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.
I'm one of those people whose childhood was squarely situated in the 80s. I remember when family films were things like "Adventures in Babysitting" or "Goonies" or "E.T." or any number of films that seemed to feature some oddly-adorable social outcast who, along with his family and friends, winds up saving the day. While "ParaNorman" is definitely a child of this decade in some of its references and gags, there's something in its story foundation that has a bit of that 80s-retro feel to it that I actually really loved. I think it was this kind of innocence that made the movie just a little less cynical and snarky than what passes for family entertainment these days.
Animation... fantastic. I found the look of this one much more interesting than "Coraline" which was frequently just weird. The climax of the film was beautiful to watch and had an epic quality to it that went beyond the big set pieces and explosions that are also so typical these days.
And yes, there's also a message in this film, but it's a good one. The writers somehow manage to get their point across without brow-beating it home and that was refreshing as well.
I did see the 3D version of the film, but I think it would play just as well without it. It is worth seeing on the big screen though so try to sneak off to grab this one before the summer's out.
But it's JUST. SO. PRETTY.
It's like... gratuitously pretty.
What? Owls are talking? There's a plot? What?
Seriously, I have no idea how to review this film. The characters have a certain amount of charm, but you feel like you've seen them before. The story is intriguing, but I get the sense I'd probably enjoy the novel more than this adaptation. There were moments when I could almost feel the film wanting to go darker and more melodramatic and then having to remind itself--"oh dear, we're an animated movie. Better crack a joke in here somewhere"... personally I would've loved to have seen this fully-realized as the unrelentingly slightly dark fantasy that it leans toward but never quite hits.
Anyways... if you're an animation junkie like me who gets a little buzzed off of slow motion water droplets skimming off perfectly realized feathers... see this movie.
If you're a normal movie-goer... probably skippable.
And then the trailers came out and it was like a checklist of things I love to see in movies... fiery heroine--check!... kicking ass and taking names--check!... awesome archery skills--check!
(Side note: Is it just me or is this the year where the archers are just coming out of the woodwork? First "Hunger Games" then Hawkeye in "Avengers"... )
ANYWAYS... I was pretty stoked to see this movie. Even after I began to see some weak reviews coming in, I thought "meh, this is PIXAR movie... even a supposedly 'bad' or 'fair' Pixar movie is going to be head and shoulders above everybody else!"
So I saw it tonight and the short non-spoilery version of the review is that the animation and rendering are, of course, top-notch. Somebody should be getting an Oscar for Merida's hair alone and there was some really nice work done on her horse, Angus. But, unfortunately, the story really felt kind of slap-dash. It just didn't have that simple, solidity that past Pixar films have done so well with.
***BEWARE! Beyond this point there be SPOILERS!!***
An prime example of this kind of surprisingly sloppy storytelling is when Merida goes to talk to the witch. The witch, btw, was a great character and I'd wish they'd found a way to use her more. Now, Merida's emotional, she just had a big fight with her Mom and obviously that's going to be on her mind... but when she tells the witch to cast a spell to "change her Mom" and "change her Fate"... she doesn't specify! AT ALL! It was probably the biggest plot point in the film and all it needed was a few extra lines where she tries to tell the witch how her Mom is trying to marry her off, but it was like the whole conversation was deliberately and painfully vague so that this otherwise likeable character of the witch would change Mom into a bear.
And the whole bear thing combined with witch? It took me some time to place it, but it there's kind of this weird Disney's "Brother Bear" mashed with Ursula from "The Little Mermaid"... thing... or maybe that just popped into my mind because I've watched too many animated films.
There was also the whole business with a ripped tapestry and Merida trying to sew on the back of a galloping horse that just left me a little too incredulous in the latter part of the film. And while I'm sitting there with my brain going "huh??", I'm not emotionally engaged and that's kind of a let down in a Pixar film. And while I absolutely believe that fantasy can be fantastical, the best fantasy still has be grounded in logic... in the actions of characters that you can understand and relate to.
I don't know, maybe it'll improve for me on subsequent viewings, but I'm afraid that "Brave" was kind of a disappointment.
For one thing, it's a Steven Spielberg film with a lot of elements that he's extremely well know for. The Indiana Jones movies are some of my all-time favourites in terms of live-action films and Tintin is certainly an Indiana-like character with his daring attitude and thirst for adventure.
And, although this is an animation site and we usually talk about the animation in terms when we're talking about the performance of the characters, there's no denying that it's Andy Serkis performing Captain Haddock. While all the characters in the movie are performance captured by the actors that provided the voices, I feel like only Captain Haddock had a really stand-out performance. If you've read my other reviews on motion-captured or rotoscope animated films, you know I have a pretty big beef with most of them, but I think it's because the source material going into the performance isn't strong enough. Captain Haddock is what you get when it is strong enough.
So why is this a two star film for me? Well, for one thing, I never read the comics so I didn't have that instant connection with Tintin that I think was needed for empathy with this character. Tintin has no flaws and he has no backstory. I learned from the Bluray extras that he had no backstory in the comics either, but that still doesn't help me bond with the character. To me he felt like a paper cutout stand in for a hero and, personally, I need more than that. I felt like the movie didn't really start firing on all cylinders until Captain Haddock showed up. Haddock, in contrast, is a delightfully flawed character between his alcoholism and his bumbling ways.
What really knocked the star-count for me down though was the excessive show-off factor that always, ALWAYS seems to happen when you give directors the ability to do whatever the heck they feel like within the digital world. It's almost ironic that Spielberg, who gave the world Jurassic Park, somehow forgot that movie's key lesson--just because it CAN be done, doesn't mean it SHOULD be done. All these insane camera movies and action sequences that try to somehow straddle live-action realism and cartoony exaggeration, but end up being a jarring mixture of the two. There were a number of occasions in the movie, where it felt like I wasn't watching a story unfold, but instead I was clinging to the front car on a rollercoaster ride. Now, maybe I'm just too old fashioned and maybe this is just how movie-making is meant to be today, but when my brain starts going "huh? now where am I...? and where is...? how did...? what...?" that just pops me so far out of the story that I'm no longer paying attention to whether or not our heroes' lives are in jeopardy.
So Tintin is an enjoyable theme park ride. It will likely please fans of the comics more than the uninitiated and it has enough Spielberg whiz-bang to make for an entertaining evening infront of the TV. It won't blow your mind--as I remember the first Jurassic Park movie doing when I was a teenager--but it's a good family popcorn muncher sort of movie if that's what you're in the mood for.
Side note... I thank whoever made the Bluray extras for once highlighting exactly how much ANIMATION work goes into these performance capture movies. I always feel like grinding my teeth every time I hear a director allude to the notion that it's the actor's performance going untouched to the final film, which is a charming notion but hasn't been the truth yet on any of these mocap/performance capture movies that have been made. Credit where credit is due and the animators deserve their rightful share.
The first thing that will strike you is that it's a very colourful world. Even sitting in a non-3D theatre, you can tell that this is a film that wants you to enjoy those 3D enhanced moments so I'll be interested to hear from other reviewers how well those work. That said, the character designs are cool. The sets have a definite Seuss-ian feel (is that a word?) and you can tell the makers of the film did their homework in that regard.
Still, in some ways I wonder if the glitzy snap-crackle-and-pop of the world worked against its obvious environmental message. I remember seeing "Ferngully" several eons ago and the connection between the lush rainforest on the screen (even if it was filled with faeries) and the one being cut down in Brazil was fairly obvious. Making the environmental connection between saving the fluffy pink trees in "The Lorax" and the boring green ones outside my window might be a bit of a stretch for the average popcorn-munching movie go-er... at least in as much as getting them to think about the real hazards of consumerism that the movie sings and dances its way through.
And yes, there is singing and dancing in true animated film style. The songs are reasonably catchy and I think my favourite was probably "How Bad Can I Be?" for the sheer gleeful selfishness of it which I think is probably the purest comment that can be made about consumerist culture.
All in all... see it in the theatre if large colourful visuals tickle your fancy, but wait for the video release if you're just looking to catch the latest Seuss-related effort.