Despicable Me

Posted on March 30, 2011. Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , |

You may have noticed I’m watching a lot of kid’s films recently. I think it’s a side effect of realising I have exams again.  Now the opera is over I have time to catch up on some recent releases that passed me by, and seeing as I’m currently battling the plague kid’s films seemed an apt place to start.

Despicable Me is fun. And that’s about the most you can say about it. It’s predictable and doesn’t really stand out from the swelling crowd of animations out there, but it is fun.  At first I found Steve Carrell’s OTT accent grating but you get used to it, and soon enough I found myself rooting for Gru.  Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the casting of Russell Brand, who didn’t do anything wrong exactly but was just hopelessly miscast as an aging evil scientist. Maybe his voice isn’t as instantly recognisable to American audiences, but to me it was completely surreal and distracting hearing his (ineffectively disguised) mockney coming out of an old man on a mobility scooter.

There aren’t as many laughs for the grown ups as we have come to expect from modern animations, but there are some good jokes and it kept me happy for a short but sweet 95 minutes.  It’s careful not to get to sentimental and the 3 orphans are cute without becoming corny.  My favourite characters were actually the minions. I want one.

Not a danger to my top 5 animations, but an entertaining film.

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Top 5 Disney Movies

Posted on February 4, 2011. Filed under: Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

That’s right folks, it’s another Top 5.

With the release of Tangled, critics are going wild telling us that Disney is finally “back on form,” but what exactly is Disney’s “form?”  When you think about it, and discard the Pixar movies, it’s been a long time since anything worth getting excited about came from the world’s most famous animation studio.  A lot of fuss was made over The Princess and the Frog but it didn’t seem to come to much, and before that we had such shockers as Atlantis to contend with.  It seems in recent years, Disney has been left behind while other studios, namely Pixar and Dreamworks, tapped into the new world of animation, where there is just as much for the adults as there is for the kids.  It’s not something Disney haven’t managed before, but they seem to have lost their way somewhere.   From what I’ve heard about Tangled (and hopefully I’ll be able to back it up soon) they’ve finally got themselves back on track.

If Disney has finally recaptured the magic, what are the movies we’re holding this latest offering up against?  Here are my Top 5 Disney animations, the best of the cartoons that captured mine and many thousands of other people’s childhoods.  Coming up with this list has actually been incredibly hard.  It’s animations only, so no Pirates, but it’s been harder than I thought picking just five films from the vast back catalogue.  The number one spot was easy, but narrowing down all my other childhood (and adulthood) favourites to just four spaces was tough.  Knowing me, I’ll probably want to change it tomorrow.

5. Lilo and Stitch

This is an incredibly underappreciated film, but it’s one of the best ones they’ve brought out in recent years.  The characters are surprisingly realistic (I’m not talking about the aliens, obviously!) and it takes on some pretty tough issues with the kind of honesty that kids have grown to love in Disney.  It also helps that it has a fun script and some great music, mixing Hawaiian tradition with Elvis classics.

4. Mulan

One of the school of Disney films that used a big name in comedy to inject some energy into the script.  Eddie Murphy’s Mushu is perhaps now overshadowed by his Donkey (which sounds weird…) but the former character provides some great laugh out loud moments that I still find myself quoting on a regular basis.  Music is another big factor in this movie, as it is in all of the Disney films since they are essentially animated musicals, with Donny Osmond lending his vocal chords to Shang (bet you didn’t know that did you?) Moments of intense drama are interspersed with show stopping musical numbers and comedy that the whole family can enjoy.

3.  Robin Hood

When I was little, my three Disney loves were Dumbo, Lady and the Tramp and Robin Hood. Trying to pick which one to include was torturous, but in the end I had to pick Robin Hood as it’s one of the first films I can remember watching over and over again and never getting bored.  Casting the famous legend amongst a group of woodland animals is brilliant in a way that you don’t even notice until you get older.  Robin as a fox is a natural, but I also love Little John as a bear (voiced by the equally legendary Phil Harris) and Prince John as an immature Lion, shown up by his full maned older brother.

More great music. More big laughs. Pure Disney magic.

2. Aladdin

This was in my top spot film for two years until the film below came along.  Robin Williams makes this movie.  The genie is an iconic character and the improvised script (also found at the beginning: “it will not break! It will not break……it broke) is full of comedy that both the kids and their parents can enjoy.  Aladdin has also given us one of the classic songs in the Disney songbook: A Whole New World and, along with Beauty and the Beast, was one of the first animations to use computer graphics in some scenes.

1. The Lion King

There really is no better Disney animation than The Lion King. They really hit on a masterpiece here.  The story is compelling and full of heart, the animation is beautiful (the opening sequence is one of the best bits of animation I’ve seen) and the music is just stunning.  Everything about The Lion King works.  Seeing it for the first time in the cinema is one of my clearest early memories, and I love it just as much today.  It’s not just my favourite DIsney film, but it’s one of my favourite films of all time, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

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Best trailer I’ve seen in ages: Rango

Posted on September 7, 2010. Filed under: Trailers | Tags: , , , , |

I already love this film, but I’ve got at least a 6 month wait before it comes out. Dang.

Johnny Depp as a chameleon. What more could you want?

How about Bill Nighy, Alfred Molina and Ray Winstone? Now you’re talking!

Animation looks pretty awesome and I love how unusual it is as a premise.  Going to be looking forward to this one.

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Up (3D)

Posted on October 31, 2009. Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , , , |

So, I finally made it back to the cinema! This time it was to see the long-awaited Up, the first film I’ve ever seen in 3D.

I have to admit I was sceptical at first, I grew up in the age of those horrible green and red cardboard things and was a bit worried that seeing a film in 3D might be more annoying than exciting.  Turns out 3D glasses have come a long way, still not the most attractive thing in the world, but in the case of Up you end up looking quite a lot like our lead character which made me laugh every time I looked around the room.  As for the effects themselves, I think the jury is still out.  At times, the 3D was really cool, particularly in the wide angle shots of landscapes, and it did bring the action to life, but at other times I found it a bit distracting, and I couldn’t help continually taking off my glasses to see what the screen looked like without them. (Blurry, if you’re wondering).  I think with an animation like Pixar, 3D is a good thing, as it carries on what the computer has begun, but I’m not sure I’d like to see it spill into mainstream cinema too much.  There is a definitely increase in the number of films being released in 3D, so I guess it’s something I’ll be getting used to.  The trailer for the new Christmas Carol which came before was a clear example of 3D being just right, as the falling snowflakes really did look amazing in 3D.

Onto the film itself.  My first impression of Up is how shockingly sad it is!  We’re talking Bambi’s Mum here.  I’d seen a news report earlier about Up being one of the few films that has made men cry but kind of shrugged it off…turns out they were right.  It’s the opening montage that does it, where we find out how Carl Fredricksen goes from a cute little kid to a grumpy old man.  Up is an unusual film for Pixar, because it tackles some pretty adult content about loneliness and loss, and is one of the only films I can think of that centres almost entirely around a grumpy old man.  It might not quite stand up to some of its predecessors, but it is a good film, and I guess we should hand it to them for taking on a storyline you wouldnt expect in a kids’ film.

Once you get over the sad opening, there are some brilliant funny moments in the film, provided mainly by the counterpoint between Carl and cute boy scout Russell.  There were at least 3 things that had me laughing out loud, and the way that both characters are drawn adds to the contrast, with Russell pretty much ball-shaped, while Carl has an almost perfect square for a head.

The plot of the film is good too, there were a couple of times when I thought an obvious ending was approaching and was surprised to find the story heading in a different direction.  At 96 minutes it never drags, and is basically a fun ride from beginning to end.  One thing I did like was the new way Pixar has found for its animals to talk, stepping away from the Disney norm of all creatures great and small speaking perfect English-well, sort of.  There are actually very few characters in the film.  Apart from Carl and Russell, there’s comic relief dog Dug, quintessential bad guy Charles Muntz, and that’s about it.  Because of this, the film feels quite small despite the grandeur of its setting, with the floating house actually not having an awful lot to do with it in the grand scheme of things.  I think this works with a film like this which is really about the development of one character-Carl.  As I’ve said before, it’s unusual for any film, especially a kids film, to invest so much in a crotchety old man, but Pixar somehow manages to make him just loveable enough for it to work.  I’m betting that opening montage has a lot to do with it.

Also a departure for Pixar is the lack of all-star voice talent.  Apart from Christopher Plummer inhabiting our villain, the rest of the voices come from relative unknowns or one of the films directors (Bob Peterson).  At times, it can be distracting having a really recognisable voice in a film so it was nice to be able to only have one character with whom I associate the voice.

Altogether I think Up is a worthwhile family film with enough in it to keep the big kids (i.e. me) happy and lots of bright colours and flying about for the little ones.  I did kind of get the impression that this was a film for boys, (there’s really only one female character in the whole film, and she’s called Kevin!) and the more I thought about it, the more I realised that quite a lot of Pixar films are leaning more towards the male than female market.   In  Toy Story we have Andy with typical boy toys: cowboys and space men;  Finding Nemo is all about a boy and his father, Cars is just obvious…the only one I could think of with a more feminine air was Monsters Inc, and that’s just for Boo, because otherwise that’s quite a boyish film too.  It’s not necessarily a criticism, but I wonder if Pixar have noticed how many of their films centre around a young male character with, more often than not, and older male representing some kind of lost father figure.  I’ve mentioned before the Hollywood obsession with “Daddy issues” and it seems that Pixar, and all of Disney in fact, might be some of the biggest culprits. ‘Course if you’re like me and tend to prefer the boy films then it’s not really an issue.

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