Tag Archives: Animation

Toy Story 4

22 Jun

‘Toy Story 4’: These may well be the end tines for Pixar series, but Forky just adds to the fun

 

Image result for toy story 4

The odd ones are the exceptional ones. I’m not taking about the quirky potpourri of personality in Andy’s toy chest (because they are all pretty odd and exceptional), I’m talking about the prime-numbered chapters in the long-running Pixar franchise. As is, it’s hard to believe it was nearly a quarter-century ago that “Toy Story” (1995) hit screens and defined a new generation of animation – pretty much becoming the impetus for the Best Animated Feature award initiated by the Oscars in 2001. The smart, simple tale of a cowboy doll jealous of a spaceman figurine new to a young boy’s toy collection, and its moral of friendship and support, hit with all ages. The olio of characters was as bright and infectious as their wondrous 3D rendering. Woody and Buzz were an instant thing. Of course, having a talented voice pool led by Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Don Rickles didn’t hurt. “Toy Story 2” (1999), in which the crew had to band together to rescue Woody (Hanks) from a toy collection was a fair, pat followup; “Toy Story 3” (2010), which rightly notched that animation Academy Award, went to some dark places as Andy headed off to college, dealing with mature themes of separation and the despair of realizing you’re not needed anymore.

Toys, we learn in “Toy Story 4,” have a job that is pretty much what you’d expect: making your kid feel happy and secure. We catch up with Woody and Buzz Lightyear (Allen) now in the service of Bonnie, the girl who was gifted Andy’s lot at the end of “3.” Shy and demurring, Bonnie’s about to enter kindergarten and is somewhat terrified at the prospect, but before school starts her family heads out on a cross-country RV trip with much of the toy chest bunch in tow. New to the crew is Forky (Tony Hale), a kindergarten orientation creation – a spork with glued-on facial features, popsicle stick feet and a pipe cleaner twisted around the midsection for arms. Because of where he comes from, the plastic friend made of disparate materials is imbued with an innate affinity for trash (the “trash” mantra is up there with “claw” or “Groot”) and spends much of the film dumpster-diving or flying out the window of the RV. Mission one for Woody & Co., adhering to their job description, is to keep Bonnie’s new favorite in her stead even if Woody has to stay up all night tossing the Frankensteinian craft creation back into bed next to its creator after back-flipping into the nearby waste bucket.

Other smartly woven subplots have Woody separated from Bo Peep (Annie Potts) – I forgot that she was porcelain – and a segue to a thrift store where a life-sized doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her phalanx of Jerry Mahoney-styled goons hold nefarious plans for Woody. Then there’s new adds Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), a Canadian Evel Knievel-like action figure, and two bickering fluff toys (voiced by Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key) who deliver as a goofy Greek chorus, a role Rickles used to provide as Mr. Potato Head (the comedian passed in 2017, and is used in small, archived metes here).

Allegedly “4” is the last chapter in the “Toy Story” canon. The third film seemed like the perfect concluding point, but “4,” directed by Josh Cooley, goes in a slightly new direction while hitting all the right notes. With Bonnie and a new set of friends, the series seems ripe for a spinoff. No matter – young kids going to this without seeing the previous films will likely be hooked, and want to see the full set after. To any parent rolling your eyes: Just go with it. There’s plenty of mature witticisms, and the subtle life lessons are a win for all.

The Lego Movie 2

10 Feb

‘The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part’: Sequel an expansion kit lacking that satisfying click

 

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The pieces are all there, but they all don’t snap together like last time. The 2014 “The Lego Movie” was so sharp and fresh, full of wit that appealed to young and old, marvelous movie references and a world reimagined in a way no one thought possible – even a Lego sea. It was “Toy Story,” but revolutionary in vision, style and delivery.

The director-writer tandem of “The Lego Movie,” Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (they were most recently involved penning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”), remain part of the writing crew for “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part,” but Mike Mitchell has taken the director’s seat. We’d left Emmett (Chris Pratt) and sassy love interest Lucy, with the saucy moniker of Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), in a Lego utopia; it is now a wasteland evocative of “The Planet of the Apes,” with a half-crumbled Statue of Liberty at the center and a “Mad Max” barrenness all around. Alien Lego beings have come and blasted the happiness all to hell. There’s malaise and a small oasis and things seem to be getting slowly put back together, until Lucy and a few others are abducted by Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi, a shape-shifting, duplicitously motormouthed charm-arella voiced by Tiffany Haddish. Emmett, finding his inner hero, turns his happy home into a spaceship and sets off to save his crew. 

That inner can-do actually manifests itself physically, in the form of Rex Dangervest (Pratt pulling double duty), a rough-and-tumble space traveler who pulls Emmett from certain destruction amid a meteor field and signs on for the “Star Wars”-like quest to rescue the princess from the impregnable palace – refer to Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress” for origins and blueprint. Pratt’s Rex, spoofing on Pratt’s dino wrangler from the “Jurassic World” flicks, helms a spaceship crewed by communicative raptors. It’s funny for a second. As is much of the rest of the film. The gritty irreverence and punchiness of the last film is greatly diminished, though, feeling snapped on and borrowing heavily from the “Toy Story” plot device of toy owner Andy getting on in years. Getting old is hard on toys and plastic bricks, as well as on humans. 

As with the last “Lego” film, the funny centerpiece is the growling, constipated-sounding Batman (Will Arnett). In a cheeky sendup, there’s a run-through of all the actors that played The Bat onscreen, from Michael Keaton to Christian Bale (homeboy Ben Affleck is in there too). There’s just not enough of that good stuff to make part two stick the way the first one did. The animation is just as visually stunning, but in the end it’s just pieces of its former self.

Don’t get me wrong, “The Lego Movie 2” is a great way for kids to pass a cold winter day, but adults won’t be grinning cheek to cheek the way they did back in ’14.

Isle of Dogs

30 Mar

 

 

From the wit of Wes Anderson, the man behind “Rushmore” (1998) and “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) comes a stop-motion animation gem that shares as much in common with Anderson’s other such project, “Fabulous Mr. Fox” (2009), as it is a total departure. There’s plenty more canines and perfectly orchestrated animation, and it takes place in a Japan some 20 years in the future and is loaded with small political powder kegs.

Co-written by Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura, the action takes place in the aptly if generically named fictional city of Megasaki, where an outbreak of snout fever (dog flu) strikes and the metro’s Mayor Kobayashi (voiced by Nomura with abrupt, macho intonations suggestive of indelible Japanese cinematic icon Toshiro Mifune), banishes all dogs to a “trash island” where waste is carted by unmanned trams across the watery expanse and processed through a series of “Wall-E”-esque automation facilities. The result is an ever-rising mass of neatly stacked cubes of rubbish that take on the effect of tiered stadium seating. No humans, unless in hazmat suits, visit. Continue reading

Angry Birds

23 May

It’s been in the works for years – perhaps too many. The game, once the hottest thing you could have on your iDevice, has become the “Asteroids” of the now. (In short, irrelevant.) That and logic aside, here it comes, just what we all needed, the “Angry Birds” in their very own movie.

051916i Angry BirdsIf you haven’t experienced the game, wasting away the hours by mindlessly launching flightless birds beak-first at roly-poly laughing green pigs in rickety fortresses, consider yourself lucky. Even if you got caught up in the craze, you probably had no idea why the birds couldn’t fly. The bigger-screen animation, in which flightless avians live on a remote island in a bird-only community, never really answers the question either, but we do gain insight into Red (Jason Sudeikis), the stout ostensible cardinal with Groucho Marx eyebrows and anger issues. The sassy bird, we learn, was an orphan. As a result of his intolerable behavior, Red lands in an anger management school led by a yogini who farts sparkling radiation that can take out a few houses. She’s not the only one with odd talents; there’s a pudgy grouse called Bomb (Danny McBride), who can level a treehouse with his flatulence if riled. It brings a whole new meaning to “Birdie, birdie, in the sky.”

None of this, or the legend of Peter Dinklage’s Mighty Eagle character, really matters much. For his misdoings Red’s essentially cast out of the village and sulks in a pretty swank seaside villa until a tricked-out Mayflower leaden with green pigs drops anchor – right on Red’s digs. They’ve got technology, a devious leader (Bill Hader) and a yen for eggs. The pigs pilfer the eggs and make off across the sea, leaving behind a humongous slingshot.

The path of misfits becoming heroes and shameless acquiescence by leaders – letting invaders into their midst when the veiled guise is so obvious – serve more as plot points than provide real meaning. The risks of false idols and the importance of relying on yourself may be the biggest takeaways, but overall the film’s a long play of a video game barely propped up by plot and stock personalities. Dinklage, Sean Penn and other celebs lend their voices (there’s even a Judge Peckinpah in there, performed by Keegan-Michael Key), but it’s on the down low, swept under with a feather duster, loaded into a slingshot and lobbed into the theater as a benign, pleasurable waste of 90 minutes. It’s probably far more rewarding that attaining Level 53 in “Angry Birds 3” on your iPhone, though.

Karen Aqua’s Films at the HFA

6 Apr
An image from Karen Aqua's animated film "Kakania." (Courtesy Harvard Film Archive)


 

In the broad sense, an archive is a place to preserve and retain history. In the case of art, it becomes a means to ensure the ongoing resonance of an artist’s vision.

To that end, the Harvard Film Archive has recently acquired the films of animator Karen Aqua, who died after a prolonged battle with ovarian cancer in 2011. Some of the newly collected works will be presented on April 9 with the retrospective program “Sacred Ground & Perpetual Motion — The Animated Cosmos of Karen Aqua.” Karen’s husband, musician Ken Field, will be on hand to introduce her work.

The late Karen Aqua. (Courtesy Ken Field)

If Aqua’s name doesn’t trigger any immediate bells, she had lived in and around Cambridge since the 1970s after graduating from Rhode Island School of Design, where she and her husband were intimately ingrained in the artistic community. She produced a multitude of short, ethereal works that deal more in emotional experience than traditional narrative. What’s truly most impressive is how Aqua painstakingly created her works by hand, illustrating the action at 24 frames per second.

Of the 15 films on the slate for the April 9 program — each of which runs between two and 12 minutes — Aqua’s most defining work may be “Vis-á-Vis.” An evocative contemplation of the life of the artist, the film depicts an animator diligently working while the outer world — the source of inspiration — beckons teasingly. The pull between the commitment to create and to experience life is rendered poignantly as the artist begins to split into two halves that tug on the each other, each trying to move in its own direction. Continue reading

Anomalisa

22 Jan
Anomalisa's Michael (voiced by David Thewlis) might be losing his mind

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Charlie Kaufman, the writer behind Being John Malkovich,Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, has always been something of an art-house anomaly when it comes to delivering quirky curios that sate the highbrow quest for something different and challenging. His latest, Anomalisa, certainly fits the bill.

The film is a stop motion-animation journey into the psyche of a self-centered motivational speaker who may or may not suffer from some form of psychosis. It’s slow moving and mundane yet profoundly unearthly as it plumbs the human condition and the eternal quest for fulfillment.

The project, which Kaufman originally conceived as a sound play (think a podcast or radio) for composer Carter Burwell and the Coen Brothers, came to life via a Kickstarter campaign and a partnership with stop-motion animator Duke Johnson, a man with such credits as Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole on his CV.

The rendering of place and people — the puppets were made in part from a 3-D printer — are astonishing in the degree of detail and craftsmanship, especially the miniature sets which are limited to the inside of a hotel, an airplane, a cab, and a dildo bodega. The overall effect becomes a stirringly piquant amalgam that’s something like The Polar Express meets Team America: World Police.

The cast too is limited — there are just three performers. David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh voice the two leads, while character actor Tom Noonan speaks for everyone else — women, men, and children. It’s a strange olio shoehorned into a rather regular tread as Michael Stone (Thewlis), a customer service expert, British ex-pat, and something of a minor celeb (author ofHow May I Help You Help Them?), flies into Cincinnati to give one of his speeches at a convention. Everything is a bit off as Michael lands. The male singers behind the choral music on his iPod are horribly out of sync. Everyone speaks with the same voice (Noonan’s) and has the same general facial profile regardless of age, gender, or physical size. And when he gets in a cab desperate for a cigarette, there’s a no smoking sign because the driver is asthmatic.

Everything moves in small, sleepy slices like that, but the film is rife with tension, mostly between Michael’s ears. The name of the hotel that Michael checks into, the Al Fregoli is a tell, and early on we learn Michael has an angry ex-lover, a wife, and child back home in L.A. he’s detached from, and a high opinion of himself. Besides observing a man masturbating in an office across the way and an ill-advised drink with an old flame, nothing really extraordinary happens in Cincinnati. But then Michael meets Lisa (Leigh). Continue reading

The Lego Movie

5 Feb

The Lego Movie connects family-friendly fun with adult humor

Block-buster

by 

Only a blockhead wouldn't find a lego-fied Batman dreamyThe Lego Movie, is sharp, smart, and clicks along snappily — at least for the first 80 minutes of the 100-minute running time. It’s also packed with a Lego case full of gags that cut many a wicked laugh. It’s so barbed and adult-oriented in texture and content, the film flirts with the likes of Team America: World Police and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, yet it holds the family friendly line — a pretty impressive feat, no doubt.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the creative team who helm the film and had a hand in the script, feed off each other with boon yielding results. Their previous collaborations on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and the live action comedy 21 Jump Street proved their skilled hand in animation and deft comedic pacing. Here they get to fuse those divergent talents. And not only is the comedy on point, but so is the animation, mastering the block-like Lego texture and having it permeate throughout the film with pops of 3D that raise the art of computer animated to a new, sensory titillating level.  Continue reading