January 2013 + 5 Films That Deserve Sequels February 1, 2013Posted by badblokebob in : Editorials, Disney, progress reports, superhero films, 2013 , add a comment
The new-look-for-2013 monthly update covering January is now online, with a host of new and interesting features.
#18: 102 Dalmatians (2000) August 17, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Comedy, Disney, 2000s, 3 stars, Adventure, British films, 2012 , add a comment
If you still follow this blog here, I’m sure you know what to do by now…
#50a: Toy Story Toons: Hawaiian Vacation (2011) August 10, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Animation, Comedy, Disney, 4 stars, Short, 2010s, 2012 , add a comment
Rounding off animation week, and in honour of the fact that Toy Story 3 comes to Sky Movies Premiere today (and continues until Thursday 16h August), here’s my review of the first Toy Story Toons short…
#51: Cars 2 (2011) August 4, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Animation, Comedy, Disney, Sport, 3 stars, Adventure, 2010s, 2012 , add a comment
“Why is the police car wearing a giant hat?!”
For more thoughts on the seminal Cars 2, click through:
#99: Winnie the Pooh (2011) February 25, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Animation, Comedy, Musical, Disney, adaptations, 4 stars, 2010s, 2011 , add a comment
Winnie the Pooh, as many reviews on its release were keen to point out, is for small children. It doesn’t have the attempts to placate adults with their own jokes that elevate/plague most American animation; it’s only an attention-span-friendly hour long; and it has a lovely, genial, friendly tone, with brightly coloured characters, plinky-plonky songs and heartwarming moral messages.
The thing is, I don’t hold that this makes it “just for ickle kiddies”. Sure, it can, and when it’s done poorly it most certainly does, but that’s not Winnie the Pooh. Look back to A.A. Milne’s original stories and you see the same thing: ostensibly it’s just for the kids, but there’s actually all kinds of wordplay and (admittedly, gentle) subversion that’s clearly targeted at the adult reading the book. This new film captures that same effect. Naturally this means it won’t work on the cynical or black-hearted viewer, or the Mature type whose favour isn’t even curried by the adult-targeted jokes in a Pixar film, but for the rest of us it can make it a delight.
In few other films would you see the characters interact with the narrator; see them scramble across the words in the pages of the book their story comes from; indeed, see the presence of those tangible letters help along the plot — I won’t spoil how. You don’t have to love Winnie the Pooh in an ironic still-a-child-at-heart kind of way, even if the presence of real-life Manic Dream Pixie Girl Zooey Deschanel on vocals suggests you might — it’s clever and witty enough to transcend that.
The majority of the film’s other elements click into place nicely too. The traditional animation is gorgeously executed, the voices are the ones we surely all know from growing up alongside Disney’s Pooh output, particularly Jim Cummings pulling double time as both Pooh and Tigger, as he has for decades. The exception I’d make is Bud Luckey’s Eeyore. I don’t know if he’s always sounded like that and I’d forgotten, but his voice didn’t work for me. It’s not the only problem: the songs can be a bit insipid; equally, a couple transcend that to work beautifully; and there’s no denying that it is a bit short; but then it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and hey, Dumbo’s no longer.
The American Academy have overlooked Winnie the Pooh in their nominations this weekend (not to mention Tintin, and probably some other stuff I’ve forgotten), I imagine writing it off as “just for little kids”. And that’s a shame, because I don’t think it is. I certainly loved it more than Rango and it’s definitely better than Kung Fu Panda 2, to pick on the two nominees I’ve seen. I struggle to believe I’ll find Puss in Boots more endearing.
Nonetheless, as much as I would dearly love to give a new Winnie the Pooh film full marks, there are a few niggles that hold me back — the songs, Eeyore’s voice, the length. But it is ever so lovely, and it came ever so close.
The 2012 Oscars are on Monday at 1:30am on Sky Movies Premiere.
#90: Cars (2006) December 14, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Animation, Comedy, Disney, Sport, 2000s, 3 stars, 2011 , add a comment
Since the creation of the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, only two Pixar features have failed to win: Monsters, Inc., which lost to Shrek — surely a key computer-animated film in anyone’s book — and this, which lost to Happy Feet, which was… well, it was quite good…* Obviously this does nothing to help dismiss Cars‘ reputation as Pixar’s worst film. But then, that reputation doesn’t warrant dismissing.
Much has been criticised by others, but my biggest problem is that it’s a bit predictable, kinda like Pixar/any kids’ movie by numbers. Pixar are usually better than that. There may be one or two slight surprises along the way — mostly in aid of a Good Strong Moral Message for the kiddies — but at times it’s a bit thumb-twiddly as you wait for characters to reach the point they’re inevitably headed for. It goes about these in such a long-winded fashion that it drags in the middle.
In a special feature on the DVD, Lasseter talks about how it was a very personal film, with a story inspired by his own family and past, as well as the Pixar crew’s road trip along Route 66, with events from that directly inspiring elements of the final story. I think this shows on screen, but not in a good way. It’s another reason the film is allowed to be occasionally long-winded and indulgent. No doubt it led to some of the best bits — the sequence where The Girl Car (I forget her name) tells The Main Car (McQueen! I remember that one) how the building of the interstate killed off so many small towns is both historically accurate (more or less) and emotional — but I imagine it also explains why the film can feel so long.
This could be alleviated by the characters, but they’re not all that. Every one is lifted from a book of stereotypes, with such unfailing tedium that I can’t be bothered to list them. Some are moderately likable and occasionally they’re nice to spend time with, but it’s not a patch on any other set of Pixar characters — it can’t reach Ratatouille, never mind the Toy Storys.
The races — read: action sequences — are exciting and fluid. But then, would you expect anything less from Pixar? But then, with the film’s other failings, it’s good to see they haven’t lost all the magic.
I’ve often heard people criticise the world of the movie for not making sense but never understood why, because it doesn’t necessarily matter. But it does play on your mind while watching, and because it shouldn’t matter I think it’s indicative of faults elsewhere: if the characters and story were keeping your attention, if the film was consistently funny or exciting or engrossing, you wouldn’t be wondering who built these cars, or where their builders went, or how they reproduce… It’s like a child’s game writ into film: you can imagine a young boy playing with little toy cars, having them talk to each other and giving them personalities, and it doesn’t need to make sense because his age isn’t even close to double digits and he’s just playing. But does that make it a viable idea for a film?
Aside from being Pixar’s Bad Film, Cars has become best known for the marketing machine it turned into, in particular the masses of high-selling model cars that have been churned out on the back of it. I don’t know how intentional this was — not as intentional as it seemed to be for the sequel, I suspect — but once you know where this ends up it’s reflected back into the film. McQueen sports at least three different paint jobs, for instance — that’s a handful of model cars right there, and if you make them in different sizes… Disney accountants must have been rubbing their hands in glee when these things started selling. It’s disappointing that this seems to have been the motivation for Pixar creating their second franchise, but hey, if the money brought in by a Cars movie’s merchandise every five years allows them to keep pushing (albeit gently) at the boundaries of mass-(Western)-market animation with the likes of WALL-E and Up, then I guess we shouldn’t complain too much.
Cars is undoubtedly a below-par Pixar movie. It’s not a bad film — it has funny bits, exciting bits, a good moral message, some nice cameos and references and that kind of thing — but it doesn’t stand comparison to even a regular Pixar outing, never mind the best of their output. But hey, if you can produce 10 features that manage a 90%+ score on Rotten Tomatoes, I think you’re allowed a 74% slip-up.**
Cars is on BBC Three today at 9pm, and again on Sunday at 7pm.
** Other review comparison and aggregate websites are available. Does not include Cars 2, which scored 38%. (Ouch.)
#81: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) November 26, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Action, Disney, Fantasy, adaptations, 3 stars, Adventure, video game films, 2010s, 2011 , 1 comment so far
Disney’s attempt to launch a second franchise in the mould of Pirates of the Caribbean, this time based on a long-running series of computer games, seemed to sink without trace last summer. Despite that failure, it’s not all bad.
To give a quick idea of its quality, Prince of Persia is analogous to an average entry in the Pirates series, only without the craziness and humour provided by Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow. This probably explains Persia’s relative lack of success: Pirates began with an exceptionally good blockbuster flick, and has since coasted on goodwill and affection for Depp’s character; Persia has neither of these benefits.
There’s not much to get excited about here, however. Like On Stranger Tides, It suffers from a surfeit of ideas that are equally undeveloped. Even though this shares no writing credits with that film, it’s what it most reminded me of. There’s an adventure story that wants to reach an Indiana Jones-esque style but fumbles it. It often feels like the genuinely important bits of plot and character development are quickly brushed over, instead spending inexplicably long stretches on barely-relevant asides. It jumps about like a loon too, feeling like a lot of linking scenes or establishing shots have been excised for whatever reason.
There are some good action beats, but there’s also plenty of disorientatingly-edited, CGI-enhanced sequences, as per usual for the genre these days. For the former, see for instance Dastan’s climb up the wall into Alamut (or whatever it was called), or the knife-thrower-on-knife-thrower battle near the end. For explosions of CGI, see the massive logic-shattering ’sand surfing’ sequence in the climax. Visually they’re clearly trying to evoke 300, but without going quite so far in the stylization stakes. Also worthy of note is the opening, the latest CGI-enhanced rendition of the opening sequence from The Thief of Bagdad and Aladdin: Westernised Middle Eastern streetchild-thief chased acrobatically through streets of Middle Eastern Town by Middle Eastern Guards. (None of the above pictured.)
As this is a Hollywood version of the ancient Middle East, naturally everyone is a Westerner with deeply tanned skin who speaks with an English accent. Everyone in the past had an English accent. Jake Gyllenhaal’s accent is actually very good, in my opinion; Gemma Arterton’s voice doesn’t grate as much as it seemed to in the trailer (I have no problem with her in any other film, but there was something about the Persia trailer that made her sound… weird). That’s probably the best that can be said for either of their performances. They’re not bad, just not in anyway endearing. Dastan makes a fairly bland hero — I think he’s meant to be something of a cheeky chappy, but they didn’t get close to achieving that — whereas Arterton has the role Keira Knightley would’ve played five years ago. I think she’s meant to be a Strong Independent Princess but, much like Dastan, we’re told we should be inferring it rather than seeing any evidence of it.
Alfred Molina has the best shot at creating a likeable supporting role, but it’s a part that resurfaces for no good reason, acts inconsistently, and all his best elements are cribbed from better films. Like most of the film, then. An attempt is made to conceal that Ben Kingsley is the villain, and it might have worked if anyone else was in the role — heck, I almost believed it even with him… but only “almost”. Like most of the story, it’s all a bit stock-in-trade. It’s good to take inspiration from other action-adventure classics, but it also means that it all feels very familiar. The time travelling dagger, the film’s truly unique point, is too powerful as a plot point, meaning rules have to be established that limit its use… which means that the one unique element doesn’t actually turn up very often.
Prince of Persia is riddled with flaws, it would seem. It’s characters are unmemorable, their relationships unbelievable; its plot is disjointed and, while always followable, still half nonsensical; the other half is by-the-numbers predictable; its action sequences occasionally shine, but are largely whizzily edited or CGI burnished (though, in fairness, they’re far from the worst example of either problem). I should probably dislike it quite a lot, yet while part of me says I should rank it lower than even the Pirates sequels (owing to the lack of charming characters or any trace of humour), looking back I kind of liked it. It’s not Good, but it is sort of Fine, and it’s by no means bad enough to inspire genuine hatred.
Plus, the sword-and-sandals milieu makes a bit of a change. I know we’ve had plenty of swords-and-sandals-flavoured movies in the wake of Gladiator, suggesting this is hardly unique, but whereas they’ve all unsurprisingly shot at the Gladiator mould, Persia is aiming for the PG-13 adventure-blockbusters style. It’s a shame that it’s not better, because said milieu and some of the talent involved could have produced a film in the vein of quality of, say, The Mummy, if we’d been lucky.
If you’re less forgiving than me, knock a star off. Or if you think you’d like the Pirates films better without Depp’s silly captain, maybe leave that star on.