Animated

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Movie Review: Epic

Published May 28, 2013 by mrsrag

Starring the voices of:  Colin Farrell, Beyoncé, Josh Hutcherson, Aziz Ansari, Amanda Seyfried, Chris O’Dowd, Pitbull, Jason Sudeikis, Steven Tyler and Christoph Waltz.

Rated: PG.  Animated.  Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes.

It’s been a while since a kids movie has graced the big screen, so we decided to bring our boy (age 9) with us for a peek at Epic.  And although it sported the usual makings of children’s fare, I genuinely enjoyed it.  We see so many of these movies that it’s hard not to dwell on the formulaic plot lines and clever double entendre.  But occasionally you can lose yourself in one and overlook the commonality to discover something fresh about it.  Epic has a very creative storyline with a basic, but important, lesson for viewers.  It also has some decent laughs that appeal to both young and old.  I have to give a film credit if it induces Ethan to poke either Ross or myself with the ‘Wow, that was funny…did you guys think that was funny?’ routine.  And if he recites any of the lines on the car ride home, that’s usually a sure fire sign that the jokes were pretty good.  Both of these applied in this case.  The plot centers around a hidden World that exists in the forest.  The life of the forest is comprised of flowers, trees, leaves, insects and tiny people, including a powerful Queen.  Queen Tara (voiced by Beyoncé) is graceful and has a special power that brings life wherever she desires.  She makes the flowers bloom, revitalizes dead plants and unites her people to the cause of keeping the forest vibrant, but most importantly alive.  Her nemesis is a scary looking miniature named Mandrake (voiced by Waltz), donning a rat carcass cloak and wooden staff.  His only passion is killing the forest and spreading the gray, haggard designs of his World throughout the lush greenery the Queen has sustained.  His plan is to kill Queen Tara and destroy all that she and her people represent.  It is a classic battle of good vs. evil, but fate comes into play as a regular human teenage girl finds herself right in the middle.

I’ve talked about him in our review of Django Unchained, so some of you probably know that I LOVE Christoph Waltz.  He’s won two Oscars for good reason, and in Epic, just with his voice he’s the star of the show.  One of the great bad guys of all time in Inglorious Basterds, his Mandrake is one evil, heartless dude.  And really, doesn’t the bad guy oftentimes make the movie?  Anyway, M.K. (Seyfried) is a teenage girl visiting her father Bomba (Sudeikis) who we discover has lost everything – job, wife, kid etc. because of his obsession with finding proof of the little people in the forest.  M.K. indeed ends up in the middle of the battle, and when the Queen gets mortally wounded, M.K. is magically shrunken and entrusted with an item that is paramount to the forests’ survival.  She soon meets Nod (Hutcherson , who is suddenly in everything), an irresponsible youth/warrior/love interest; and Ronin (Farrell) the leader of the Queen’s Guard who is steadfast, true, “secretly” in love with the Queen, disappointed in Nod AND looks exactly like our neighbor’s son Connor.  M.K. also has help from the snail Grub (O’Dowd) and the slug Mub (Ansari) who has most of the movies’ funniest lines.  Our group of heroes must fend off the relentless Mandrake, who needs to make everything dead and grey, just because.  The action is fast paced, entertaining, funny and sometimes a little scary.  Just what the creators wanted.     

Waltz just commands the screen in anything he’s in.  His voice is mesmerizing, his gestures are captivating and his talent is indisputable.  His presence is still felt through the animated character he is portraying.  That’s just brilliant casting to have his cold, distinct voice in contrast to Beyoncé’s warm, mellifluous tone.  Ronin really does have an uncanny resemblance to our neighbor’s little boy – Ross nailed that.  Because we see so many of these animated movies it’s easy to take the animation for granted, but I am utterly impressed by what they can do these days.  Being a child of the ’90’s Disney era, I didn’t know that one day animation would blow that stuff out of the water.  These days, the animated people really resemble people!  Not to mention the settings.  We were at home skimming through the channels and we stopped on Brave (which we have reviewed – see Archives – July 2012) for a brief second.  Even at home the visuals were spectacular and the animation was jaw dropping.  I can’t wait to see what they do next!

I agree the animation of today is spectacular (even with the 3D money grabs).  It’s so consistently good, it’s easy to take it for granted.  What is equally impressive is the ability of these studios: Disney, Pixar, Blue Sky et al, to keep churning out such enjoyable and educational stories.  The good far outweighs the bad or mediocre.  So when you come across a movie like Escape From Planet Earth for example, which wasn’t THAT bad, but is obviously inferior; it seems worse than it is.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they are reinventing the wheel with these movies, but they do make them as enticing to grown-ups as to the kids.  They fill them with life lessons without ramming them down your throat, and they make you want to see them again, which is no easy task.  Epic is another in a long line of worthy efforts.  Absolutely recommended for you, and sure take the kids along if you want.  One final note; Maria and I love to play the game of “name the voice behind the character”, and we’re usually pretty good at it.  Ethan has taken to playing with us recently and he nailed Pitbull as Bufo, a toad-like creature.  I was only average with Colin Farrell and Chris O’Dowd, easy ones.  Maria hit all the rest, including an interesting turn by Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler as Nim Galuu, a caterpillar of sorts.  This is a fun game, you should try it.  Occasionally, we get stumped and have to wait around to see the credits, for the inevitable “Oh that was so and so!” moment.  Yet another reason to sing the praises of the superior genre of animated features!

Maria’s rating: 4 Gummy Bears out of 5.

Ross’ rating: 3.75 Gummies.

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Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph

Published November 6, 2012 by mrsrag

Starring the voices of: John C. Reilly, Jack McBryer, Jane Lynch, Sarah Silverman.

Rated: PG. Animated/Comedy. Running time: 1 Hour and 41 Minutes.

 

Maria, Ethan and I have seen some wonderful animated films together since we started our MRSRAG blog in June.  I have pointed out on several occasions that these movies are easily and consistently better than the mainstream Hollywood offerings.  Maria has often extolled the virtues of the lessons taught and learned, some veiled and some not, for young and old alike.  Well, I will say right here that Wreck-It Ralph is hands down the best yet in my opinion.  Ralph (Reilly) is the “bad” guy in an old school video game.  He “wrecks” this apartment building, while Felix (McBryer) attempts to fix it with his magic hammer.  After the lights go out in the arcade, the video game characters have their own lives, and Ralph’s leaves a lot to be desired.  He is lonely, lives in an actual dump, never gets invited to any parties, and he is tired of being the bad guy.  He even attends AA type meetings for video game heavies called “Bad-Anon.”  These scenes will tickle even the most casual of video gamers.  The movie begins in earnest when Ralph decides to leave his game in the pursuit of a “hero’s medal”, hoping it’s aquisition will bring some happiness to his life.

I was quite excited to see this movie, mostly because of the casting of voices for the lead characters.  I am a huge fan of both Sarah Silverman and John C. Reilly, so my expectations were that the film would at least be decent.  Wreck-It Ralph pulled out all the stops and left me utterly shocked and impressed.  It had the usual makings of animated children’s films – great graphics, clever humor and pertinent lessons.  However, it added several new aspects that I haven’t seen exercised in this genre.  Firstly, there’s a twist!  I won’t embellish any further, but take it from someone who watches a lot of children’s films – there is rarely a twist that an adult won’t see coming.  Ross and I were pleasantly surprised to find that this was not the case with Wreck-It Ralph.  Secondly, the plot of this film was inventive and original.  I love watching a story that’s sharp, smart and fresh.  I was recently complaining about watching the same regurgitated ideas, so I found this movie invigorating and refreshing – for a change.  Lastly, I love a film that pays homage to its roots.  Adults will love seeing jokes and references to some of their favorite childhood memories of arcade and video games.  My personal favorite nostalgic moment was when they showed an old Nintendo Gray Box controller being used as an opening device for a safe.  The Gray Box was one of my all time favorite Christmas presents ever and I will never forget playing the Super Mario Brothers game until I finally beat every single level.

Ahh the Gray Box!  Super Mario 3, Castlevania, Zelda.  And what about in the arcades, with Ms. Pacman, Donkey Kong, Galaga et al.  Wreck-It Ralph seemingly touches on them all, the new and the old.  So Ralph leaves his game and heads to Hero’s Duty, a game of warfare against some nefarious insects, where the good guys are led by the extremely hard-assed Calhoun (Lynch).  She of course gets immediately pissed at Ralph’s incompetence, but somehow he perserveres and “wins” his medal.  He promptly attempts to fly home but ultimately crash lands in a racing game called Sugar Rush, that looks a lot like the board game Candy Land.  There he meets the wise-cracking, cute, displaced Vanellope (voiced perfectly by Silverman), and their exchanges along with a growing friendship are the absolute heart of the movie.

Vanellope is my favorite.  She embodies cuteness, even with her ill-intentioned plan to “borrow” Ralph’s medal, which she needs to gain a place in competition amongst the other racers of Sugar Rush.  She convinces Ralph to help her build a race car, but they find themselves up against an overwhelming opposition to Vanellope’s participation in the race.  Predominantly the main lesson of this film is standing up for what’s right.  Ralph finds himself in a predicament after hearing misinformation from King Candy, the malicious monarch who seems bent on keeping Vanellope at a safe distance from his race and his kingdom.  Ralph learns a valuable lesson at this point in the story and decides to truly become the good guy he has always wanted to be.  With some help from his old friend Felix he becomes Vanellope’s hero and aids her in achieving her dream of racing.  Another important lesson of this film is simple kindness.  This lesson is made apparent by the other characters from Ralph’s game who never appreciated him or respected him.  These same people realize they need him and when he returns to the game where he belongs he is greeted with the kind of treatment that would have prevented his absence in the first place.  Lessons aside, I really enjoyed this movie.  It had a lot of heart and I was uncharacteristically moved by it.

I’ll be honest, I can be a pretty big softie, and Wreck-It Ralph had me misty on a couple of occasions.  It delivers some truly meaningful messages that parents should want their kids to see, hear and learn.  And what better way in this day and age to convey those messages, than through a movie based inside video games.  My boy Ethan (9) is a gamer extraordinaire, and I would guess many of you out there have one or two of your own.  He loved Ralph, and I’m sure the lessons got through to him easier and meant a bit more, because of the way they were delivered.  I would highly recommend Wreck-It Ralph to the young and the young at heart.  Not to get too deep, but on this election night in America, where we’re all on the edges of our seats, rooting for our own biases – and it seems, no matter who wins we’ll still be a nation divided; I guarantee we would all agree on the pure slice of apple pie ala mode that is the sweet, endearing and enduring Wreck-It Ralph.

Maria’s Rating:  4.5 Gummy Bears out of 5.

Ross’ Rating:  5 emphatic Gummies.

 

Movie Review: Hotel Transylvania

Published October 2, 2012 by mrsrag

Starring the voices of: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, Fran Drescher, Molly Shannon, David Spade, CeeLo Green.

Rtaed PG.  Animated.  Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes.

Today was my son Ethan’s birthday, he’s 9, and even though he saw it already he was nice enough to agree to go again with Maria and I because we really wanted to see it.  He’s an awesome boy my Ethan.  He told us ahead of time it was a great movie, and he was spot on.  Hotel Transylvania was a joy from start to finish.  Count Dracula (Sandler) opens a hotel for monsters only, no humans allowed.  Humans in his view, only want to kill monsters, and he desperately wants to keep his daughter Mavis (Gomez) safe.  Dracula is a stereotypical protective single father, and he has kept Mavis smotheringly safe for over a century.  On her 118th birthday he throws her a huge party, and everyone shows up.  Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, assorted zombies, The Blob, The Werewolf,  Bigfoot etc.  Everything is going according to control freak Dracula’s plan, until the clueless, kind-hearted, surfer dude, human Jonathan (Samberg) stumbles into Hotel Transylvania.  Then everything gets turned upside down and the movie gets even better.

Jonathan literally breathes some life into the hotel of the undead, which could use some breath.  Sandler and his crew of boogeymen have become so accustomed to residing in the shadows that they’ve lost some lust for action along the way, but it doesn’t take long before they loosen up and start enjoying themselves.  Initially everyone takes a liking to the new guest, except for the Count.  Eventually, he can no longer resist Jonathan’s charms, especially when he sees how happy his daughter is around the human boy.  The film had a wonderful plot and many parenting tips on letting children experience life for themselves and learn from their own mistakes.  Hotel Transylvania took a fresh look at a theme we’ve seen displayed in many films, but at a relevant time.  Vampires have seen a huge upswing in popularity following the success of Twilight, True Blood and Vampire Diaries – just to name a few.  It’s refreshing to see a playful and humorous take of the undead in a kids movie and I love hearing a guy like Buscemi as Wayne The Werewolf dad, who I see every Sunday playing Nucky Thompson (Boardwalk Empire), in this type of role.

Couldn’t agree with you more honey, some truly wonderful messages for the kids in this movie, and they’re not rammed down their throats.  The voice actors are all fantastic and the story, though not anything near unpredictable, is heart-warming and appropriate for kids of all ages (which is a cool feat with all the monsters about).  The scariest moment in the movie for me, was when Ethan asked if he could go to the bathroom by himself.  Obviously, I know he could make it there and back alone, but like the over protective Dracula, I just couldn’t do it.  We compromised and I walked to the end of the hall and watched him go the rest of the way.  Good thing too, because he ran right by the bathroom heading toward the movies on the opposite side.  I sceamed “Ethan”, he turned back and looked at me while circling to run into the Ladie’s room.  Another scream from me, and I eventually had to go all the way down to guide him anyway.  He still needs his Pop, that’s not such a bad thing.  We made our way back to our seats, Maria and our popcorn, and enjoyed the end of the entertaining and sweet Hotel Transylvania.

I was hoping Ross would let Ethan go by himself, but after hearing about his oblivious ventures down the hall, I was glad he had his dad following.  Life imitating art.  Sure the plot of Hotel Transylvania is predictable, but done with such clever flair.  Something about this movie made a lasting impression and had me cracking up for hours later.  It’s one of the few that I’ll be looking forward to viewing again, and I’m sure my companions feel the same way.

Ross’ Rating: 4 Gummy Bears out of 5.

Maria’s Rating: 4 Gummies.

Movie Review: ParaNorman

Published September 1, 2012 by mrsrag

Starring the voices of: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, Bernard Hill, Jodelle Ferland, Tempestt Bledsoe, Alex Borstein, John Goodman.

Rated PG.  Animated.  Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes.

What a pleasant surprise ParaNorman turned out to be.  Although, I wasn’t expecting much to begin with.  I definitely wasn’t tripping over my feet to get to the theatre for this one, but it was probably the best film I’ve seen in a few weeks.  We go to the movies A LOT.  Not just for the sake of writing relevant reviews, but because we love going.  Once again, the movie was 3-D, which is starting to literally drive me crazy.  I don’t even remember a great deal of the 3-D effects, so how good could they really be?  I do remember the story, which was unique and, quite frankly, a little scary.  However, it balanced its chilling undertones with clever humor and an intriguing gang of characters.  The plot and theme explored some similar topics we’ve seen in a lot of children’s films lately; bullying, tolerance and the importance of friendship.  Sounds familiar, I know, but I’m glad they are broaching these important subjects.  Especially the bullying, which has become a prevelant issue across the country.  It seems bullying has been on the rise with the influx of technology into our children’s lives or maybe we’re just becoming more aware of it.  One thing I’m certain of is that there are MORE ways to bully now.  A bully is not just confined to confronting their victims at school, they have outlets such as cell phones and computers.  They can harass by text, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter etc. etc. etc.

It is good to see Hollywood adressing bullying, a serious problem in this country.  ParaNorman does a good job of that and much, much more.  The same people that brought us Coraline, the animation company LAIKA along with Focus Features, have created another entertaining but dark tale.  Norman (Smit-McPhee) is a loner who constantly sees the dead (they all seem to really like him too), much to the chagrin of his father (Garlin) who just wants a normal kid.  Their relationship totally reminded me of the father/son dynamic from the film Chicken Little, his dad just wanted CL to stop with “The sky is falling” routine.  At any rate, as Maria pointed out there are meaningful themes in ParaNorman and they are delivered very well.  The only downside is that some of the visuals are quite frightening.  Readers of our blog know that we see lots of kids movies with my son Ethan who is 8.  He was pretty brave thoughout, but I would certainly think twice taking anyone younger than him.  The zombie chases, a scene with Norman’s crazy uncle and a couple of scenes with the “witch” were great cinema, but intimidating in the stop-motion 3-D animation.

Ethan was very brave, but I think you’re right Ross, 8 and up is a pretty good policy for this one.  It was a fairly difficult story to bring to the screen for its intended audience.  They really had to be cogniscent of how dark and scary it got.  This seems to be a recurring theme in Hollywood.  I loved the Harry Potter series, which Ross turned me onto, and that took some very dark turns for its intended age group as well.  We’ve really started to become quite lax when it comes to entertainment ratings for kids.  This seems most apparent in The Hunger Games trilogy that recently took to the big screen.  That first installment just seemed too mature for children under 16, in my opinion.  ParaNorman isn’t nearly as daring with pushing the boundaries as the aforementioned films are, but it still flirts with that very thin line of acceptability.  I enjoyed seeing the use of the less popular stop-motion animation in this movie, which reminds me of claymation in some ways.  In fact, I thought it was claymation until Ross informed me otherwise.

This was a tough movie to review for me.  I did enjoy ParaNorman, it had a lot of heart.  I liked Norman, he’s a good kid.  My favorite part of the movie was the friendship that he and Neil (Albrizzi) formed.  Neil is an overweight boy who gets picked on and doesn’t have any friends, but he hasn’t let that ruin his zest for life, and he is a fantastic friend.  I guess the “problem” I’m having is, that when we see an animated movie we really love, we generally can’t wait until it comes out on video so we can rent it or buy it.  Sometimes we will even go see it again in the theater.  I don’t have that feeling with ParaNorman, but I’m still going to recommend you see it.  I think because it’s so different.  No madcap romp through (Madagascar), or race around (Cars), Europe here.  Just a good story with good lessons.

ParaNorman isn’t rocketing to the top of my favorite animated movies list, but it’s worth a watch.  If your kid really wants to go see it, bring them – you won’t be disappointed.

Maria’s Rating: 2.75 Gummy Bears out of 5.

Ross’ Rating:  3 Gummies.