For me great animation is a marriage of two other big loves of mineóbeautiful art and captivating storytelling. You nail those things and it's almost guaranteed that you'll have my eyeballs glued to the screen. I grew up on Disney films like Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast so my tastes tend to unconsciously lean that way, however I love seeing animation that breaks new ground and really shows where the medium can go.
drawing, painting, animation, absorbing pop culture, animation, web design, writing, animation...
Animation that I love:
How to Train Your Dragon, Mary and Max, Tangled, Princess Mononoke, The Incredibles, Nightmare Before Christmas, Rescuers Down Under, ... etc. etc.
If you don't remember "FernGully: The Last Rainforest", it was a 2D animated film released back in the early 90s during a particularly heightened Save-the-Earth pop culture hiccup. FernGully's villains were polluting people and its heroes were a bunch of faeries trying to restore balance to the force... I mean, forest.
"Epic"--whose title never really made much sense to me--replaces the polluting people with something a little more basic. On one side of the fight we've got greenery and life and on the other side there's death and decay. Life is good. Death is bad. And keeping the balance between life and death in the forest are the tiny little guys in the green armor.
I actually liked "Epic". It won't go down in history as particularly revolutionary or super original, but it was quite enjoyable nonetheless. Our teenage leading lady, Mary Katherine (or MK as she prefers), was appealing and sympathetic and avoids the usual teen-character pitfalls of angst or pop-culture quips. The supporting characters are strong in their own right although I had a hard time with the idea that the good-looking pseudo-love-interest for MK was called Nod. I know he's a faerie or leafman or whatever but seriously, Nod?
This is simply a fun family film. It's not preachy. It's not pop-culture-ific. The 3D is well utilized on the many, many flight sequences and falling down through for the forest canopy scenes. The animation is well done and characters and environments are imaginative without being over-the-top in syrupy faerie goo. It won't have you jumping out of your seats cheering at the end, but you (and your kids) will likely leave the theatre feeling satisfied with your afternoon.
And yes, there's a musical number... singular... and unlike FernGully, it's sung by Steven Tyler (Aerosmith) and not by Raffi. Whether you consider that a pro or a con, I leave that up to you. :)
This is such an odd-duck little movie and I can see why it didn't really land well with everyone. It tries to take on way too much--the little orphan boy story, the optimistic adventure to the future story, the crazy 'Matrix-inspired' dystopian future story... the whole thing definitely gets very muddled in places.
Then again, I loved Bowler Hat guy and Lewis' quest to find a family is really quite touching. Plus there are all these unexpected twists and turns in the story, which I consider fairly unusual for a Disney film.
While I wouldn't put it at the top of a to-watch list, I would say it's worth seeing at least once.
The first big issue I had with this movie is how they handled the flashback of Puss' backstory. I completely agree with starlac that it feels incredibly long and the movie seems to grind to a screeching halt. I think the filmmakers must have known it too since at the tail end they show Kitty Softpaws has fallen asleep somewhere in the midst of Puss' story. Sure it's a gag, but to my thinking if the characters in your film are that bored, it can't be a good sign.
The other problem I had with this film is that Puss still somehow feels like a sidekick in his own story. He's supposedly headlining this movie, but in the backstory he's basically Humpty's sidekick who doesn't say a whole lot. And later in the film he's tagging along on Humpty's quest in order to redeem his tarnished honour. No matter what he does in this film, he can't seem to crawl out from under his sidekick status.
There's a brief moment toward the end where I felt a little emotional resonance for the characters, but generally it suffered from the problem that so many films in the Shrek series seem to... too many smart asides to the audience and not enough actual story that I feel invested in.
I liked the first Shrek at the time of its release for its novelty, but at this point I sincerely hope this is the last we see of its characters.
Now, me seeing an animated movie in theatres more than once is not really a new phenomenon. I saw "How to Train Your Dragon" three times and I'm pretty sure I saw "Up" and "WALL-E" at least twice each. So perhaps it is not the fact that I saw it twice that's the big endorsement here, but the other movies Guardians now joins in my little 'worth multiple viewings' club.
So yes, this is a great film. There will be people who find the whole concept a little sickly sweet... Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Sandman and, newly minted Guardian, Jack Frost... all teaming up together to form some kind of kid-friendly Avengers group in the name of wonder, hope and dreams. Written up in those terms one is sort of inclined to gag themselves with a candy cane.
But you know what? Where other movies would take this concept and make something weird, forced and stupidly saccharine, "Rise of the Guardians" embraces its mission statement with such unabashed joy that it becomes positively infectious. This is a FUN movie that allows itself to have FUN even as it talks about the power of children who believe.
Also Santa is a sword-wielding Russian Cossack with giant tattoos and the Easter Bunny is 6ft tall and voiced by Hugh Jackman. C'mon grownups, admit it... if these guys had been THAT cool when you were growing up, would you ever have stopped believing in them?
Those who've read my previous reviews know that I am generally anti-3D when it comes to movie watching. I still can't bring myself to see the new Disney 3D versions of "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King" because I'm a little worried I might frighten the rest of the audience when I run screaming from the theatre. Thus, like the whole multi-viewing thing, take my recommendation that "Rise of the Guardians" absolutely needs to be seen at least once in 3D accordingly. This is a visually spectacular movie that makes use of the 3D canvas without abusing it as so many movies do.
My one beef with Guardians that holds it back from full four-star greatness, if only slightly, is that I didn't feel like enough time was spent in each of the Guardians specialized worlds. Each was so unique with such a rich history that was only glimpsed at, that I really wanted to linger longer. I felt like the need to service all the Guardians in this regard meant that each wasn't illuminated as much as I would've liked.
Then again, as we know Dreamworks figured out a long time ago... that's what the sequels are for!
For one thing my childhood didn't include arcades or video games of any stripe, so I anticipated that the vast majority of the gaming references would go over my head. Plus Ralph isn't exactly your typical Disney hero in a typical Disney story. Essentially, it's a story about a guy who hates his job--literally *his job*--and goes on a quest to try to gain the respect of his co-workers.
So yes, this is definitely an odd movie and one that I don't think will be remembered in years to come as a "classic" with the same reverence as some other films in the Disney library... and yet, this is actually a fun little movie.
Non-gamers shouldn't feel intimidated as some of my favourite bits are the little nods to the audience where we're let in on some of the more obscure retro jokes. I did make a point of Googling "Tapper" when I got home to see if it was a real game since they make such cute usage of it in the movie.
Ralph makes for a surprisingly sympathetic hero, but where the movie really shines is his relationship with young Vanellope. I was actually reminded a bit of Sully and Boo... if Boo grew up into a slightly bratty, potty-mouthed kid. Yes, some of Vanellope's cracks are definitely a bit low-brow, (Hero's Doodie, anyone?), but her enthusiasm is infectious. Like Ralph, we fall in love with her character almost in spite of ourselves... which may be the whole point. Even the extended amount of time the story spends in the pink confectionery world of "Sugar Rush" ultimately won me over with its sheer imagination and sense of fun.
The other neat thing about this movie is how well-developed the whole world of the game characters is. Much like Toy Story and its toys, there are rules in the world of the arcade and breaking them, as Ralph does in his quest to go from 'bad guy' to 'hero', has consequences. While the story seems pretty straightforward at the beginning, it's the underlying rules of the game world that takes the tale surprising places and gives it more emotional weight than I was expecting.
In the end, Wreck-It Ralph is perhaps the perfect homage to video games. It doesn't pretend to be deep and meaningful. It isn't going to melt your brain off with mind-bending visuals--although the animation is, of course, Disney-calibre. Like a trip to the arcade or putting in some time on few Mario Bros. levels, it's simply light-hearted fun.