Stop motion animation giant Laika consistently produces alluring and powerful films. Kubo and the Two Strings, directed by Laika CEO Travis Knight, continues this tradition. Kubo may be the best-looking stop-motion film ever produced, complete with fantastical creatures, awe-inspiring landscapes, and even action sequences that shame actual action movies. In addition, unlike some of the animated films this summer, Kubo and the Two Strings packs significant thematic punch, deftly handing complex issues and ideas. There are serious issues with the film, mostly revolving around the uneven pacing and lackluster vocal performances (which may actually be poor dialogue writing – it is hard to say). In the grand scope, the result is an absolute treasure, but one in which you have to slog through some needlessly slow and awkward moments. Fortunately, it is just so damn pretty and cool that, for some people, that won’t matter too much.
The Secret Life of Pets, from Illumination Entertainment, occupies a strange space in the world of animated films. The movie is a cut above the slapstick-and-farts formula of the most childish entries (I am looking at you, Ice Age 5). It even avoids the over-reliance on pop culture reference to get chuckles out of the tag-a-long parents who are invariably forced into the seats in the theater. But, it is disappointing that the best part of the movie was entirely revealed in the trailer — the teaser trailer! That’s right, those 2+ minutes that introduced us to The Secret Life of Pets function as the cold open of the film, unchanged. And they are still probably the best part of the whole movie. Continue reading ““The Secret Life of Pets” and the “Trailer Problem””
The latest film from Pixar, Finding Dory, is a sequel to one of the studio’s most-beloved early films, and one of the first with a true pathos, Finding Nemo. The original often ranks among Pixar’s best, and one of the big reasons was the character of Dory, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. The filmmakers thought that this character (who suffers from short-term memory loss) was a good one, so they chose her to headline her own film. Ancillary characters don’t always make great focal points, so there were a lot of people worried about this one, but it was all unwarranted. Finding Dory is very good, introduces a number of interesting and distinct characters, and further develops the themes of family, friendship, and belonging of the original. It acts as a wonderful companion piece to the original on account of the fantastic union of story structure, plot, and themes – all hallmarks of Pixar.
Don’t let’s try to pretend that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have ever been the patron saints of verisimilitude. Even in their original medium of the comics of Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, there is a tongue-in-cheek flavor that is comfortable with the idea of anthropomorphized turtles who study the art of ninjitsu. But, there’s a distinction between embracing absurdity for stylistic purposes and simply abandoning logic when telling your story, and the second TNMT film, Out of the Shadows, is embarrassingly guilty of the latter. There are still moments that you can kick up your feet and enjoy some of the teenagers’ interactions and feats, but most of the time watching the latest Turtles is spent scoffing, laughing, and quizzically squinting at the screen in a vain attempt to understand why.
Disney animated films have received quite the focus here on Plot and Theme, but I have never actually had the opportunity to review one while it was in theatres. Fortunately, Zootopia has provided just such an opportunity. Even better: it might be the best Disney film since The Lion King. The film is structured as a kind of film noir with anthropomorphic mammals living in a metropolis designed to cater to their specific environmental needs. In this world, we learn not only the importance of determination, ability, and friendship – but also the seductive evils of prejudice and the proper response to it. Zootopia excels by balancing these complex themes and allowing them to play out in an imaginative world, a feat which would stymie most any film.
The films of Charlie Kaufman often deal with isolation, loneliness, and depression – and his latest film Anomalisa is no exception. Directed by Kaufman and Duke Johnson and based on the stage play written by Kaufman, this stop-motion animated film brilliantly takes advantage of the medium with inspired stylistic choices and the peculiarities that we are accustomed to from Kaufman. The result is a heartbreaking story about a man desperately seeking an escape from the mundanity of his life, and not really succeeding. Along the way, Anomalisa contains moments of profound beauty, as these stop-motion puppets struggle with emotions and problems which are startlingly human.