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Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

(screenshots from JoBlo.com)

Disney’s 52nd animated feature is essentially a Toy Story for the digital generation, Wreck-It Ralph. In it, characters from video games in an arcade inhabit a connected electronic world and live their lives after all the humans have left. They are able to visit the individual games by passing through the arcade’s surge protector, which acts as their central station. Their respective games function as both a career and a home world for them to live in.  Their actions during gameplay are like theatrical performances, their lives essentially a reality show with some human interference. It’s a brilliant concept and full of references to classic games. More than that, Wreck-It Ralph features a very funny (if by-the-numbers) script and a wide appeal that should leave everyone satisfied.

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Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

Film #22: Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

Despite some of my best friends in high school making constant reference to the cult film Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, I had never actually seen the movie until a week ago. It was… pretty much exactly the way I expected it to be. To be honest, I don’t know how anyone could watch this movie for the first time without the whole thing seeming familiar. Pee-wee Herman, the indelible man-child played (for a decade straight) by Paul Reubens, is so intractably entwined in American popular culture that it’s impossible not to know his antics. What I wasn’t aware of, however, is that this movie was the first time Pee-wee hit the big or small screen (I just assumed that his television show “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” had preceded the film); nor was I fully aware that this was the very first feature-length film directed by Tim Burton. Knowing these things puts the film in an interesting historical context. Oh yeah, and it’s a pretty enjoyable watch in and of itself.

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Hugo (2011)

Film #18: Hugo (2011)

Hugo is unusual fare for director Martin Scorsese, whose films usually revolve around violent crimes or troubled psyches (or, in the case of Cape Fear, both). Instead, Scorsese’s latest work is an about-face, a family mystery film following its 12 year-old title character in 1931 Paris. Hugo lives within the walls of a large railway station, a drab existence resulting from an accident that killed his father (Jude Law) and the negligence of his drunken uncle (Ray Winstone). Before his father, a clockmaker, died, he infected Hugo with the wonders of machinery, especially in the case of an old broken automaton. Hoping to find some sort of message from his late father, Hugo sets to work fixing the machine with the help of Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), the goddaughter of an angry shopkeeper (Ben Kingsley) who resents Hugo for his thievery.

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Toy Story 3 (2010)

In 1995 and 1999, Toy Story and its sequel made huge impacts on the world of feature-length animations, combining stunning visuals, solid stories and unforgettable characters – all in the relatively new field of computer animation. It’s been 11 years since we last followed Woody and Buzz. In that time, CGI has become ubiquitous and the Academy Awards have created the “Best Animated Feature” category.

Despite the age of its source material, Toy Story 3 stands up to both its predecessors and its contemporary competition. This is an excellent movie in every way.

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Dinosaur (2000)

Dinosaur was apparently the most expensive film of the year 2000. It is Disney’s long-awaited entry to the dinosaur genre, one that never fails to fascinate children and the youth inside all of us. Disney waited while other animated dino tales came and went, and because they waited so long they were able to make a product with very clearly superior animation.

Dinosaur is mostly a showcase of this CGI technology. The settings of the film are real-life places, and the dinosaurs animated into these sets look just as real. The first sequence of the film is breath-taking. It follows a fantastic journey of a single dinosaur egg as it miraculously avoids destruction to wind up in a herd of lemurs. The egg’s dazzling trip was shown in theaters before the movie came out, and I remember seeing it and being equally amazed.

It’s unfortunate that this majestic opening leads into a very generic movie. When the egg containing our protagonist Aladar ends up with the lemurs, the primates begin to talk. This moment shattered the idea of a fantastical, realistic look at a prehistoric world that I had expected out of this film, and began instead what would evolve into the most recycled and uninspired story I’ve ever seen in an animated film.

Everything about the film’s story is stale. Aladar and his lemur surrogate family survive a meteor shower and join a herd of dinosaurs making their way to a promised land. As if that wasn’t a direct thievery from the Land Before Time, the characters are likewise unengaging. Aladar is so simplistically moral that he bores to tears. The antagonistic leader of the pack is a bad guy because he wants to survive and keep pushing the dinosaurs to safety. He has a sister who gets in the middle of the clash in ideologies. The carnivorous dinosaurs who threaten to eat them never speak and only growl and bite. All of this has been done before ad nauseam. Even the dangers that the dinosaurs encounter as they make their arduous trek are repetitive and wear thin by the end of the film. If forced to describe the film in one word, it would have to be “trite”.

That’s basically all there is to say about this film. It looks amazing; its plot is atrociously formulaic. I believe it would have worked much better as a film without speaking animals, just a well-animated look into a world that is both fascinating and inconceivable. Instead, the film has bland characters speaking unoriginal dialogue to move themselves through a generic plot. This is only worth watching if you have the spirit of a child, want to see fantastic animation without regards to content, or are just really really into dinosaurs.

Final rating: 5/10

–James A. Janisse


Bolt (2009)

Last year the most talked-about animated film was Wall-E, and as a result, it wasthe only one I saw. I’m sad that that may have been the case for others as well, because Bolt is a solid entry in Disney’s CGI-animated film canon.

Bolt is about a dog who has been led to believe he has super powers, although in reality, people are just faking everything for him and filming it for a television show. Bolt ends up across the country in a questionably short period of time, then has to make his way back with the help of an alley cat and a hyped-up hamster.

The plot is pretty generic, but the whole concept of a dog being fooled into thinking he has super powers is pretty interesting to me. I had no idea that that was the plot for this movie, so I was tricked a few times before learning what was actually going on. Although it’s not the most amazing of storylines, the plot unfolds at a very efficient pace, never lingering around in any one location for too long. It’s very economic with its material, and it’s nice to see a film that is edited efficiently.

Visually, Bolt is very pleasing. It looks very well-animated, with some impressive details to most of its characters. The designs were satisfying; they actually looked like the animals they were supposed to be, albeit with larger heads (which I suspect is to enhance cuteness). Even better, they behaved and moved accurately as well. Although I’m glad Disney tried out traditional animation with Princess and the Frog, I won’t mind their return to CGI if their future efforts look as good as Bolt.

The characters are part of the film’s appeal as well. John Travolta voices Bolt, and though Travolta is now in his 50s, his voice is gentle and curious, fitting perfectly with the part of this young but brave dog. I was initially skeptical toward the character Rhino the hamster, but he ended up being a refreshingly resourceful and endearing addition instead of the bumbling annoying sidekick I imagined. I was also worried about Miley Cyrus’ presence ruining the film for me, but her character is surprisingly absent a majority of the film, and when she’s around she actually does a decent job. There were also a bunch of different pigeons throughout the film, and all of them were a treat as well.

Above all, this movie is good at being feel-good. It’s a very uplifting and happy tale that never tries to get cheap emotion out of its audience. It’s heartfelt in addition to looking fantastic and being efficient with its plot. It’s sad that Bolt was overshadowed by Wall-E, because it’s worth taking a look at, even if it isn’t groundbreaking.

Final rating: 8/10

–James A. Janisse

 

 

 


The Princess and the Frog (2009)

To surprise my girlfriend and satisfy my own interest, I took her to see The Princess and the Frog. It was an enjoyable experience only marred by the shrieking and giggling young adult women in tiaras that populated the theater. I guess I can’t really blame the movie for all that.

As everyone knows, this movie is Disney’s first hand-animation cartoon since 2004’s Home on the Range. Since it is also Disney’s first black princess, there’s been a lot of buzz and pseudo controversy over the movie its entire development. I was glad to see that the end product was one that would only offend someone going in and demanding offense, and that its animation and spirit were nearly as enjoyable as the films of the Disney Renaissance of the 90s.

I’m always skeptical of the ability of cartoons to make me laugh, but I did quite a few times during this film, including one joke near the beginning that I still haven’t stopped repeating in real life (Your head… it’s in the tuba). The humor was mostly spot-on, with a few unfunny jokes that are only to be expected.

The characters of the movie were also pleasant, though I know many critics disagree. I found the villain to be satisfyingly evil, and even though the song he sang wasn’t particularly interesting (nothing compares to Scar’s “Be Prepared”), the animation during the sequence was uniquely trippy.

Prince Naveen was hands down my favorite character, and I got a kick out of him as an arrogant but well-meaning guy. Even more impressive was Charlotte, who Disney could have easily turned into an antagonistic spoiled brat, but instead decided to make her a genuinely helpful and caring friend. Tiana was a strong and independent female lead, which definitely speaks well to a generation captured by Miley Cyrus, and although the movie kind of beats its message into you, it’s not a horrible message to have: work hard for things, but don’t live to work.

Other character aspects were lacking, however. Louie looks like a generic Disney alligator, an issue that seriously detracted from his originality as a character. And Lawrence fulfills a seemingly necessary role for Disney, that of the fat cowardice sidekick villain. I almost feel like children on Disney could be conditioned to fear and mistrust portly men.

Some of the songs, like the opening number by Randy Newman, were catchy and sounded enjoyably “Disney-ish”, but others also suffered from unoriginality and banality. At least the story is efficient and forward-moving – there aren’t really low points once the movie gets going, and the ending, though predictable and generic, is sufficient enough.

Although the movie might be a bit “light” and not have the power of the Lion King or the majesty of Beauty and the Beast, I forgive Disney. It’s been a while, and they’ve gotta dust off the old Disney magic. But at least they began with a strong enough starting point in The Princess and The Frog.

Final rating: 8/10

–James A. Janisse