Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (2018)

 

Released: November 9, 2018. Directed by: Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier. Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones. Runtime: 1h, 26 min.

When I went to see “Overlord” in November, I overheard a mom saying to her kid “Are you excited for your first movie?” Knowing how cool it is to see your first movie at a theatre, I was bummed he was seeing something as mediocre as “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” for his first movie at the theatre.

“Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” is the third adaption of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! where Benedict Cumberbatch voices the titular Grinch in a version that doesn’t add anything new or interesting to the story.

This time, The Grinch isn’t particularly feared and is just seen as meaner than the average Who. He still doesn’t like Christmas, so when the Who’s bring in a gigantic Christmas tree, he hatches a plan to put an end to their happiness: Steal Christmas.

Illumination Entertainment’s animation style fits Seuss’s style, especially his inventions which the animation brings to life well. I like their vision of Whoville, but the animation is the only good part of the film, even though it makes Cindy-Lou Who (Cameron Seely) look like a Martian with her pigtails sticking up in the air, and the character design’s similar to “Despicable Me.”

As for the story, there’s just not enough plot for a feature film. It’s just told with very little creativity, and there are no Jim Carrey kind-of antics to distract from the lack of story.

The Grinch featured

Benedict Cumberbatch in Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (IMDb)

Cumberbatch is fine as the Grinch, but he’s not terribly memorable. Nothing about this film is memorable, and the main source of laughs come from the Grinch’s cheery neighbour (Keenan Thompson) and the Grinch’s dog Max and an overweight reindeer, and the Grinch trolling the citizens of Whoville made me smile, but those moments were the only times I did.

Pharrell Williams’ monotone narration also does not help matters of entertainment. Since you already know which direction is going, I was getting antsy for the Grinch just to steal Christmas, but it feels like it takes forever to get there. There just aren’t many interesting characters to watch in this one, as the Grinch and Cindy Lou’s interactions are extremely limited until he makes his Christmas heist.

Even then, it’s a bit of a cliche way for Cindy Lou to meet him – setting up a Rube Goldberg trap to try to catch Santa Claus so she can ask him for something selfless.

We know about the Grinch’s loneliness and we know that he steals Christmas and that his heart grows three sizes, but this version doesn’t delve into any kind of new backstory or anything interesting, for that matter. And it was just kind of weird seeing a version where the people aren’t afraid of the Grinch. But for this version, the filmmakers just unfortunately don’t do anything to make it memorable.

Score: 50/100

 

Incredibles 2 (2018)

Released: June 15, 2018. Directed by: Brad Bird. Starring: Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Vowell. Runtime: 1h 58 min.

Writer/director Brad Bird and stars Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson and Samuel L. Jackson are well-aware it’s been 14 years since the The Incredibles, as they address this wait before screenings of Incredibles 2. It is a long time – long enough for Holly Hunter (Helen Parr/Elastigirl) to turn 60, the same age Craig T. Nelson (Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible) was when they made the original in 2004.

But now Incredibles 2 is finally here and it’s a great nostalgia trip after all these years. I smiled so much during the opening scene because it’s so entertaining, and I thought it was worth the price of admission alone.

Politicians of Metroville still want superheroes to stay hidden and not intervene. Not everyone wants supers to be hidden – as the CEO of a telecommunications company, Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) have come up with a way to get supers back in the good graces of Metroville.

They want to use Elastigirl (Hunter) to show the government supers can save the day without a lot of structural damage. That’s the main reason they pick her over Bob (Craig T. Nelson) – because he causes the city so much money. “Big problems need big solutions,” Bob explains. This time, Helen’s out on secret missions and Bob’s the stay-at-home dad.

It’s so cool watching Elastigirl fight crime for the bulk of the film this time, as her powers of stretching all over the place is visually more interesting than Bob just using his strength on everything. Plus, Holly Hunter is generally amazing so more screen time for her is welcome. The rest of the voice cast is also really great.

The main plot is Helen foiling the plans of a mysterious figure called the Screenslaver, which is entertaining and has a lot of well-animated, dazzling action scenes. Some aspects are predictable, but the pure entertainment of the third act more than makes up for it. The story’s also very well-written.

I generally loved the plot so much because it’s so cool going back to these characters, and the Parr’s family dynamic still feels fresh after 14 years. The parents do switch roles this time. Bob deals with jealousy of Helen fighting crime and him being pushed into the shadows of parenting, and it’s handled with humour.

He seems more like Bob in this film than Mr. Incredible, but he shines whenever he’s in his super suit. Speaking of super suits, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) also has enough chances to shine. Other fan favourite Edna E. Mode (Brad Bird) also has a great appearance.

Bob helping Dash (Huck Milner) with homework and him screwing up trying to help Violet (Sarah Vowell) with boy problems will be relatable for dads. The biggest laughs come from the scene-stealing Jack Jack (Eli Fucile) who’s unable to control his newfound powers. That’s a huge thing Bob has to deal with. Anyone who’s seen the Jack Jack Attack short film will definitely love this sub-plot. He’s one of the most entertaining aspects of the film and Brad Bird seems like he’s having a blast writing this.

Besides the great old characters, we get to know a few new heroes – Sophia Bush as Voyd, for example – and they’re fun side characters that Bird explores. The film’s storyline flows nearly as well as the original and the dialogue’s still sharp and the humour’s great. Michael Giacchino’s score helps a lot with the film’s nostalgic feeling, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Score: 90/100

The Incredibles (2004)

The Incredibles

IMDb

Released: November 5, 2004. Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by: Brad Bird. Runtime: 1h, 55 min.

In Metroville, superheroes are forced into retirement by the government after getting hit with lawsuits, and the supers promise to refrain from superhero work. Effectively, this makes their secret identities their only identities.

For Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), not being a superhero is a big ask. 15 years after supers are forced into hiding, Bob works in insurance claims by day and hangs out with Lucius Best/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) at night, listening to police scanners. Since he can’t be heroic as Mr. Incredible, the cinematography makes his days look dark and depressing.

When he’s given an assignment by a mysterious person to be heroic on a remote island, everything’s brighter. After this, he and his family are forced into super action – including wife Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and their kids Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Spencer Fox), as baby Jack Jack stays at home with a babysitter.

“The Incredibles” is about a family that must hide their powers – Violet can go invisible and make forcefields and Dash can move at super speeds – but otherwise they’re an average family. Helen and Bob even parent differently like normal families.

Bob says that their powers make them special; Helen wants them to know their powers aren’t the only thing that make them special. They’re mostly on the same page – except in a moment that should be punishment for Dash after he puts a thumbtack on his teacher’s chair, Bob’s just excited that Dash was going too fast to be seen on camera.

The Incredibles (pic)

Dash, Violet, Bob and Helen in The Incredibles. (IMDb)

While embracing who you are is an important theme, family’s the most prominent one. One of the film’s coolest moments is when the Parr’s stand together as The Incredibles for the first time, ready to fight the villains as a family. And that moment especially set to Michael Giacchino’s score makes it feel so awesome, and the score is great throughout.

The villain himself, Syndrome (Jason Lee), is well-written by writer/director Brad Bird. Syndrome is a rich guy who creates his own powers by creating gadgets and weapons and his backstory of desperately wanting to be a hero and facing rejection put him on his supervillain path.

The screenplay’s one of the film’s strongest suits as everything flows so well throughout. The lesson that Bob has to learn that being a hero isn’t the most important thing, and that he can be a hero by being a father, is also insightful. Everything’s top-notch here from the dialogue, humour, great characters and action scenes. Bird just brings it to life in such an amazing way.

Bird has some funny comments about villains in general, one of which is an observation on drawn out villain monologues when they could defeat the hero at any moment. “The guy has me on a platter and he won’t shut up!” says Lucius. Bird also voices scene-stealing fashion designer Edna E. Mode, who designs super suits, and her bit about “no capes” is one of the film’s funniest moments.

Score: 100/100

Inside Out (2015)

Released: June 19, 2015. Directed by: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen. Starring: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black. Runtime: 1 hr., 34 min.

The human mind is a complex thing to dissect. Trying to figure it out and portray it as a comprehensive subject to children, while also making it entertaining for adults seemed to pose to a challenge for Pixar with their latest film “Inside Out.”

And boy, do they do it well. It starts with a question of if we ever wonder what goes on in people’s heads. That’s a question that seems to spark the film’s premise – branching into an original and charming animated feature, where we follow 11-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) and the five primary emotions in her head.

The concept honestly portrays the ups and downs of what an 11-year-old girl’s emotions might be like at a sensitive time in her life – uprooted from her home in Minnesota to a different San Francisco.

The reasoning for the emotions, or lack thereof, is when Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and Joy (Amy Poehler) get sucked into a tube while trying to save core memories.

The tube’s purpose is to ship the day’s memories to long-term memory. Joy and Sadness have to adventure back to headquarters to make Riley happy again.

An interesting concept is that Riley’s core memories power parts of Riley’s personality – called personality islands. They include Hockey, Friendship, Family, Honesty and Goofball. With these hanging in the balance, the stakes complement the narrative with a compelling quality.

The controlling emotions left in headquarters are the hot-head Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Disgust is so nasty, by the way, she is shaped like a piece of broccoli. Their conflicting attitudes make for some funny scenes and their not-so-delightful attitudes make Riley snippy.

I think the film adds insight to how certain emotional problems start. Since Riley is so snippy, it makes me think that’s how mood swings are triggered. And when Joy and Sadness leave, that’s how you become unlikable – or if the personality islands start to crumble and you become emotionless, that’s how you become a psychopath like Dexter.

My favourite thing created in this world was probably Dream Productions, which puts on little television shows as Riley’s dreams. It’s like her slumber Hollywood. It’s cool. Pixar’s creative new world is something you’d probably envision as a kid, because imagination is so much fun. I think that’s why this is attractive to kids, but also entertaining for adults. The beautiful poignancy at play and the film’s heartfelt narrative could sporadically offers chills, as well as tears, throughout.

The characterization in the film is also great. Riley’s natural reactions and the way she is portrayed is so realistic, she feels like someone you would know. I thought the casting for the emotions was pitch perfect, and their conflicting opinions made for awesome good-spirited humour. The film’s message of not always having to be happy to live a joyful life is also lovely.

Lewis Black’s comedic delivery is anger, and his character is like an everyday dad who reads the newspaper every morning, which has a lot of clever headlines of what’s going on in Riley’s life. Bill Hader has a delivery that suits fear; he’s that one guy who is afraid on his own shadow.

Mindy Kaling’s sarcastic delivery matches her emotion of disgust very well. Amy Poehler’s likable personality and happy-go-lucky delivery is also very entertaining. I thought Phyllis Smith was born to play Sadness, being the most convincing out of the five. The character is like a gentle aunt who wears turtlenecks. Richard Kind offers a delightful performance as Riley’s imaginary friend called Bing Bong. If a man would have played Joy, Richard’s surname certainly could have helped win him the job.

Score: 95/100

The Boxtrolls (2014)

The BoxtrollsReleased: September 26, 2014. Directed by: Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi. Starring: Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Elle Fanning. Runtime: 96 min.

For the kids, The Boxtrolls is a colourful animated film that they will remember fondly for a crazy hermit who repeatedly says “Jelly!” For the adults, it’s a clever political satire of the power one man can have over a small populous by planting a single idea in their heads.

Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) convinces the townspeople of Cheesebridge that boxtrolls are a monstrous race that eat children and steal cheeses, and that’s not okay in a town called Cheesebridge. When a boy is stolen by the boxtrolls, a city-wide curfew is put in effect. Rumours fly that the boxtrolls ate the father’s bones. Snatcher uses this as an opportunity to spark a paranoia of the unknown.

In reality, they’re a misunderstood, harmless race that steal what they need, like tiny men from The Borrowers. Their appearance is reminiscent of the annoying Crazy Frog, and their timid personalities are much like turtles (the box is their shell). The logo on the box they wear is also their name. There’s a boxtroll called Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) boy who obviously doesn’t look like the rest of his people. When Snatcher is hired by the town’s mayor (Jared Harris), Eggs tries to stop the numbers of his people from dwindling.

Snatcher’s malicious intentions find reason in motivation: To get a white hat that indicates prestige and privilege. Ben Kingsley offers memorable moments as Snatcher, a creepy, embodiment of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s villainous Child Catcher. He is perhaps out-starred by his three amusing sidekicks who are trying to snatch the boxtrolls. Richard Ayoade and Nick Frost voice a pair who bicker about whether they’re on the good or bad side of the situation. Tracy Morgan portrays the other sidekick, a sadistic Mr. Gristle. The villains use a local heartthrob, Madame Frou Frou, as a channel for propaganda.

When we get to the human “good guys,” things get less interesting. The supporting Winnie (Elle Fanning trying her best) is an uninteresting and mild brat. Her father (the Mayor) is too obsessed with the town’s main export, cheese, to pay attention to her. Cheese’s prominence in the screenplay is strange, one character even compares it to a mother’s smile on a warm spring’s day.

The character of Eggs at the film’s heart isn’t captivating. He leads a story of finding belonging. He’s at his funniest when at a public and prestigious dance. Otherwise, much like minions in Despicable Me, the boxtrolls steal the spotlight with their creative language and antics. They’re diverse (one has a pair of dentures) and amusing, particularly Shoe and Eggs’ caretaker, Fish.

The Boxtrolls boasts detailed animation and a unique visual style. For all of its faults – it’s both sporadically gross and boring – it works just fine. It will keep children entertained and it’s clever enough for adults.

Score: 63/100

Mr. Peabody and Sherman (2014)

Mr. Peabody and ShermanReleased: March 7, 2014. Directed by: Rob Minkoff. Starring: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter. Runtime: 92 min.

Let’s take this into consideration right off the bat: Mr. Peabody and Sherman won’t win best in show. The filmmakers don’t have the aspirations to make the greatest animated film out there – their intention is to entertain all ages with colourful animation and clever humour. This pleasant surprise succeeds with a sweet-natured flair. The main character is Mr. Peabody, voiced by TV’s Modern Family star Ty Burrell, who is one of the world’s greatest minds – winning Nobel prizes and holding knowledge close to his heart. He does all this, even though he is a dog. (That’s why the ‘best in show’ joke is so funny!) 

He adopts a boy named Sherman (voiced by Max Charles), and he goes through the struggles of parenting. This dynamic makes it mildly similar to Despicable Me; at least its messages of parenting, and it makes me think of it because Peabody is an adoptive parent. (Some additional messages in the film: Acceptance and understanding each other’s differences, like being adopted by a dog.) On 7-year-old Sherman’s first day of school, he has a run-in with a bully; saying that sadism starts fairly early. The bullying is given by a young genius in her own right named Penny Peterson (voiced by Ariel Winter, who is also well-known for Modern Family). She’s angry at Sherman because he shows her up with a fact on George Washington that is not particularly common knowledge. He found it out by actually hearing it from George Washington himself. You see, Peabody built a time machine called the WABAC that allows a very cool form of parenting where he can teach his son history first-hand. I think it’s a cool way to teach history, even though it offers historic events in a simplistic way to its audience. It still must appeal to kids, correct? To solve the bullying issue, Penny and her parents (voiced by Leslie Mann and Stephen Colbert) are invited over to dinner. Young Sherman shows her the WABAC and they go on a fun adventure, but also leads to a created time rift that they must fix.

I must assume some of you are already turned off by the premise itself – a time-travelling dog. (A.k.a. my Mom who also doesn’t like talking LEGO minifigures, but has nothing against a singing snowman.) Truthfully, it is a little funky – but it’s part of the film’s charm. The film is clever in the way that it solves that whole “butterfly effect” issue. Peabody makes a rule that they are only allowed to travel back in time – for educational purposes, because who wouldn’t want to go on field trips like this? It seems that Sherman learns better if here’s there when it happens. The film does have a simplistic and somewhat formulaic narrative, but a thoroughly entertaining one. Keep in mind this is a film made for children so fans of time travel flicks are not going to get much complexity. 

Older audience members will find clever, jokes that rely on pop-culture; referencing films like Runaway Bride and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, to name just a few. The events they travel to (French Revolution, Ancient Egypt, Trojan War) does give children a much simpler and basic way to learn history and learn basic and mildly accurate facts about these historical events in the process. For instance:  The film depicts that the people of the French Revolution revolt because Marie Antoinette loved cake way too much – and they don’t have bread because they are “exceedingly poor,” and they are angry because Antoinette is eating all that she can.

I think fans of Ty Burrell’s will enjoy his work in this film a lot because this sarcastic and often punny (“I think women get married too old in Egypt, but maybe I’m just an old Giza!”) sense of humour fits his comedic delivery to a tee. It is similar to his character on Modern Family, to be perfectly honest. He fits this role perfectly, which originated as a character on the television show Rocky and His Friends from the 1950’s. 

I must confess that there is one recurring joke that gets tired, where Sherman laughs at one of Peabody’s jokes and then says “I don’t get it.” That might be purposeful in more ways than to try to get the audience to laugh – it could represent kids who actually don’t understand the joke, whether it just be a historical fact they just don’t know. Another miss at humour which runs into excessive grounds is where Colbert’s character is trying to show Peabody up and asks him to play a series of instruments after another – so there just a whole bunch of Peabody’s on-screen at one time. It could be working as subtle foreshadowing; but it just runs on a bit too long. Colbert has fun in his role. The other voicework ranges from okay to great. I think Max Charles is just alright as Sherman. Allison Janney is good in a role that is uninspiredly evil. She represents those against dogs adopting children. Stanley Tucci has some brutally funny voicework as Leonardo Da Vinci, and his likable comedic styling is worth the watch in itself – as far as I’m concerned. 

The creative film is a ridiculously fun, fast-paced adventure flick that has a quick narrative. The animation is just stunning, even if it seems to have taken character designs out of The Incredibles handbook – as Sherman has subtle similarities to Dash, which isn’t bothersome; but it gets strange when baby Sherman has an uncanny resemblance to the baby Jack Jack. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – and I wouldn’t be surprised if director Rob Minkoff attended that A113 software class for animators.

Score: 80/100

Rio (2011)

RioRelease Date: April 15, 2011. Director: Carlos Saldanha. Stars (voices): Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx. Runtime: 96 min.

Blue Sky Studios produces decent animated movies; from the Ice Age flicks to Horton Hears a Who! to Epic. The studio is just that, though, decent. Their movies aren’t anything extraordinary usually – and that’s just the case with Rio.

As feel-good and foot-tapping as the movie is, it’s quite generic and simply forgettable. It’s a good way to pass the time, and it offers a few laughs, but I don’t remember any of them. The voicework is also fine. It’s a story about believing to fly, because Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) was taken from his natural habitat before he learned to fly. I don’t remember hearing any R. Kelly song throughout this movie, so that seems like a missed opportunity. The supporting characters are mildly amusing.

The movie goes down like a bitter pill. The movie is solid entertainment, but it hurts to know that Pixar could have made a movie just like this. They had to cancel their project, called Newt, because theirs was a similar premise with geckos — and I just can’t help but think their finished project would have been superior to this only mediocre film.

Score63/100