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

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The Nut Job (2014)

The Nut JobReleased: January 17, 2014. Directed by: Peter Lepeniotis. Starring: Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson. Runtime: 85 min.

Apparently, it takes three writers, two to write the screenplay and one to think of the story, to write a really bad animated movie tailored mostly for the kids’ enjoyment. There’s three mildly amusing laughs, but that’s about it for the laughs for anyone over the age of 10, unless one of your comedy weaknesses is squirrels farting. “The Nut Job” follows the adventures of Surly the squirrel (Will Arnett) who, after destroying the city park’s food supply for the winter, is banished to the scary city. He is not alone, as he is accompanied by his best friend, a mute rat named Buddy. With luck on their side, they find a Nut store (and arbitrarily start to dance to Psy’s “Gagnam Style,” where you have to wonder how they’re hearing the music) where there’s enough nuts to feed the park for many winters to come. But that’s only if Surly is gonna share! He enlists the help of his acquaintances (because he’s too cool to have more than one friend; one at a time, friends and neighbours) to rob the store of their nut supply.

Dancing aimlessly to music they're not really hearing

Dancing aimlessly to music they’re not really hearing

The premise is designed in a way that might appeal to adults, because, hey, it’s a still a heist film. It’s handled poorly with dumb humour and too many nut puns, like “Hey, don’t go nuts on me,” crap like that. This is sort-of like the premise of “Over the Hedge,” because these are both films about a group of wild animals collecting food, and there’s a character here that’s a mix between Steve Carrell’s Hammy and the adorable lemur from the “Madagascar” franchise. This is such a poor movie because it’s, underneath it all, partly an uncharismatic, full-length version of the Scrat character before each “Ice Age” film. And for this to have any sort-of critical access, I think it’s important that the main protagonist isn’t entirely unlikable.

"We're gonna starve!"

“We’re gonna starve!”

Surly’s personality completely matches the name he’s given; he’s mean and whenever he seems to be opening up, he gets pissed off and pushes the person away. That might be because of vulnerability and the fear of being hurt, but he comes off as a selfish prick and I don’t know why anyone would want to watch any film depicting this character. He’s just uncharismatic and he’s all about himself, it’s just not a fun attitude to watch. Sharing is caring, Surly, you idiot.  Will Arnett’s voice performance is rather bland as him, as if he’s sort-of phoning it in. If you want to experience his voice work, just see his work as Batman in “The Lego Movie” instead. Katherine Heigl is unremarkable as her character Andi. Liam Neeson is okay as Raccoon, the leader of the park animals in New York. Brendan Fraser is trying too hard in a bland sort-of way as Grayson, the squirrel that the parks sees as the hero; and Grayson is too stupid to realize he’s a scaredy cat. Maya Rudolph has an energy in her voice work that brings something partly tolerable to the film. Still not very funny, but not completely awful. She plays a pug owned by the people who own the nut shop.

The film’s animation is the one redeeming quality. Funny thing, it has a look where in the background there are lines that come down and across that look as if the characters are in a dome, like that scene in “Scooby Doo and the Cyber Chase” when the world they’re in becomes vibrant and shows the lines around them, that they’re not yet home. If you know what I mean, maybe I’m just seeing things, it’s noticeable (did anyone else see it?) – and it seemed to have a post-production quality of animation, like it was almost completed but not quite, but the filmmakers said anyway, “Good enough, ship it off to theatres.”

The characters are completed, and the backgrounds are pretty nice, but it seems like they forgot to erase the lines in the background. One thing that is strange is the colour choice of the main character; a purple squirrel? Granted, it’s colourful and it’ll catch the kid’s attention, but boy does it not make sense. Maybe he fell into a can with purple paint and it didn’t get the stain out entirely? Maybe he couldn’t hook up with enough squirrel biddies and got the sister version of blue balls? Purple balls? Get it? Oh, there’s a clever animated sequence during the credits featuring the animaetd version of a popular singer in the end credits singing a popular and upbeat song. It confirms the filmmaker’s insecurities with their own film, shoving in a song that doesn’t have much to do with the film, only to convince you that you had one hell of a good time.

By the way, the people who own the nut shop but it for a heist of their own. They’re digging a tunnel in the basement to the bank supposedly nearby, “The Ladykillers”style. They’re the usual stupid henchmen and random boss you see in animated thug movies. There’s one henchy who is all mysterious and cringes when he hears a dog whistle; which is strange because it never gets explained why his hearing is so hyperactive enough to hear it. Anyway, it makes sense that they’d buy a nut shop; because the only people would walk into the nut shop are those who would ask: “Why do you own a store that only sells nuts?” No one’s going to go in there; alternatively they could have just ran a VCR repair shop. The film wouldn’t happen if that were the case, but that’s not such a bad thing. Mostly because this is a really bad movie. The characters are so lame, you’re probably going to root for starvation to win.

Score25/100

Horton Hears a Who! (2009)

Horton Hears a Who!

Horton Hears a Who!

Release Date: March 14, 2008

Director: Jimmy Hayward, Steve Martino

Stars (voices): Jim Carrey, Steve Carrell, Carol Burnett

Runtime: 86 min

Dr. Seuss writes some excellent books. Blue Sky Productions (those guys behind ‘Ice Age‘, ‘Rio‘) makes some pretty good animated movies. Put the two together, and you end up with the thoroughly decent Horton Hears a Who!

Horton Hears a Who! tells the story of Horton (voiced by Jim Carrey), who, incidentally, hears a who of the town of Whoville, that happens to live on a speck. He has to keep away the speck from evil kangaroos and crazy-lookin’ monkeys, and go out of his way to bring it to safety.

That is the same Whoville of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The message at play here is that everyone has a voice, no matter small. Horton constantly communicates with the Mayor of Whoville voiced by Steve Carrell, a comedian with an equally big voice, as the message might suggest. You’ll want Horton to get that speck to the mountain and be safe. But you’ll forget half of the names of the citizens of Whoville the second the end credits roll.

Horton Hears a Whoo!

While the movie isn’t ground-breaking, it has some nice animation that fits the imagination of Dr. Seuss. Jim Carrey is over-the-top as Horton, but he’s just being his usual self. His voice acting will make this entertaining for older audiences, as well as children. Some of his impressions will leave children in the dark about the real joke, because they’ll only be thinking – “Oh, he’s talking in a funny voice. That’s supposed to be funny. Ha-ha!” I’d rather him stick to live-action movies. He does some spot-on impressions, but for some viewers, he could take away from the story.

Jim Carrey and Steve Carell are the stars of the show. As is the animation. The story’s lightly written. It’s forgettable, but it offers some good entertainment. It’s one of those great movies for a rainy day. You can relax and watch it, and just have a good time. It’s nothing more, but it’s nothing less. It’s definitely better than Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in Hat.

70/100

Epic (2013)

Epic

Release Date: May 24, 2013

Director: Chris Wedge

Stars (voices): Amanda Seyfried, Josh Hutcherson, Colin Farrell

Runtime: 102 min

Blue Sky Studios is best known for their Ice Age movies. Chris Wedge, co-director of that franchise, goes solo with Epic, the third animated movie of 2013 (after Escape from Planet Earth and The Croods). It follows the female protoganist, M.K. (voiced by Amanda Seyfried), who is forced to re-locate to the home of her estranged father, Professor Bomba (voiced by Jason Sudeikis), after her mother’s death. Her father is an eccentric character, as he is convinced there are tiny people living out in the woods.

It turns out, there is. But it’s a little more complex than that. It’s a challenge of good and evil of the Leaf Men, who, by protecting the queen (voiced by Beyoncé Knowles), preserve the life of the forest; but the evil Boggans threaten them with powers of decay. Today is the day Queen Tara must pick the pod to be the heir to her throne. M.K. is mixed up with this world when she is turned from a stomper (the Leaf Men term of big humans) to a little miniature human. She must team up with a crew to help keep the pod away from the malevolent leader of the Boggans, Mandrake (voiced by Christoph Waltz), in order to save their world, and ours.

It must be expected that a movie called Epic really won’t be so damn epic. It turns out to be a good, light-hearted animated flick that teaches kids about teamwork and that, even if you feel alone, you truly aren’t. It’s a nice message, and the way the filmmakers portray it is imaginative and admirable. The animation has a great, human look and feel to it. It might as well be an animated version of The Borrowers, just with very mild action sequences, in a very fun, but forgettable story.

It’s an old-fashioned, good vs. the forces of evil, predictable and formulaic ride. The imaginative action sequences are fun and have intensity present. There’s a lot of room for imagination at play, but there are only a few notable characters. The main Boggan, Mandrake, is often psychotic and threatening for a children’s movie, but nothing that will have kiddies waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares. He has some memorable lines, but he’s more underwhelming than anyone could believe a character portrayed by Christoph Waltz could ever be.

Nod (Josh Hutcherson) is a misfit Leaf Man who needs to learn about teamwork, and the primary Leaf Man, Ronin (Colin Farrell), is precisely the man to teach it to him. He’s a no-nonsense character, and Queen Tara desperately wants to see his smiling face. She requests this in a truly dull fashion. I don’t have much praise to hand out to Knowles, Hutchison, Seyfried or really even Farrell, but I don’t have anything to fault them for, either. They just don’t stand out so well. Many of the characters have good lines, but you’ll forget their names (most notably Bomba, Bufo, and M.K.) as soon as you walk out of the theatre.

There are four characters whose names and presences no one will forget anytime soon. Nim Guluu is the “rock-star” information keeper of the miniature world, appropriately voiced by rock star Steven Tyler. There’s also a silly, three-legged dog who mostly just runs in circles. The laid-back slug called Mub (Aziz Ansari) and his uptight snail associate, Grub (Chris O’Dowd), are the true scene-stealers of the movie. They’re hilarious in the way Mub thinks he has a chance with M.K., and how Grub is an aspiring Leaf Man. (Let that irony sink in for a second.) They’re never annoying, always funny, and the movie is at its most lively when they’re on-screen. Who thought slimy little things could be so appealing?

Epic isn’t quite, y’know, epic, but it’s a predictable and funny ride that is a blast once it really gets going. For the most part, it’s about as memorable as its generic title. The great animation and hilarious and slimy scene-stealers make this memorable, and something worth watching twice. Christoph Waltz, to his best ability, rocks his role and he shines when Mandrake is at his most psychotic. You care for the protagonists, because no one wants to see a forest rot to the ground, right?

74/100

August 28 Birthdays

There’s a few celebrity birthdays today: Jack Black (43), David Fincher (50), Sarah Roemer (28), Jennifer Coolidge (51) and Daniel Stern (55).

Jack Black

This comedy actor just turned 43 today. He’s been in School of RockTenacious D in the Pick of DestinyTropic ThunderNacho Libre, and he’s been the voice talents for Shark TaleKung Fu Panda, and in Ice Age; he’s also a pretty good dramatic actor, showing those abilities especially in King Kong. I haven’t seen Bernie just yet, but I heard he was pretty good in that. I like this guy’s funny antics and his ability to be a pretty good drama actor as well as a silly one.

David Fincher

This guy right here’s one of my favourite directors. A lot of his films are just so pleasantly dark and I like the atmosphere of them. When I collected films and didn’t really pay attention to directors, I found out that I really liked this guy’s movies as I had most of them. The only flick of his I don’t have is Alien 3. And the only films of his I haven’t seen is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Alien 3.  A good director to me is when they really bring a signature atmosphere and also when I have a really difficult time picking my favourite by them. His other films include Seven (a.k.a. Se7en)The GameFight ClubPanic Room, ZodiacThe Social Network and the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

 Well, there isn’t a lot to say about this one. She’s a pretty face, who’s a pretty good actress, who just turned 28. I’ve only seen her on a few things, being the TV show The Event, and the films Disturbia and Fired Up!

           Jennifer Coolidge

This picture doesn’t do her a lot of justice, but I didn’t feel like finding another. She’s best known as Stifler’s Mom in the American Pie (original cast) films; and she’s also known as the wicked step mother in that Hilary Duff flick, A Cinderella Story.

Daniel Stern

 This guy’s best known as the idiotic burglar, Marv, in the first two Home Alone films. That’s really all I want to say about him.