Thursday, December 15, 2011

Animation catch-up

I've been behind on reviewing a lot of movies this year, including some animated products. There have been plenty this year, enough to bump the Academy's maximum nomination field to five, but I have to admit I really haven't been thrilled at the state of the medium this year. I've only seen a hand-full so far, and for posterity I've given each a summarized mini review after the cut. Others I either haven't seen yet or have been scared off by weak reviews.


It came out all the way back in February, and yet Gore Verbinski's surreal Western homage remains the best domestic animated production of the year. It's hard not to respond affectionately to the unbridled imagination with which the film brims, and yet it had its foibles that tested said affection. Something about the continuity of this universe just stuck in my craw; like, these animals rely on man-made objects like polyethylene water jugs and buildings made from mailboxes and Pepto Bismal bottles and whatnot, but then have their own tiny guns and saddles and clothes and actual miniature buildings... I'm definitely over-thinking it, but still... weird.
I also took issue with the inconsistency of Rango's goals and motivations. What does he want? To be the hero, to help the town, to help himself, to get the girl? Not that he can't have all these goals, but the way they jump in and out at random kinda bothered me. Not to detract from the hard work that was sunk into animating this sucker (it does look fantastic) and the creativity that went into drawing up this story and these characters (wish there had been more of Rattlesnake Jack, who was badass!), but on the whole, a lot of it didn't quite gel with me.

**1/2 out of ****

Kung Fu Panda 2

Po, the rotund Dragon Warrior, and his Furious Five fighting companions return for more kung fu shennanigans in Kung Fu Panda 2.
A beautifally rendered 2D prologue explicates the dark backstory of the sequel's villain, Lord Shen, a disgraced peacock prince voiced with malicious hautiness by human chameleon Gary Oldman. He's a an engaging improvment over the first installment's relatievly flat Shifu. Having developed gunpowder and iron-forged cannons, he plans to claim his late parents' kingdom, and by extension, all of China, as his own. Only Po, whose own clouded backstory shares a tragic connection to Shen's, can stop the feathered fiend.
Personally, it's pretty hard for me to differentiate this much from the first Kung Fu Panda, whose virtues and vices are much the same as this one's. On the positive end of the spectrum, the film is gorgeous, boasting fluent, creative animation and action staging to rival any live-action martial arts outing, not to mention some of the best production design I've seen on screen this year. Some of the jokes are good for a chuckle or two, but then it wanders into familiar territory with repetitive running gags and childish humour that clashes horribly with the story's more dramatic elements (some of which are handled fairly well). It's no worse than the first movie, though, and for a sequel of any kind, that has to be considered a small victory.

**1/2 out of ****

Puss in Boots

Arguably the most popular character of the Shrek franchise gets his own spinoff in Puss in Boots. Antonio Bandares once again reprises his role as the feline Lothario who takes off on a fantastical heist with some not-quite-trustworthy allies; old friend Humpty Dumpty (Zack Galifanakis) and Kitty Soft-Paws (Salma Hayak). Together they consort to shimmy up a beanstalk and swipe golden eggs from the giants abandoned castle. Naturally, not everything is what it seems, and surprises lie in store for our furry hero.
As much as I despair the relative lack of originality emanating from Dreamworks these days, it's at least a bit refreshing to see Puss carry his own story without the interference of other Shrek characters. This stand-alone adventure/comedy is enjoyable enough, and beautifully animated, as one would expect of the studio, but it's so trite that it hardly bears remembering. Add it to the pile Dreamworks' various Shrek productions.

**1/2 out of ****

Chico & Rita

One of the 18 official submissions for this year's Best Animated Feature is the Cuban toon Chico & Rita, a sensual romance between a jazz pianist and his female singing star that spans decades and continents. We first meet Chico as an old man, now shining shoes for a living in poverty-stricken Cuba. Through his wistful reminiscing, we learn of his past as the best piano player in the country and how he came to meet and fall in love with the gorgeous Rita. Their love affair is often a bumpy one, especially as it navigates from small island cabanas to New York night clubs to Hollywood screens to Paris concert halls. The story is solid and moves along quite briskly, but with decades of plot crammed into less than 90 minutes, I was actually left wishing that filmmakers Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal had taken a bit more time with it.
It's a lovely little movie nonetheless, spiced with vibrant colours and sultry latin rhythms (courtesy Cuban bandleader Bebo Valdes). I must admit I've never been a huge fan of the rotoscoping animation technique that's employed here, but my affinity for good jazz music more than compensates.

*** out of ****


  1. Kung Fu Panda 2 was IMO a great, beautiful, emotional movie. Rango was fine, full of funny elements, but like you I don't think it's as fabulous as everyone thinks it is. Puss in Boots I haven't seen.

    Have you seen Winnie the Pooh and if so, you should write a review on it. It's freaking awesome!

  2. Nothing has really grabbed me in terms of animation. I mean, I am anticipating Tintin, but I'm worried its because nothing else has really caught my eye. Can we have the year of UP and fantastic Mr. Fox again?