Missing Link Review

Everyone who reads this blog knows animation is my first love. I adore the medium in all its formats- 2D, CGI, anime, stop motion, motion capture, whatever. I particularly love stop motion with its attention to detail and unique world-building. Aside from a rare Wes Anderson or Tim Burton project, most stop motion over the last 10 years has come from either Aardman or Laika studios.

I love both of these studios and admire so much the work these talented artists are doing. That said, I do not always love the movies the studios produce. Last year I found Early Man, with its soccer themes, to be underwhelming from Aardman and this year I found Laika’s latest Missing Link to be a disappointment.

Missing Link tells the story of adventurer Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) who finds a sasquatch named Susan (Zach Galifianakis) and agrees to take the friendly beast to meet his family of yetis in Siberia. Along the way they meet Adelina (Zoe Saldana) who has a rocky past with Frost. It’s then mostly a road trip movie with these 3 on a series of adventures across the globe.

Let’s start with the positives. The animation in Missing Link is outstanding. They use a lot of CGI for a stop motion film but the amount of world building and action set pieces they designed is second to none. I can’t even fathom the amount of time spent on one short sequence in India or getting the action right in an old Western bar brawl scene. That would be incredibly difficult and I admire the animators for their great skill.

I also thought the sound design was really good. As they go exploring everything feels tactile and real, which helps immerse you in the experience. I particularly liked scenes on an ice bridge where the sound of the ice crackling and characters sliding upon it felt just right.

I think kids will have fun with the adventure aspect of the film. The kids around me seemed moderately engaged. I doubt it will be a favorite but it has fun moments and the message of self-confidence and friendship is lovely so you could do worse than taking your kids to see it.

missing link

And now let’s talk about some of the issues I had with Missing Link…The biggest problem I had (and I had felt this in the trailers but was hoping the movie would win me over) is the strange character designs. I guess I can understand designing a sasquatch any way they want but the bright red pig-like nose was so off-putting. But even stranger is designing adventurer Frost with a bright red triangle nose. It looks like he is in a perpetual state of having just sneezed, and I don’t get it. He’s supposed to be human. Why would you design his nose like that?

While I think Jackman is fine as Frost, I also didn’t love the voice casting. I especially didn’t like Zach Galifianakis as Susan. It didn’t fit for me, and I felt it missed out on huge comic potential. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the big beast with a big booming voice was actually really sweet and named Susan? Occasionally they’d have him roar and that was funny. The juxtaposition was humorous and could have been much more so if they had gotten someone like Brad Garrett with a lower voice.

Speaking of comedy, that’s my other major problem with Missing Link. I maybe chuckled twice in the film. The humor is a weird mixture of the adult and juvenile variety and it almost all lands flat. It felt kind of like Laika trying to do Aardman and failing. In particular, a whole sequence with the Emma Thompson yetti was long, drawn out and kind of dull. There’s lots of humor that revolves around fighting hijinks. Fighting at a bar, fighting on a train, fighting in the jungle, fighting at the yetis and while the animation in these sequences is impressive they didn’t make me laugh. Is this stuff kids think is funny? It felt very weird to me. Do kids like bar-room brawls and petty fighting between British elites? (I think the film is going to be a very tough sell. I don’t see it appealing to many families and kids unless they happen to like Westerns).

missing link3

I feel bad for being so harsh on a Laika film because I really value what the studio is doing. However,  I have to be honest with my response to a film like Missing Link. It just didn’t do it for me despite the incredible animation. My friend Jen had the same reaction but then my friend Larry loved it so it will be interesting to see what others think.

If you get a chance to see Missing Link let me know what you think. Do the character designs turn you off in the trailer or are you excited for the adventure?

Final Score 4 out of 10

frown

 

 

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Kubo and the Two Strings Review (Masterpiece)

kubo-and-the-two-strings-posterYesterday I got the chance to see the new film from Laika Animation Studios called Kubo and the Two Strings. Here is my youtube review that I made after seeing it:

2016 has been a very strong year for animation in my opinion. Zootopia, Finding Dory, Little Prince, Only Yesterday, April and the Extraordinary World, Kung fu Panda 3 are all special releases. No we get Kubo and the Two Strings and it may be the best yet. What an amazing animated stop motion adventure. It took my breath away but I was also engaged in the story and loved the lead character, Kubo.

The film tells the story of Kubo who is a little boy with magical powers. He can make origami paper come alive and tell stories. He even at one point is able to build an entire boat with his paper. Each day he tells stories to the villagers but he only has one problem- he can never think of good endings to the story.

kuob4His Mother is a sickly woman who he has to care for. He has to cook for her and even feed her she is so weak. However, his Mother warns him to not be out after dark or he will be in great danger. Unfortunately one night he ends up outside and spirits begin calling for him “Kubo, Kubo, they call”. As he follows them he ends up on adventure to get the armor of his father that will protect him and his Mother.

kuboAlong the way he meets a monkey and a beetle who help him on his journey. One thing I liked is I was never sure where they were headed or what the next step was going to be. This is not like Lord of the Rings where the clear goal is Mordor and the destruction of the ring. Without a clear roadmap the film was very unpredictable and surprising.

The dialogue is also very well done. Monkey and Beetle are funny together and have a lot of sarcastic jabs at each other without being too modern or hip. In fact, Kubo is probably too old-fashioned for its own good. It would probably be easier to market if it had the wise cracking modern sidekick like Mushu in Mulan.

kubo6Nevertheless, I loved the characters, especially Kubo. Much like Judy Hopps in Zootopia this year, there was an earnestness and sincerity to Kubo that won me over immediately. He is blind in one eye but that eye is expressive and his smile made me very happy. I wanted him to be happy. I was rooting for him to succeed, which is probably the greatest compliment I can give to a character. He was brave and strong but felt real and vulnerable at the same time.

kubo-and-the-two-strings-official-trailer-3-2-820x795Do I even need to say the visuals are stunning? Yes, the visuals are stunning! There were so many moments when you can’t believe it is stop motion. The character movements are so fluid and the fast paced movements and lush landscapes are like something I haven’t seen before. It is without a doubt the greatest looking stop motion animated film I’ve ever seen.

kubo8It also has a great emotional reach. There are moments that will make you smile, laugh, cry and get a little scared. I don’t think it is too scary for most kids but maybe if they aren’t able to handle darker Disney villains like Maleficent than it isn’t for them. My theater was full of kids and they were totally engaged (unlike so many animated films I’ve seen in last few years because with the good comes the bad too…).

KUBO_monkey_laika_focus.0.0Mostly the film just has a huge heart that wins you over to the story, characters and world-building. I loved it and I fully intend on doing a detailed spoiler review once I get to see it more than once like I have done with Zootopia and Inside Out.

Unfortunately, it looks like this film is pegging to open at 12 million this weekend. That is so discouraging. It really is a masterpiece. I don’t want to live in a world where The Angry Birds Movie does better than Kubo and the Two Strings and yet there it is. What’s wrong with America?

Please let’s prove these prognosticators wrong!  Go see this film. Take your family. Take your friends. It’s great for all ages. It’s great for all interest levels. It’s a great movie. You don’t want to be the one who missed 2016’s masterpiece do you? See Kubo and the Two Strings. It’s that special.

I wouldn’t recommend the 3D as it didn’t do much to enhance the experience. Just see it in 2D and enjoy a truly special animated adventure.

Overall Grade- A+

Trailer Battle: Xmen Apocalypse, BFG, Kubo

Hey guys!  I just wanted to share with you my thoughts on 3 recent trailers.

Xmen Apocalypse- I thought this was a good trailer and I’m excited to see what Bryan Singer is going to do after Days of Future Past, which I loved.  I know some disagree with me but I’ve always loved the women in the Xmen world and that has drawn me to the series more than other superhero franchises.  So naturally I was really excited to see Jean Grey right off the back telling her dream to Charles Xavier.  I am intrigued by Apocalypse and the connection to the 4 horsemen. I loved seeing the new Storm who looked great! Mystique/Raven looks to continue her emotional run from Days of Future Past. We got a few shots of Magneto and Nightcrawler and then a closing shot of Professor X in his wheelchair.  So cool and it’s hard to argue with the cast- Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Jame McEvoy, Oscar Isaac, the list goes on and on.  Love it!  But the big question is where is Wolverine? 🙂

BFG- This is just a teaser trailer but I’m really optimistic about the direction they are going in.  It looks like old school Spielberg like an ET or Hook, something with a little magic that he hasn’t done in a long time.  I love the book but always felt it would be difficult to turn into a movie because of the rather grisly premise but I trust Spielberg and his team.  I really liked the look of the lead girl and the way they did the narration in the trailer was very effective.

Kubo and the Two Strings- This stop motion film from Laika was totally off my radar but I loved this trailer!  It looks so different than anything Laika has done before- without the gothic, spooky feel of their other films.  I particularly loved the water and the look of the characters.  It is a Japanese adventure of a boy trying to find some magical armor that will save his family.  I really thought this trailer worked and introduced me to the movie which is the point of a trailer after all.  I also thought the music and adventure of the movie looks very promising.

What did you guys think of these trailers? Are you excited for any of these films?

Double Feature Part 2: Boxtrolls

The_Boxtrolls_posterThe second part of my double feature was the Laika follow up to the wonderful Paranorman stop motion animated movie The Boxtrolls and it is such a delight.

If you have kids that love slime, ooh and goo and things that are disgusting this is a movie they will LOVE!  But also kids who like creative worlds and fun characters will like it too.

Again I will try and tell you a little bit about it without spoiling anything.

It is set in Cheesebridge, a town where there are heavy class distinctions. The main being those with status get to eat cheese.  The designated cheese-eaters are identified by a tall white hat.

cheeseThe aristocrats are led by Lord Portley-Rind who in a lesser movie would have been a total villain but as it is he’s just in love with cheese (seriously at one point they choose a large gouda over a children’s hospital!).    The Lord has a daughter named Winnifred, voiced by Elle Fanning, who is spunky but not in the typical way we see in these types of movies.  She’s actually not in the movie that much and I could have seen even more of her.

The Boxtrolls

A man named Archibald Snatcher wants to eat cheese more than anything even though he is so allergic he puffs up with boils all over his face when he does.  Mostly he wants status and the importance of the hat and cheese eating.  Snatcher is voiced by Ben Kingsley but he sounds just like Michael Gambon.

snatcherSnatcher makes a deal with Lord Portley-Rind that he will remove all the boxtrolls, a race of stealing trolls, that are the outcasts of the town.  If they are all dead than he can be given a white hat and eat cheese.

boxtrollsThe boxtrolls have been raising a human boy who is abandoned by his father.  They call him Eggs because that’s his box.  Eggs is voiced very well by Isaac Hempstead-Wright.

eggs2The Boxtrolls are creatures of habit.  They operate only according to their nature but Eggs does not and tries to get them to adapt as the story goes forward.

It’s a lot for a kids film to take on- class strife, fighting your nature, loving the downtrodden and seeing value in everyone no matter their label. But fortunately Boxtrolls is up for the challenge.  I really loved it.

It clips along very well and the score by Dario Marianelli is a lot of fun with a little opera and barbershop quartet music thrown in occasionally.  The villain is allowed to win for a lot of the picture.  There’s a long time when I didn’t know how they could dig themselves out of the hole they’d created he was doing so well.

Winnifred and Eggs are very endearing and the Boxtrolls are kind of like grimy versions of the minions- very cute and sweet.

The world they created is vivid and it teaches some great values to kids without it being too heavy-handed.  Very imaginative and fun.  I loved it!

There is a scene with a character in drag showing a lot of skin if that is of concern to parents. And like I said it is kind of gross at times but in a fun way.

Content Grade- B+  Overall Grade- A-

Oh and stay for the credits!

Oh and it is not as scary as Paranorman.  More appropriate for the whole family.