strange. I guess that could be interesting but it didn’t work for me.
Frown Worthy but other people love it so I guess decide for yourself
93 out of 135
The Christmas Chronicles-
Netflix has stepped up their Christmas game this year and Christmas Chronicles is a really fun entry from them. Starring Kurt Russell as a kick butt, cool Santa who ends up taking care of 2 kids who have lost their father. It was funny and had a nostalgic charm to it. Some of the bits go on a little too long and the thugs are a bit too violent for my liking but it’s a lot of fun. I also thought the elves were adorable.
43 out of 135
While not as fancy as the first Creed film I really enjoyed Creed 2. I enjoyed all the storylines between Adonis and his fiance and him and Rocky. The match-up with the Dragos really worked and I honestly didn’t know who was going to win the final boxing match (and I would have been happy with either winning which is tough to do in a boxing movie). I guess it doesn’t reinvent the boxing genre but what it does it executes very well. I think it’s a little underrated for this year.
19 out of 135
2018 hasn’t had as many indies and anime films as some years but Mirai is certainly one of the standouts. It’s a very simple movie from Mamoru Hosoda about a little boy struggling to adapt to a new sister in the house. Through a series of magical realism events he learns about his family and that he is loved and it is thoroughly adorable. The animation is so fun and the message sweet it really works. It reminded me a little bit of Takahata’s Only Yesterday, which I love.
16 out of 135
Pokemon: The Power of Us-
Last year we got a reboot of the Pokemon series with Pokemon: I Choose You and this year we get The Power of Us and fortunately both are solid entries in the series. I Choose You has more stunning animation but the plot in The Power of Us is less convoluted. Either way, I enjoyed both. If you are a fan you have to see it!
68 out of 135
I love stories about friendship and Green Book is a great example of how to do it right. Both men obviously have racial differences but they have many other differences including class, sexuality, tastes and everything else. I thought it was great seeing the 2 overcome their differences and become friends through their road trip. Some people are mad at this movie for not starting a movement or telling the entire black experience. That’s not what it was trying to do. It was just portraying this one friendship and it did a great job. I love both lead performances and the script is excellent. Loved it.
9 out of 135
Every Day has an intriguing premise that probably works better as a book than a movie but I still enjoyed this YA film. The idea is our young girl meets a boy who wakes up each day in the body of another person for just that day. Naturally this makes having a relationship difficult but the overall message about loving who a person is rather than their outward appearance is a good one and all the acting is sincere and sweet. In the world of dopey YA films, this is a solid entry.
56 out of 135
In Instant Family director Sean Anders tells his own story about when he and his wife adopted 3 siblings and the challenges/blessings that went along with that. This film is easy to disregard if you are only paying attention to the trailers with pratfalls and cheap humor but I loved it. It doesn’t shy away from how hard adoption and foster care can be but the emotional sections really worked for me. I was balling when I left the theater. I mean ugly, got to compose myself, kind of tears. These kids are out there and they need to be loved but they can be so hard to love. I liked all the performances and when the credits showed the Anders family and all the other adoption and foster care families involved in the film I lost it. It’s really good.
12 out of 135
Illumination Studios is the junk food of animation. They provide commercially appealing, brightly colored films that make a lot of money and are instantly forgotten. Such is the case with The Grinch. It’s not awful like their previous attempt with Seuss, The Lorax, but it’s just super bland and lacking in creativity. None of the jokes landed for me and they change the message from Christmas doesn’t come from a store into loneliness is bad, which is a definite downgrade. It has some nice traditional carols in the soundtrack and there’s nothing offensive about it. It’s just super mediocre and bland.
90 out of 135
Tea with the Dames-
If you are an anglophile like myself you have to check out the documentary Tea with the Dames. It’s very simple. They just gather Dame Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith together to talk about their careers and lives. They have some naughty language and can be very catty but it’s all delightful. It will make you want to call your old friends and catch up.
30 out of 135
I actually saw this Turkish film at Sundance but I thought I would give you my thoughts really quick. Butterflies is about 3 estranged siblings who have to journey to bury their recently deceased father. What follows is a bit of a dark comedy with some poignant moments between the very good lead actors and some hilarious bits. I particularly died laughing every time a set of chickens meets their maker (I won’t spoil it for you but it was LOL).
24 out of 135
I was hoping this would be a silly action movie but I don’t know what they were thinking with this disastrous adaptation of the classic story. Almost every choice from the accents, to the action, to the special effects are terrible. I knew it was going to be really bad when the opening sequence is a long Medieval take on American Sniper...Every performance is either bland or way over the top and the story is so dumb. It’s violent and yet the script expects you to care about these ridiculous characters….
128 out of 135
Robin Hood is the worst of this grouping and Green Book is the best! Some fun times at the movies. Let me know what you think!
If you have followed my blog you know my feelings about the minions. Those little yellow gobbledegook speakers have been the bane of my existence the last few years. I hated Minions and have been meh about the other movies. So you can imagine my trepidation going into Despicable Me 3 but I still try to go in with as much of an open mind as possible. And what did I think of this latest entry from Illumination? It’s a mixed bag but I didn’t hate it like Minions so that’s a plus.
Let’s talk about the positives first. The film divides its characters up into smaller subplots. If you read my Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 review you know I don’t always love this approach but in that film I love the group dynamic. Not so much here.
Anyway, I thought a couple of the subplots worked. I liked seeing Lucy trying to figure out how to be a Mom to the girls. As someone who champions adoption this was a nice element to share and I wish they had devoted more time to it. Kristen Wiig in the vocal performance is also great as Lucy.
I also liked getting to spend more time with the girls as I’ve always found them more enjoyable than the minions. Here Agnes is looking for a unicorn in the forest. It doesn’t have anything to do with rest of story but it was cute.
There was also a few laughs in the movie unlike Minions. 80s loving villain Balthazar Bratt had a couple of good jokes and I admit the minions even made me laugh. There is a gag where they sing Modern Major General from The Pirates of Penzance that made me laugh.
But that is where my praises end. While some subplots worked, the major plot of Gru meeting his twin brother Dru really didn’t at all. The two of them interacting weren’t funny or engaging in any way. Dru was kind of annoying and didn’t grow much as a character. They kept trying to make it emotional between the two brothers and I wasn’t feeling it at all.
Also, as much as I enjoyed some of the subplots they don’t tie into together well. Particularly the minions feel like they are in an entirely different movie. In fact, sometimes the story would be chirping along and out of nowhere we’d move over to a minions segment. It was really odd considering the popularity of the characters. It almost felt like they had made a movie and then afterwards added the minions in but that can’t be the case?
And even though I did laugh a few times there were a lot of gags that fell flat and felt very tired. I also do not appreciate Illumination’s love for butt and boob jokes. Enough already!
In the end, Despicable Me 3 feels like average passable entertainment but nothing you will remember in a few months. It’s on the same level as The Angry Birds Movie last year but that movie at least had better animation. There’s nothing that stands out or is special. There’s no great message you will be talking about or animation that tries something new.
I’ve often said Illumination is the fast food of animation and Despicable Me 3 is no different. It’s a passable, average, forgettable film that will probably make a lot more money than it deserves. At least I enjoyed it a little bit.
One of the cool things about 2016 animation is even the middle-tier animated films haven’t been that bad. I’d say films like Storks, Secret Life of Pets and Trolls have all been base hits where the top-tier have been home runs. This stands in contrast to last year where the middle-tier films bombed like Minions and Home. Well, you can add another solid base hit to the 2016 line up with Illumination’s Sing. This isn’t a great movie and I will totally understand the inevitable critiques but I walked away having a good experience.
I got to see Sing as part of a special screening last Saturday meant as kind of a Black Friday weekend promotion. The trailers have not been great for Sing so I went in with low expectations, which may have helped it a little bit (I’m not the biggest Illumination fan). Nevertheless, it ended up being a fun morning at the movies.
Sing is about a koala named Buster Moon who owns a struggling theater that he got after being inspired by a show as a child. He develops a plan to save his theater by hosting a singing competition- ala American Idol type show. This attracts a wide array of characters from a housewife pig with 25 kids named Rosita, to a cocky gambling mouse named Mike, to a gorilla who doesn’t want to be in his Dad’s gang named Johnny. All of these characters love to sing and we see their story play out within the course of the movie.
There are some things Sing really does right. First of all, I liked the characters. It would have been easy to make this a story of angsty teenagers who want to be stars but this has a wide range of character types that are explored better than I expected. Rosita was my favorite. I mean how often do we get a tired, ignored housewife character in a film aimed at children? I thought her arc was really sweet.
I also liked Ash the punk-rock porcupine who has allowed her talents to be brushed aside by her pushy boyfriend. Meena, a shy elephant who knows she is talented but lacks the guts to perform, was also a really nice character. I am sure many people can relate to all 3 of these characters.
The other win for me in Sing was the music. Marketing for the film boasts 85 songs in the soundtrack. I can’t even imagine how expensive the licensing for Sing was but most of those songs are extremely brief. The actual full songs with verses and a chorus I thought were pretty well done. The singing is good and as the movie is about the struggles and dreams of singers they worked to further the story- not just as filler like in movies like Trolls.
This song by Tori Kelly ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing’ was one of my favorites.
Scarlett Johansson gets an original song as Ash and I liked that quite a bit as well.
Some people might not like the music but this is just my taste (it’s my blog after all) and I liked it. And I thought it fit within this particular story with these characters. I certainly thought all of the music was as good as Try Everything from Zootopia, which I also liked (Sing is going to suffer in comparison to Zootopia but on this one level I think it wins).
Now there are some definite problems with Sing. First of all, the base story is super contrived. We’ve seen the ‘save the farm, save the school house, save the theater’ plot device a million times and it feels a little tired here. The story is also extremely predictable but the ending still felt satisfying I guess because I liked the characters so much. It also feels a little over-stuffed with tons of characters auditioning and given songs/story time when I just wanted to focus on the characters I liked. In addition, the humor can be very hit and miss within the film.
The animation is also nothing to write home about. It is standard generic cg animation. There is nothing like the world building or character designs we get in Zootopia or Moana. It works but it feels rather pedestrian. I’d like to see Illumination take more risk with their animation and dazzle us with something new like the hybrid animation did for Peanuts Movie.
The other big problem has to do with some of their character choices. As I said a gorilla named Johnny wants to be a singer. His father runs a gang and he can’t understand why his son wants to be a singer. All of this could have been fine but given the current racial tensions I thought it was in poor taste for them to make all the gang members black. There is even a rival gang and guess what they are? Brown bears…
I wish they had followed the example of Secret Life of Pets and made the gang a variety of animals.
I know this may seem like a small thing but given the racial climate we are in it made me a little uncomfortable.
Still, none of these downsides were deal breakers for me. I walked out humming some tunes and having an over all good time. It’s not a movie I will remember in 5 years but not every movie has to be. This is just an enjoyable base hit with some sweet characters and nice music. I enjoyed it.
Overall Grade- B (just a bit lower than my youtube review)
ps. shouldn’t a koala have an Australian accent? Hmmm…
So I’m back friends from Spain!!! I hope you guys enjoyed art book reviews while I was gone. I enjoyed writing them very much and if there are any art books you would like me to review in the future let me know. Being gone for 12 days I naturally missed a number of movies, which I will now need to play catch up.
The first one that needed to be looked at was of course the animated film- The Secret Life of Pets. This is made by Illumination, a company which I have not been a fan of. I particularly did not care for their entry last year Minions. But I enjoyed the teaser trailer for Secret Life of Pets and was excited to see something from Illumination without little yellow men in it…
And I saw the film and you know what I actually enjoyed it. It’s a ring down from Finding Dory and Zootopia but I was charmed by the film. Here is my youtube review.
I also had the honor and privilege yesterday to be a guest host for the Rotoscopers podcast! I have followed the podcast for some time and am a patron so this was really neat. I hope you guys like my contribution. Please give the video some love and maybe they will invite me back again someday.
Anyway back to the movie. Let’s go over some of the pros and cons of the film.
The first thing that struck me right away about the movie is how great the cityscapes and NYC skyline looked. It is the best NYC has ever looked in a film IMO. Not that many films are set in a city so I really enjoyed the urban environment. It reminded me a little bit of NYC in Oliver and Company.
I am not a dog owner but the whole premise of the secret life of pets is adorable. What do pets do after their owners have left the house after all? Unfortunately the movie abandons that premise for a generic search and rescue pretty early on but I still liked the set up. I liked that it wasn’t just dogs and cats but all kinds of pets like guinea pigs and birds as well (even a crocodile at one point!).
I didn’t mind the lead characters Duke and Max but my favorite were the side characters particularly Chloe and Gidget. They were very funny. The writing for these side characters was on point and I laughed quite ae bit.
Overall I was engaged in the story and thought it was a charming film.
But there were some cons so let’s talk about them.
A big problem many will point out is the similarity to Toy Story. As you can tell by my love for Good Dinosaur I have no problem reusing storylines from other films; however in this case I feel they missed out on a few things that make Toy Story special. The movie never achieves an emotional moment like the Toy Story films do. There is a weak attempt to do so with Duke’s former owner but it doesn’t work. I think what would have worked better is if their owner Katie had realized they were gone and was upset missing them. That would have given the movie more emotional heft than just a search and rescue film.
Also they make Duke a little bit too unlikable. One of the things that makes Woody so jealous of Buzz is how much everyone loves him. We never get any moment to see what makes Duke special or why we should love him. He’s just the annoying new presence in Max’s life and nothing more. Also when they do become a team working together it doesn’t feel earned.
My other problem with the movie is the Underbelly section with Kevin Hart bunny planning a revolution against the humans. There was actually some funny writing and jokes in this section but I found Snowball to be an annoying character. Every line he gives it feels like he is shouting and clenching his fists. I wanted to say ‘calm down for half a second’. The whole underbelly sections of the film feels generic and didn’t do much for me.
I also feel certain characters don’t really fit like Tiberius the hawk voiced by Albert Brooks. Maybe I’m too attached to that voice from Marlin in Finding Dory but it didn’t work. Other characters like Pops we don’t really get to see enough of to make him an effective character.
However, like I said the banter between Gidget and Chloe is very funny and I liked Max as our lead hero. There’s also some good laughs throughout and our second animals driving a car scene for the summer. I also felt the music cues and score by Alexander Desplat really worked well.
So overall The Secret Life of Pets did have problems but I left feeling happy I have seen it and charmed by the film. I think your kids will enjoy it; although there are some moments of pet peril so be forewarned. It’s not a film you have to jump in the car and see but I liked it. It’s definitely Illumination’s best film by far.
Also the Mower Minions I can do without! Get them out of here!
My end grade on Secret Life of Pets is a B-. What would you give it and what did you think of the film? Let me know in the comments section.