Saturday, November 24, 2012

D52 - Week 47 - Meet the Robinsons


So much nonsense.

Where to begin. Um, first of all, I can pretty much just repeat what I've said about Chicken Little and The Emperor's New Groove. Here we have yet another movie whose overabundance of silliness undermines any attempt at eliciting emotional development of the characters. But I've hammered this annoyance before, so I'll talk a bit about Lewis. When you think about Disney/animated family movie character types, the first that come to mind are probably Princess, Prince, and animal sidekick "comic relief" buddies. But there's also a less "classic" one, the awkward nerd trying to fit in. Milo from Atlantis was one, Chic Lic was one, and to a certain extent some of the Disney Princesses like Mulan were too. But Lewis (who by the way reminds me of a young Alton Brown) is the special type that tries to be extra-cliché by constantly making wacky inventions that fail spectacularly. I start to wonder if this would be better or any different if the movie starred Gyro Gearloose. At least it would've made more sense to have a movie based on a comic book and TV series character than one based on a picture book with a picture book-quality story (Spoiler alert! It's all about finding grandpa's teeth and in the end one of the frogs has it. That's what the book is about). At least the picture book doesn't have any pretense of suggesting you should feel sorry for the characters in any way. I mean, I kind of like some of what they do with Bowler Hat Guy, and how his petty little grudge is comically played up (the scene where he convinces li'l Goob to let his hate fester and boil is the only scene I don't dislike) and if there was a character that I might consider maybe feeling sorry for, it would be him, and the mini-lesson - about not stewing in your past resentment or blaming other people but instead moving on with your life - would've been a more worthwhile and interesting lesson to focus on, rather than the lame reworking of the tired "If at first you don't succeed" proverb.

By the way. Time travel story pet peeve: You can't show something happening in the past as if it's happening "while" the events of the present are taking place. If persons A and B are both in the present and person B leaves to time travel to the past and change its events, person person A does not witness those changes x seconds after person B left just because person B started changing things x seconds after B arrived in the past. I know it's just a storytelling and directing framing device, but it shouldn't be. Time does not work that way and we shouldn't be teaching our kids that it does.
Speaking of revisiting the past, this movie sure does plead desperately for you to watch it twice, doesn't it? The first time you'll either feel lost or figure out the "twists" too easily and the second time you'll....well actually it isn't worth watching twice. Trust me; I've done it.

Visually speaking, I bet you never would've guessed that this movie was originally released in 3D! Yeah, remember when 3D theatrical movies first "came back," just about all of them took advantage of the technology to the extreme by poking the audience and shoving things in their faces? I'm glad they've sort of eased up on that gimmickry since then. Because what they seem to forget is that when those same movies come to home video, those super-3D shots don't come across very well at all when we're not getting the effects of the glasses. You could make a drinking game out of it. 3D shots shots. Just seeing Carl the Robot will get you drunk.
You know what this movie should've been? Or at least wishes it could be? One of those motion-simulator theme park movie rides. It already involves a flimsy storyline, a time machine being attacked by a dinosaur (just like Back to the Future: The Ride) and shameless 3D effects! And a lot of its time is spent showing you crazy stuff happening all around you for the sake of showing you crazy stuff happening all around you. It'd be perfect! I think I would appreciate it much more seeing it that way, largely because that means it would be a much shorter experience. You could even have the 4D sensory effects like smelling peanut butter and jelly (mmm, I like it better already) as it splats you in the face (actually just water).
As for the music, it certainly was done by Danny Elfman, wasn't it? It's disappointing that the They Might Be Giants cover of "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" isn't heard in the movie or even in the credits, but at least it happened, as a result of this movie existing. And that might be my favorite thing about the movie period.

Second-favorite thing: A giant squid attacks a tyrannosaurus rex face in the face.

Favorite character: Tom Selleck. Not Cornelius, the character he voices. But Tom Selleck.
Least necessary character: The coach character was not voiced by Patrick Warburton. He is therefore unnecessary.
Discussion topic to answer in the comments section: For the ladies: How would you feel if you met the younger (12 years old) version of your husband/fiancée/boyfriend? Uncomfortable? For the gentlemen: How you would feel if, as a 12-year-old, you met the future, adult version of the wife you didn't even realize you would have? Would it be weird if when you first met her, before knowing she would be your wife, you identified her as a mother figure so much that you blurtingly called her "mom?" Perhaps that wouldn't be any weirder than when current dads call their wife mom just because everyone else in the household does too? Also, is it acceptable for me to make some sort of joke using the line, "Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson?"
Overall: It's awfully fitting that Meet the Robinsons so proudly sings the praises of failure. Well, better keep moving forward.


Here's the thing.  A Day with the Robinsons (the book) is a picture book classic partly because it doesn't have much of a plot.  It's a picture book.  It shows you some interesting and well drawn pictures.  You can use your own imagination if you happen to like the pictures enough to expand upon them.  Meet the Robinsons forces a story which is first of all hard to follow, second of all not particularly engaging, and worst of all grinding the imagination aspect completely out of the picture.  There is so much fantastic (and I don't mean good) stuff always going on that you don't have time to try and use your own powers of creative thinking and so many rules to this universe that you would feel as if you needed permission for your whims in the first place.

I wish I had more to say about this movie.  It's really not good. I didn't like it.  It's incredibly forgettable and that's a good thing.  It's so bland I barely remember anything about the music, the character designs, or the backgrounds except to passingly wonder why all buildings in the future are so faux art deco.

I did enjoy the frogs.  I don't mean the singing and music playing.  It was cute, but too gimmicky for me to actually claim to lave liked it.  What I liked was the group of frogs sitting at a bar telling bar jokes and talking like a bunch of swingers from the roaring 20s.  The frogs had some serious personality!  Then the movie tries to connect them to the plot somehow with the little mini bowler hat and that was the end of my joy.

Favorite character: Frog.... but Tom Selleck is a close second.
Least necessary character: Every single other family member besides Mom, Wilbur and the Grandparents.
Overall: No sir. I didn't like it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

D52 - Week 46 - Chicken Little

Chicken Medium (Kevin)

Men, as a general rule, do not talk about their feelings much with their sons. This we can now see applies to roosters as well. It's the basic message of Chicken Little: there's tension between a son and father that could easily be resolved if they just take the first step to actually talk about it. Now this movie isn't beneath making fun of itself. It ends with Buck Cluck winkingly chipping away at the fourth wall by talking about a Hollywood movie - that would end up over-the-top and silly - staying true to the original story. But I have to wonder if this movie also realizes it undermines its own message of dealing with a problem head-on instead of avoiding it or getting distracted. Chicken Little, the movie, does that quite a lot. Just as you think it's going to use its time to develop the characters and build on the story, one of the many gag characters does a gag, or two or three. There are even some scenes where more than one joke is competing for screen time at the same time in the same frame. It's very gag-heavy, is what I'm saying. And there's nothing wrong with a stream of gags itself, but if you're going to be that gaggy, movie, you can't also spend little time with the characters' emotions and play up those moments as if we're supposed to genuinely get choked up or something. One or the other! You can be a Lilo & Stitch with sentimentality and not push the comedy too hard or you can be an Airplane! and go crazy with comedy because you don't expect the viewer to get invested in the story. I might let you try to do both if you were a long-running television series that adds character depth gradually over a long period of time, but for a movie, no.

This being the very first entirely-computer-animated (uh, that Indiana Jones clip doesn't count) non-Pixar Disney film, I've gotta talk about the animation. I don't think it holds up quite as well now as The Incredibles does, sorry to say. Frankly it gives me "Jakers" vibes. Not that it looks as bad as Jakers, but that it has that look that gives you the impression that it is meant for children. Though I don't imagine many kids would appreciate an admittedly amusing Gloria Gaynor reference. Or maybe it's "Jimmy Neutron" vibes too. In that it probably would've looked better if it had been done in 2D hand-drawn in the first place.

 The music, aside from the score, is mostly covers or original recordings or already well-known songs. Its original song, "One Little Slip," as performed by Barenaked Ladies, sounds like an obligatory "celebrity cover of the single from the movie," except it actually is in the movie as performed by them, which is weird. I don't know how else to explain what I'm saying there, so I hope it made sense. Also, it's normal now to hear a clip from a song like "It's the End of the World as We Know It" played for the trailer despite not actually being in the movie itself, but here it really is in the movie, and that's weird. That moment feels like the movie turned into its own trailer, or something.

One of the fascinated things about the movie is that in one scene we see the animals of this animal town watching a very live-action Raiders of the Lost Ark starring famous human Harrison Ford. I'm sure the weirdness of that is intentional. Do you suppose humans exist in the same universe but just not in that town? Or maybe this is an alternate universe where their Raiders of the Lost Ark is really just staged by animals with ultra-realistic (to us) sets props and people costumes. Also, other celebrities are referenced, some directly. Are they humans too, or are there also animal versions of our same celebrities? I like Amanda's answer to my question of what animal Barbara Streisand would be: obviously, a sheep. And we collaborated to decide that in Chicken Little's world, "We Are the Champions" was written and performed by QueenBee, the main singer being Freddie Workerbee.

Favorite character: Abby Mallard strikes me as the most down-to-Earth (pun intended? not really) character, and surprisingly hinged for one voiced by Joan Cusack.
Least necessary character: As camera-pandering as Fish Out of Water is, at least he's relevant to the story. Morkupine Porcupine doesn't mug as often, but he also has no purpose aside from forced laughs.
Trivial wondering: Oakey Oaks has the money and technology for modern-day automobiles and movie theaters and television and film crews, but sticks to hiring a chameleon for traffic light duty. This gets more perplexing when we see a standard light-operated walk/don't walk sign a little later on. Maybe...that first traffic light was broken and Chameleon Lameleon was just filling in temporarily? But wait. Does he get a funny name like that? He was awfully un-anthropomorphic, wasn't he? Is he not allowed clothes? Two legs good, four legs bad?? Speaking of clothes, feathers and fur aren't enough to cover your nudity, but if you're a wooly sheep your natural covering is good enough.
Even more trivial wondering: How would you shorten Chicken Little's name? Chi Li? Chick Lit?
Overall: I'm going to go ahead and assume that if Walt Disney were alive to see Chicken Little, he would be fascinated by this new and amazing audio-animaputer technology but wouldn't be all that happy with the results of how it's used here.

At least there's a great big beautiful next week, right?

Amanda Hu-MAN....Duh.

I'd be lying if I said I hated Chicken Little.  It just didn't do enough to elicit much of a response in the first place.  It's no wonder CL fell of the radar as quickly as it did.

At a time in animation when any studio aside from PIXAR hadn't the computing power to make a visually impressive film and when in the box office it was competing against such huge names as Harry Potter 4, Chronicles of Narnia, Brokeback Mountain, and Star Wars III, Chicken Little seemed to be little more than a caretaker film for the Studios.

The story was nothing at all like the inspiration piece and yet as much as it had changed, it wasn't particularly inspired anyway.  Corny gags overshadowed character development leaving a cast that was little more than a list of cliches. Plot points and even most of the gags in this new version of the story were predictable to the point that I found myself groaning before they happened.

Did you ever watch a movie and recognize trailer lines and find them to be slightly misaligned with the rest of the theme or atmosphere of the scene or perhaps the whole movie?  Chicken Little felt a bit like pasting together 20 or 30 trailers.  None of them really fit together that well, all of them were over-the-top and hard to relate to, and the score was brash and overshadowing with hard starts and stops that take you out of what little story there was to begin with.

Favorite Character: Abby Mallard.  While she is a visual cliche, she had the most character depth... even if it did dissipate after a forced-romantic semi-climactic moment. Honorable Mention: Adam West.  At least Mr. West sticks with what he does best.
Least favorite character:  Foxy Loxy.  We get it. Chicken Little is an easy target for bullies.  You need to calm down. Geez.
Overall: I was unaffected and I will have forgotten 90% of the plot points by the time we watch the next film.  If you choose to watch it, I bet you'll forget about it pretty quickly too.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

D52 - Week 45 - Home on the Range

Kevin's Little Post of Heaven
Yeah, you're gonna hear a discouraging word alright.

But first, I want to talk about a certain Chickeny movie. No, not Chicken Little. That's next week. I'm thinking of Chicken Run. It used to be one of my favorites movies back when it first came out. Watching it again just a couple of years ago, ah, not quite so stupendous but easy to appreciate. See, in Chicken Run, the motivation of the characters is driven by their desire to not live on that chicken farm. The main bummer is that every once in a while one of them - the one not producing enough eggs - gets killed. The danger is amped up when their owner is inspired to focus on the larger profit potential in using the lot 'of 'em for chicken pies. I was never sure what she planned to do after she'd run out of chickens to make into pies, especially since she'd spent money on an elaborate pie-making mini-factory, but that's neither here nor there. I mention this because this is one way to make a movie about what life must be like through the eyes of livestock. While just about all of the jokes seem super-cornball now, the story structure works in basically allowing one to feel sorry for the characters. It's a believable enough set-up with emotions one can relate to ... er, in that if I were a farm chicken I wouldn't want to be fattened up to be killed either and would jolly well like to live free, if I may.

Then there's Home on the Range. It's the opposite, in even more ways than that cows are the opposite of chickens. Whereas the chickens didn't want to live on a farm because they feared being killed, the cows really want to continue living on their farm because they...won't be killed there. Sorry for being overly cynical, but...farms do not work that way. I mean, okay, farms in cartoons and other family-friendly outlets can work that way. They do all the time. I'm sure Old MacDonald can have a farm and on this farm he does not slaughter a cow, E-I-E-I-O. So, I'll allow the very idea of the idyllic farm where the farmer dances with the animals and everyone's happy every day. However. We then have to look at the conflict. Farmer Pearl is confronted by debt collectors and needs to pay back money or lose her farm, and all I can think is, no kidding she's in debt! Her farm is only a half-acre and she's way too attached to her animals! How the heck does even expect to make money? I'm surprised she can even grow enough crops to even raise her animals, much less sell any of it for a profit, on that dinky little estate she calls heaven. Plain and simple, she does not know how to farm. She does the opposite of everything you're supposed to do to have a successful farm. She probably pours oil all over her plants, or something.
This is why the perfect farm scenario can be a repetitive children's song or even a strangely addictive video game series, but not really a movie. Now that I think of it this is just like the plight of Sykes in Oliver & Company that I wrote about back then. It's hard for me to root for Pearl because I find myself questioning the way she got into debt in the first place and what she's going to do if - no, WHEN she goes into debt again.

It's not that all of this makes it a bad movie. I just find I'm not able to relate to it on any level, and I'm not sure who would. You could say it's not really about farm life and that's it's really about family, but Lilo & Stitch did that theme much better anyway.

Plot difficulties aside, there are some things to appreciate here that make it not quite as unbearable as I prejudiciously expected it to be. The songs and music are quite good, but then again with Alan Menken responsible that's no surprise. I would say they're a little too good for these characters that I don't care for. My favorite part is easily Alameda Slim's yodeling song. As far as Disney villains - or even quirky Disney villains go, that's a pretty inventive quirk right there. There's not much to say about him when he's not yodeling, but man.
And anyway a bunch of stuff happens and then there's an action scene that takes place on a mine cart because you just have to given the setting and it makes you wonder if there were hopes for a spin-off theme park ride in the works.

Favorite character: Steer Dad. mm-HMM. Sorry, bit of inside joke there, couldn't resist.
Least necessary characters: Those two vultures seemed a bit could-ve-been-dropped-to-the-cutting-room-floor to me.
Sidenote: Before seeing the movie I saw the character design for Alameda Slim and immediately assumed he would be voiced by John Goodman. Was shocked and surprised to not hear Goodman's voice as I watched it,
Overall: While the characters and story aren't charming enough for me to recommend this with enthusiasm...some good music, musical sequences and surprisingly funny jokes (I liked that one gag with the fly, hey, whaddya want from me) are some reasons to suggest at least actually watching it before calling it a good or bad movie.

Amanda's Word Harvest

I'm pretty bummed that this wasn't a hit.  Home on the Range is one of those movies that had a lot of potential.  Like the still making toys out of it potential that Pixar's Cars had and yet it juuuusssttt missed the mark.

Home on the Range had an awful lot going for it.  The animation looks amazing and yet with a certain amount of stylization that allowed it to fit in well with the Disney aesthetic and yet still have its own identity.  The backgrounds are gorgeous and saturated and still capture that sort of rosie nostalgia that most Americans feel for the old west.

The music is spot on.  We all expect it from Alan Menken of course, but the lyrics and performances all came together to fit the theme, enhance the plot and generally give you a good solid background for the rest of the production.

I think the movie falls flat because the characters are either cliche or insufferable.  I mean really, when has anyone ever really cared about the plight of Roseanne Barr?  She is essentially playing herself in this role (burn) and because she never sounds sincere or even really emotes all that much to begin with, it's hard to like her.  Mrs. Calloway has a fabulous voice actress in Dame Dench, but she's such a static character and never does stay true to character.  Even worse, her character is constantly trying to convince everyone and herself that giving up is the best option.  How unlikeable is that? Grace (Tilly) is at best well played, at worst cliched, and most unfortunately doesn't stay true to character either.  There is a gag in which Grace as the supposedly airheaded one makes a concise speech about their goals and everyone is astonished and perhaps that would have played, but just having a breathy voice isn't enough to convey airheaded.  And don't get me started on Buck.  His frantic, squealing, karate shouting, hopping around was a) not funny, b) utterly unnecessary, and c) way overplayed.  The only consistently likeable character is the Villain, but we get stuck with everyone else.

The story isn't the best I've ever heard, but it's straightforward and gets a lot of business in without meandering around too much.  It's never confusing and still has a couple of interesting twists.  My only beef is that Lucky Jack was a bit of a Deus ex Machina in that he shows up out of nowhere and though portrayed as accident prone seems to be the most competent one of the group.

Favorite Character: Alameda Slim isn't the best Disney Villain, but he's generally entertaining and I can't dismiss a good yodel.
Least Necessary character: BUCK. UGH.  If you have a child who is so young that they can't follow a plot, then he's probably that child's favorite character with all his zippy zany zooming around, but I suspect the rest of the family will hate him.

Overall: I don't hate it.  It's worth it for the beautiful background art and the too-good-for-this-movie music. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

D52 - Week 44 - Brother Bear

Br'er Kevin, of the Rooster Totem
Oh boy! It's only a couple of weeks until Pixar's "Brave" comes out on DVD! Now there was a movie about being magically transformed into a bear against your will that I would like to see again. This one, not so much. I didn't find it particularly annoying, but...well, if I were a hacky newspaper movie critic, I might go so far as to use the phrase "Aurora BORE-ealis."
Really, it's pleasant enough but just not engaging. It's like in Dinosaur, where I get what's going on but I'm just not captivated by it at all. At least it looks better than Dinosaur. And the humor is not as unfunny.
It's hard to describe what exactly it supposed to be going on emotionally through Kenai's* journey. First he's annoyed by Koda, and if you know your movies you know he'll warm up to him eventually. And he does, through a music montage. And you think, well, that was sooner than I thought. But then they get in a fight again. And now Kenai hates Koda. But they make up quickly after looking at a painting. Are you guys friends or not? Make up your mind and stick to it! Then there's the "yeah um I kinda may have sort of murdered your mom sorry about that" speech and Koda is understandably upset, but gets over it surprisingly easily. Man, he is the KING of forgiveness.
Now for my biggest nitpick about the alleged lesson of the movie. Kenai learns about looking at things from the bear's point of view instead of seeing them as murderous monsters or whatever, and that's all fine and dandy sure. But in the salmon run chapter, we see the bears killing and eating fish, and doing in such delight that the young ones laugh while making hand puppets out of the fish's heads! What kind of horror show is that? I know that there is a Brother Bear 2 and I have no idea what it's about, but if the filmmakers have any respect for addressing hypocrisy, it had better be the tale of a young bear who callously plays with fish corpse heads before he is spiritually transformed into a salmon. He would then realize who the real monster is, and so forth and such and yada.
Now to talk about Rutt and Tuke. I'm not crazy about them as they're written in the actual movie. But man, I have a soft spot for their DVD commentary! Maybe it's because I'm partial to cornball ad-libbed humor (I wonder how much of it is off-the-cuff? I hope most) like that, and also the very idea that they got through the whole thing on consistent steam. Some of it is dumb, but some is funny and plays to my dumb-pun sensibilities. Such as:
"Well if you go to the liquor control board of Ontario, they have wine and spirits. And you can talk to the spirits."
Considering that they managed to "riff" a family-friendly movie with only family-friendly jokes, Thomas and Moranis did a bang-up job at that commentary track. I'm gonna go ahead and say I prefer the movie with that audio track on. After all, you still get the beautiful imagery and animation, but with better jokes. I've listened to it twice (once years ago, before I had even seen the movie proper) and would listen to it again. And I'm slightly proud to say it.

Favorite character: Hearing Greg Proops talk uncharacteristically lovey-dovey was, for me, the funniest part of the movie.
Least necessary character: The chipmunk is supposed to present this idea that Kenai should be surprised to see a squirrel terrified of him because he doesn't realize he's a bear yet, but the chipmunk would freak out the same, maybe even moreso, at a hunter, wouldn't it?
Trivia: Another Pixar comparison. That I Spy bit where Rutt or Tuke (who cares which is which) "spies" a tree over and over sure is similar to Dory's "small and orange" bit from Finding Nemo, isn't it? Finding Nemo was released first, but only six months prior, so accusations of plagiarism might be stretching it. But I do think it worked better in Finding Nemo, since the joke there was that Dory was instantly forgetful and the ocean was mostly empty where they were too. In Brother Bear, Rutt/Tuke is just being...stupid? Or intentionally annoying?
Overall: Eh, eh?

*Does Kenai mean anything relating to his character? If not, it's a wasted opportunity that the guy whose totem is an eagle wasn't named Kenai instead, thereby making a pun on "keen eye." Ah well.

Something Amanda

I'm going to be uncharacteristically concise for this one.

Brother Bear looks beautiful.  The music isn't bad, but it's also not nearly as memorable as Collins' previous work in Tarzan.  The voice acting was good considering what they were given.  I love Rick Moranis, but the rest of the movie doesn't really send me. 

Oh and by the way, Koda was way more annoying than cute.  However, he did look really cute, and that sort of bothers me because his mother (for whom we are supposed to have sympathy) is by a wide margin the ugliest bear of all.  I get that you want her to look monstrous for the first act, but couldn't you gussy her up a little for the sentimental climax? Ugh.

Favorite Character: I dunno. Uh. Silent Mammoth busses.
Least Necessary Character: Oh, let's say... um... Estelle Harris
Overall:  I wasn't completely bored out of my mind, but I don't really remember all that much about it now that it's over.  At least it looked pretty.  Would it be wrong to suspect that it was one of those caretaker movies that's put into production just to make sure the animators and clean-up crew still know what they're doing?