Animation

The Secret Life of Pets 2

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Last month, when everything related to Louis CK blew up in a storm of outrage and howling, one of the little-known ripples through the entertainment business was the fact that CK had just come off one of the biggest animation hits in history as the lead voice. The original Secret Life of Pets earned over $875 million dollars worldwide and was a lock to become a new franchise.

It stands to reason that the sequel would have been a pretty big hit as well. It was scheduled for release in 2019, but someone else is going to have to do the voice:

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If you look at the project's IMDB page, Jenny Slate is the only person signed for the sequel. Who are they going to get to replace CK, and should they go back and remove his voice work from the original film?

How horrible is that to contemplate?

Lego Batman is Not Pro-Gay Adoption Propaganda

Just when you thought that liberals were going to be able to get one over on conservatives and sneak some pro-gay adoption propaganda into the burgeoning animated kids movie market, it all falls apart because conservatives are too smart:

The new Lego Batman Movie has come under fire from Catholic evangelists who have slammed the film as “pro-gay propaganda”.

John Henry Westen, Canadian Editor-in-chief of the socially conservative website  LifeSiteNews.com, posted a review of the film titled “BEWARE: LEGO Batman movie promotes gay adoption”. He criticised the creators for being “so anxious to subtly indoctrinate the little ones into the gender ideology that making it humorous came as a distant second thought.”

I thought conservative Catholics were out trying to locate and remove all of the priests who diddle little kids. Apparently, they have some time on their hands. Or they're dumbasses. I vote for having no brains, no talent, and no understanding of the culture.

Everyone knows propaganda works when the film is fall-down funny. Maybe that's the angle all of us in on this conspiracy should have taken. Instead of making a sober, depressing movie about what happens when a gay Batman adopts a gay Robin so they can have that gay lifestyle thing happening, they should have written a lot of great jokes, used a lot of expensive animation, and gotten some funny actors to read all of the dialogue. 

Oh, wait a minute. Rotten Tomatoes says they did that. My mistake.

Sing is a Better Movie Than Some Would Have You Believe

Really, what are the standards for an animated film to be considered "good?"

Despite some bad reviews here and here, I actually saw Sing and I thought it was a good movie. I liked it about as much as I liked Zootopia, so if you didn't like that, well, I don't know what to say. This film does not avoid sadness and it does not insult the intelligence of children. Yes, it is fun and upbeat and has some slapstick to it, but it does not avoid telling you that show business sucks most of the time. If I had to point to one thing that allows the film to succeed it is that it arrives without assuming you haven't already seen what goes on behind the scenes at talent shows. It assumes you know that there's going to be conflict and drama.

Sing owes a lot to the animation esthetic at Illumination (the Minion movie, whatever else) and you can easily be dazzled by what you see. It's a rich, diverse tapestry and, a few stereotypes aside, it works very well on the screen. So, relax. You're not going to be ripped off.

Now, having said that, the plot is a mile wide and an inch deep. You know that down on his luck Buster Moon is going to take a fall and climb right back up. You know how the movie will end when the whole thing kicks off, but it's the journey that works. You will not mind the episodic format and you will want to see more of certain characters. There's so much happening in this film that the plot will not bother you at all because you're already seeing all the different ways these characters are looking for some sort of validation.

Somehow, they made Matthew McConaughey lose every bit of Texas from his voice. Somehow, they managed to make Scarlett Johansson not sound exactly like herself but like a teenaged girl instead. Reese Witherspoon and Seth McFarlane are part of a broadly drawn cast of weirdos and misfits and it all somehow works. McFarlane in particular fits into the whole thing like a completely square peg being dropped through the other side of a round hole. He's not even really part of the team, he just kind of floats through this thing like comic relief. And, as always, you're going to wonder why Jennifer Hudson doesn't already have her own damned franchise already.

There's an especially weird diversion towards the end of the second act that involves washing cars and acting loopy and it's absolutely worth the price of admission. The rest I'm not giving away.

 

The Pleasant Surprise of Zootopia

It may be late, but my review of Zootopia is positive on all fronts because of how much I enjoyed the film. I saw Zootopia over the weekend as an afterthought--we were bored, there wasn't anything else worth seeing, and so we figured, why not?

Spoilers ahead, so pause here and come back after you've seen it. And if you want to wait for the Blu-Ray or the on-demand version, go ahead. You won't be disappointed.

Zootopia is a Disney animated feature that picks up where almost no other Disney films leave off--with a hint of darkness and a tinge of the hopeless. It's not a bouncy, thoughtless romp through nonsensical product placement gags and Baby Boomer satire gags (although putting Tommy Chong in the film is as counter-culture as you can get without completely blowing minds and trampling through the fields of nostalgia). It's not fall down funny but it's amusing enough to see again.

And that's what I really liked about the film--it lived in its own world and didn't try too hard. It didn't go for the fart and gross-out jokes. No one sucked on a urinal cake. No one's ass explodes in a brown cloud of doom. There is a sick burn that weaves through the story line--it's called a hustle--and it works on a number of levels. It may be one of the first animated comedies that truly steps away from Baby Boomer humor and leaves the Simpsons era behind. That may explain why I liked it so much.

Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman have great chemistry as the leads in this. She plays an idealist and he plays an anti-hero and their collective backstory informs the plot without overwhelming anything. This did not play like an attempt for an actor to play something in a movie that their kids can see--the casting works out in the long run because of the banter they have and the conclusion to the film, which has a moment that is noticeably scarier--and more honest--than the usual Disney fare. 

Where does it fit in? Well, this was a smart film with some hard edges. I would put Zootopia just below The Princess and the Frog and Tangled, but that's very good company. I would say it's as good as Brave without the hard to parse accents. And Brave was a very, very good film that has been overlooked. These four animated films represent the best of the films that are not quite as good as Frozen, and if you haven't seen any of them, they're a pleasant discovery for anyone who enjoys animated films. This film was much, much better than Kung Fu Panda 3 and I preferred it to Inside Out (which I did not care for, but that means I'm merely an idiot, of course).

Really, this wasn't junk. We've seen a slew of junk animated films over the last few years and a handful of really strange and densely plotted things that should never have been made. This was a near murder mystery with more emphasis on the mystery aspect. There's even a twist at the end that works. How often can you say that?

Moonbeam City

Oh, darn it:

Comedy Central viewers may want to sit down for this news: When it returns with new episodes circa September 2016, South Park will no longer be followed by Moonbeam City, the hyper-stylized, hyper-violent, ’80s-themed cop show parody created and executive produced by Scott Gairdner. Comedy Central hasgiven the animated series the boot after just one season and 10 deliberately tacky and over-the-top episodes. The network unveiled its list of renewals yesterday, and Moonbeam City was conspicuously absent; barring some kind of miraculous revival in some other venue, the show’s wild, coked-up ride appears to have been short-lived.

The culprit? Those darned ratings. Turns out, there just weren’t enough viewers who wanted to see what Archer might look like as filtered through the Reagan-era aesthetic of Patrick Nagel. At least not enough to sustain a weekly series: Though it garnered what Deadline is calling “a cult following,” Moonbeam City was only able to hold onto about 20 percent of South Park’s lead-in, not enough to save its own porcelain-colored, scarf-draped neck. The cast and crew of the series should not despair, however, as the post-South Park time slot has been something of a basic cable Bermuda Triangle, devouring show after quirky show.

I had hoped for another season of Moonbeam City. I think I've only seen four of the ten episodes, and they were uneven but promising. I was hoping that the creators could settle things down and really get into the characters, which is what drives these shows (and what makes Archer such a gem).

Someone should really pick this up (FX?). It's a fantastic concept and the design discipline that went into the show is very worthwhile. They could dial back the violence and make it a little more satirical and I think it would work just fine. But, what do I know? I'm the jackass who couldn't get past the dolphin episode.

Moonbeam City Season One Episode 3


Now, this is more like it.
The third episode of Moonbeam City's first season dropped like a bomb last week and I am just now getting around to reviewing it. The rapid jokes, crudity, and overall incompetence of Dazzle Novak is there but so is the development of more characters and better situations.
I liked this episode more than last week's and that's primarily because the sheer nuttiness of the premise worked.
Last week, it was about babies and raves--a Nineties theme that has no business in a show that satirizes the Eighties. This episode, called "The Strike Visualizer Strikes Again" goes after a more obscure theme. 
Remember those cheesy cartoons that play on screens in bowling alleys that depict in cartoon format the success or failure of a bowler? That's the whole episode, set against the backdrop of Moonbeam City's neon trash and decay. There's a maniac on the loose and the police are powerless to stop him--a premise that this show is going to use again and again because it works.
What also works, at least for me, is referencing the superficiality of the Eighties and making something like bowling so important in the life of Dazzle Novak. The day-glo bowling alleys are superbly imagined and the trick is to make something so seriously important, no matter how ridiculous it is, so that the characters can get all bent out of shape over nothing. That's what works in this episode--they rode the bowling alley theme all the way to a massive, gory, violent payoff. 
Kate Mara's Chrysalis has more to do in this episode and Elizabeth Banks needs her own storylines. The whole show should be about Pizazz. Rob Lowe is killing it as Dazzle and Will Forte is keeping his character, Rad, in a permanent state of desperate envy. The writing is clicking and so is the show--it's working on a lot of different levels that should keep it around for a while. I'm hoping the show continues to hit a stride because it's still, visually, at least, one of the most inventive shows out there.

Moonbeam City Season One Episode 1

I have to tell you that an old fart like me loves to see anything that satirizes the Eighties. Moonbeam City is a show that will never run out of plot lines if they keep making fun of the most plastic decade that ever was.
Everything about this show begins with the art of Patrick Nagel. If you click over, I have to warn you--his gallery works are not safe for work but they should be. The aesthetic of his prints forms the visual basis of MC, right down to the use of shadowy blinds whenever Pizazz Miller is dressing down Dazzle Novak. This is not a knock against Nagel--it is homage, if you want to get right down to it.
There are four main cast members. Dazzle is voiced by Rob Lowe and he does an admirable job of being clueless (think of a hyped, oversexed version of his character from Parks and Recreation). Elizabeth Banks steals the melodrama as Pizazz. Will Forte plays the nemesis as Rad and Kate Mara plays Chrysalis, the brainy girl with glasses who props everyone else up.
I think this is where we're really going to hear how far Banks is willing to go to portray crazy--she's the best thing in this show and she knows how to live in this world. They need to add three or four more regulars to this cast or really work the guest spots because there's a lot of talent and subject matter to play with here.
Episode One is full of jokes--the come in rapid fire succession and I have to go back and watch it because I know I probably missed a third of what's in this thing. Everyone seems to get it coming and going, right down to the naming of shopping malls (an Eighties thing for me was how they named the malls in Minneapolis after something-Dale) and the subject of new age musical pieces (can't wait for Music From the Hearts of Space). It's violent and there's a lot of sexual content--think Archer and then add the Eighties sensibility of everything being super serious and earnest instead of smartassed and detached.
At some point, someone has to add some INXS and some Wham! to this show or it's going to explode under the weight of a missed opportunity. 
Dazzle is a little too much like Archer in that his incompetence and irresponsibility is what makes him a good cop, the #1 Cop, as it were. That's an aspect that's been done to death but it makes for tension because his Lana is Chrysalis. Pizazz is more like his Malory Archer and Rad is a combination of everyone who ever tried to destroy him. But, really, we can look past this and find a lot to like about Moonbeam City because the design and the presentation are pretty stunning. The writing is good enough to get past comparisons and, hey. It's not the Simpsons and it's definitely not Family Guy, so there you go.
What I like is the satirization of Eighties culture. Superficiality reigns supreme--the more fake a person is, the more they are central to what's happening. If you hear anything insincere, you're watching the wrong show or misunderstanding the whole thing. The show satirizes the way cops use guns and how cars seem to exist solely for chasing other cars. The only thing missing is the cocaine--wait.
This show probably has more cocaine on it than Season 5 of Archer, and that's saying something. But, really--it's worth watching once you get past the fact that Comedy Central probably needs to send Adam Reed a few checks.

All of the Charlie Brown Animated Specials Suck


No surprises here:
The most ominous aspect of the forthcoming Peanuts 3-D Blue Sky Studio movie is not the artwork. Though, don't get me wrong, the artwork looks dreadful. Charles Schulz's cartoons varied over the years from deceptively sleek pen lines in his early days to pleasingly shaky dumpiness after his stroke, but flatness and minimalism was always central to his aesthetic—even in the animated features.
Blue Sky dispenses with that, choosing instead to turn Charlie Brown and the gang into bloated, uncanny-valley inflatables. The teaser trailer released earlier this year, in which the grandiose earth turns into Charlie Brown's head to John Williams-esque fanfare, seems nauseatingly apropos. A world so small that the grass had to be drawn in side-view and adults couldn't fit in the frame has been blown up to Hollywood proportions. It reminds me of that terrifying (NSFW) Charles Ray sculpture, where the nude toddlers are scaled up to adult size—hulking and oh-so-wrong.
So, yes, the art is irredeemably ugly and callow. But that's not the worst part. The worst part is that, in these just-released stills, everyone is smiling.
What you see above is about what you expect. The animated specials, rendered decades ago and lamented by Schultz with one hand while scooping up wads of cash with the other, have plenty of smiling and laughing in them:



Noah Berlatsky can't quite grasp the fact that the new Charlie Brown animated special wasn't intended for him--it is intended for an audience that no longer reads comic strips. Aside from collectors and a few strays, who even reads comic strips anymore? Let alone the original Charles Schultz strips?

The animated specials have always been dreadfully done. The illustration work was cheap, poorly planned and rushed. Schultz himself hated the way his work was butchered. That's how you end up with this abomination of color and slapdash arrangement:


Here, at random, is an actual comic strip. I know, I know. What the hell is this thing? Why is so good but so wrong?


The strip you see above is a casual masterpiece of planning and layout, inking and lettering, and it works because it follows basic storytelling techniques. Two pointed questions, a moment of contemplation, and a result that renders the rhetorical questions as exclamations of doubt and misery. It is the strip as it was meant to be--sullen, pissed off, and darkly philosophical. It was a fuck you to everything sunny and warm. It was as if a misanthrope with too much time on his hands decided to shit on someone's porch and set it on fire, along with the Cathy and Garfield strips that accompanied the gift.

Whatever they're doing to destroy the legacy of Peanuts is fine by me. There are no sacred cows and Schultz was about making money, hand over fist. His heirs are going to cash in on whatever they can cash in on, no matter what. We may someday see a Southpark crossover movie with the Peanuts characters done out in construction paper and felt.

If you want the joy of reading the actual work, get those damned expensive coffee table books and shut the hell up. Complaining about the greed of cheap animation is like getting mad because that Transformers movie looks fakey.

The Only Oscar Winner Worth Seeing


I never got around to writing about the Oscars because, like the Grammys, I view them as a complete and utter waste of time. This is because the culture, and the industries of music and film, have moved on, leaving the older generation completely in thrall of their own power to hand out awards and be relevant to a process they no longer care about.

The best movie I saw last year was Frozen. Hands down. And it's a billion dollar movie, to boot.

In terms of being influenced by actual literature, this film takes the Hans Christian Andersen tale of
Snedronningen, which is Danish for The Snow Queen, and makes it one of the most positive portrayals of women ever. For a Disney film to dispense with all of the cliches (except, of course, for the dead parents) is to open things up to a higher level of creativity.

Anyway, I love this film. I'm glad it won an Oscar. But it should have been nominated as best picture and it should have won.

Brave


I guess I'm not cool.

The only reason why I think Brave hasn't gotten great reviews is because the reviewers don't want to appear to be enthusiastic, awed, or impressed by Pixar's latest effort. IMDB has it at a 7.8 out of 10.

Really? That low? Which film did you watch?

The film that I watched was amazing. I would give it a nine and a half. I would call it the best animated film of the year, bar none. I would put it up there with Finding Nemo and Tangled. If Finding Nemo had been done with the same level of technology that Pixar had available to it with Brave, wow.

Purely as animation, Brave is a masterpiece. The story is fantastic. The characters are wonderfully fleshed out and the voice acting is superb. Kelly Macdonald is so good in this film that it will open up an entirely new career for her if she chooses to follow that path. It's an original story and it absolutely hits you in the chest. I wish there was more done with the neolithic history of Scotland and with the stone circles and things of that nature. I really liked the historical and social aspect of the film, which made it even more interesting to me.

My only theory on the bad reviews would be this--because Brave is about a young girl, and is primarily about her struggles and her identity, there is a gender backlash against it. Someone else is going to have to write their dissertation on this. Someone a hell of a lot smarter than me is going to have to figure out why people are giving this film lukewarm reviews.

Is it because of a fickle marketplace? One wrapped up in latent geekery and superhero worship? I hated Madagascar 3 and deemed it unworthy of a review. I thought it was junk and I got bored with it, fast.

During Brave, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. The detail and the design choices are really impressive. And, we're not just talking about Merida's hair; we're talking forests and castles and chases and the sequence where she rides a horse through the forest and shoots her bow is something special.

I will not add any spoilers. I will tell you this--ignore the critics and go see Brave, no matter how old you are.