The Drawing of the Three: Animated Threequels

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The Drawing of the Three: animated threequels

Before Cars 3 zooms into theatres, we look at the good, the bad and the okay third instalments in animated film series

By Jedd Jong

Big-budget animated films take a lot of work, and often have longer production periods than live-action films. Even with the latest technological advances, it takes weeks to produce footage that is onscreen for mere seconds. Some concepts gestate and evolve over several years. In the early-2000s, we saw a trend of animated movies receiving low-budget direct-to-DVD sequels. There have also been theatrically-released animated films that did well enough to warrant not only a sequel that also opened in theatres, but a third instalment too.

While Pixar’s Cars films are not nearly as beloved as some of the studio’s other output, they have become a merchandising goldmine, even inspiring the Cars Land section at Disney’s California Adventure theme park. The first film got a lukewarm reception, with Cars 2 receiving a critical drubbing – its 39% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes is the lowest of any Pixar film. The consensus is that Cars 3 is a marked improvement on its immediate predecessor. The film opened in the United States in June, and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 68%.

In some cases, animated film series show signs of running out of steam at movie #3, but in others, the third instalment breathes new life into the franchise. On the count of three, here is an overview of five threequels in animated film series.

#1: SHREK THE THIRD

2001’s Shrek established DreamWorks Animation as a worthy competitor to Disney and Pixar, even though DreamWorks had butted heads with its powerful rival before. Loosely based on the children’s book by William Stieg, Shrek was energetic, irreverent and contained a resonant message about looking past appearances, and how judging someone on their appearance alone can end up negatively defining them. 2004’s Shrek 2, which introduced the villainous Fairy Godmother and Prince Charming characters as well as sidekick Puss in Boots, was a critical and commercial hit. However, the wheels came off the Shrek train with the third instalment, which was released in 2007.

In Shrek The Third, Shrek (Mike Myers), Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) embark on a road trip in search of Shrek’s nephew-in-law. The would-be heir to the throne is none other than Arthur Pendragon, or “Artie” (Justin Timberlake), who is attending a magical boarding school. The film also starred Monty Python alum Eric Idle as the voice of Merlin, and featured Fiona (Cameron Diaz) leading a posse of princesses voiced by comediennes including Amy Poehler, Amy Sedaris, Maya Rudolph and Cheri Oteri. The film drew a tepid critical reaction, with critics pointed out that it seemed to be working overtime to prove its wit with a smorgasbord of pop culture references, at the expense of the heart displayed in its two predecessors. Shrek the Third was followed by Shrek Forever After in 2010, and a Puss in Boots spinoff in 2011. The property is being ‘resurrected’, but it is not known if the fifth film will be a complete reboot.

#2: ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS

Blue Sky Studios, which has produced animated films such as Rio, Epic and The Peanuts Movie, made its debut in 2002 with Ice Age. The animated film about an unlikely collection of critters who come across a human baby, who is the target of a Smilodon. Ice Age earned a positive critical reaction and was even nominated for a Best Animated Feature Film Oscar, which it lost to Spirited Away. The film’s break-out star, a sabre-toothed squirrel named Scrat, scuttled his way into the pop culture consciousness. Alas, it seemed that this first entry was destined to be the would-be franchise’s high point, as the four films that followed have received considerably icier receptions.

The first film was followed by 2006’s Ice Age: The Meltdown, with 2009’s Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs as the third entry in the series. In this film, Sid (John Leguizamo) the sloth is pursued by a Tyrannosaurus rex after he unwittingly “adopts” three eggs that hatch into new-born T. rexes. The dinosaurs have survived the extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period by hiding in a subterranean jungle. The film drew criticism for its tired story, but was praised for the quality of its animation. Disagreeing with the consensus was the late Roger Ebert, who awarded the film 3.5 out of 4 stars and called it the best in the series yet. Two more sequels, 2012’s Ice Age: Continental Drift and 2016’s Ice Age: Collision Course, have been produced.

#3: KUNG FU PANDA 3

DreamWorks Animation introduced the world to the loveable panda Po (Jack Black) in 2008’s Kung Fu Panda. Pretty much the ultimate promoted fanboy, Po goes from playing with action figures of the Furious Five to joining the team of warriors. The Kung Fu Panda films boast one of the glitziest casts DreamWorks, known for hiring A-list names as voice actors, has assembled. Black is joined by Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Jackie Chan, Dustin Hoffman and James Hong.  The three films have been consistently well-regarded by critics, with the first film receiving an 87% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the second scoring 81% and the third getting 87% as well. The series’ use of Chinese culture and traditions as inspiration for its anthropomorphic world and the energy and creativity with which its action scenes are animated have contributed to its praise. The first Kung Fu Panda film also performed well in China, leading to introspection from the Chinese film industry, whose domestically-produced animated films have often been criticised as being poor in quality. China responded with 2011’s Legend of a Rabbit, a.k.a. Legend of Kung Fu Rabbit, a knockoff of Kung Fu Panda.

In 2016’s Kung Fu Panda 3, Po is reunited with his long-lost father Li Shan (Bryan Cranston), who takes Po to a hidden village of pandas. In the meantime, the Furious Five are menaced by Kai (J.K. Simmons), a powerful spirit warrior who has defeated numerous Kung Fu masters and stolen their chi. Kai has Po, the Dragon Warrior himself, in his crosshairs. Po must train his ungainly kin into fighting-fit warriors to defeat Kai, as Shifu (Hoffman) announces his retirement, passing the mantle of teacher on to Po. Mads Mikkelsen was originally cast as Kai, but the character was rewritten and recast with Simmons. Rebel Wilson was also originally cast as Mei Mei, a panda with a crush on Po, but was replaced by Kate Hudson. Scheduling conflicts were cited as the reason, but Wilson has argued that tabloid articles accusing her of lying about her age and upbringing were what led to her being fired from the animated film. DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg has planned the series to have six chapters. A fourth movie is supposedly in development, but a release date and casting hasn’t been announced.

#4: DESPICABLE ME 3

The most recent entry on this list is Despicable Me 3, which was released in June of this year. The first Despicable Me film was released in 2010, and was the debut animated feature film from French studio Mac Guff. Mac Guff has since been acquired by Illumination Entertainment. Thanks largely to the success of the Despicable Me franchise, Illumination has become a major player in the animation scene. It was established as the family entertainment arm of NBCUniversal, and in 2016, NBCUniversal acquired DreamWorks Animation. The Shrek ‘resurrection’ we mentioned earlier? That, and the rest of DreamWorks’ upcoming animated movie slate, is being overseen by Illumination founder Chris Meledandri. The first Despicable Me film was about how the supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) eventually becomes the foster father to three young girls, but the show was stolen by Gru’s army of capsule-shaped assistants, the Minions. The Minions became a merchandising phenomenon, got a spin-off to themselves in 2015, and even have their own ride at Universal Studios theme parks.

Despicable Me 3 sees Gru meet his long-lost twin brother Dru (also Carell), while battling 80s-themed supervillain and washed-up child star Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker). A subplot sees Gru’s wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) trying to adapt to her new role as foster mother to Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel). While the lively animation and larger-than-life action sequences were praised, the contrived plot device of a long-lost twin sibling was seen by some critics as a sign that the franchise was running out of ideas. By now, the Minions have become a lightning rod for scorn, with many viewers rolling their eyes at an extended subplot about the Minions mutinying against Gru and getting thrown in prison. Illumination also displayed signs of smugness, taking a hard swipe at Finding Nemo in the film’s opening minutes (Gru’s submersible slams into a clownfish, leaving its father distraught as only its son’s severed fin remains). The franchise shows no signs of slowing down, with Minions 2 set for a 2020 release date.

#5: TOY STORY 3

In 1995, Pixar Animation Studios created the first feature-length computer-generated animated film ever made: Toy Story. An industry game changer, Toy Story was an auspicious feature-length debut for a company that had been tinkering with high-tech animation techniques and showcasing them in short films for some time. Toy Story is about the secret life that the denizens of Andy’s toybox have when he is not around. Andy’s favourite toy has long been the cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks). Woody feels threatened when Andy brings home a new toy, the spacefaring Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), who believes he is an actual space ranger and refuses to accept that he is a toy. Woody attempts to win back Andy’s affections and must begrudgingly cooperate when Woody and Buzz find themselves endangered by Sid, Andy’s neighbour who takes delight in dismantling and reassembling toys.

The Toy Story films are critical darlings – the first film is one of the few in existence to have a perfect 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. 1999’s Toy Story 2, in which Woody gets stolen by a toy collector and has to be rescued by Buzz and the other toys, also earned a 100% Tomatometer rating. In 2010’s Toy Story 3, the toys confront an uncertain future as Andy, now grown up, prepares to leave for college. In addition to boasting the usual high-quality animation and fine vocal performances that Pixar had become known for, Toy Story 3’s deep meditation on loss, nostalgia and the process of growing up moved many viewers to tears. The film has a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – the first negative review counted by the site coming, predictably enough, from infamously contrarian critic Armond White. Other critics gave the film glowing reviews, with the BBC’s Mark Kermode declaring the Toy Story series “the best movie trilogy of all time”. The film also topped filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s list of favourite films of 2010. While many feel Toy Story 3 works as a beautifully bittersweet note on which to end the series, Toy Story 4 is set for a 2019 release and will be about Woody and Buzz’s search for the lost toy, Bo Peep.

Cars 3 opens in Singapore on 31 August 2017.

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Cars 3

For F*** Magazine

CARS 3

Director : Brian Fee
Cast : Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Armie Hammer, Bonnie Hunt, Chris Cooper, Kerry Washington, Lea DeLaria, Tony Shalhoub, Katherine Helmond, Cheech Marin, Paul Dooley, Larry the Cable Guy, Paul Newman
Genre : Animation/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 49m
Opens : 31 August 2017
Rating : PG

Lightning McQueen (Wilson) was once the fastest car alive, but his days at the top of the heap are numbered. In the third instalment of Pixar’s Cars series, Lightning’s status as a seven-time Piston Cup champ is threatened by newcomer Jackson Storm (Hammer), a high-tech, hothead next generation racer. Lightning’s Rust-eze team has been sold by owners Rusty (Ray Magliozzi) and Dusty (Tom Magliozzi) to the wealthy Sterling (Fillion), who has constructed a state-of-the-art training facility. Sterling assigns trainer Cruz Ramirez (Alonso) to Lightning, who resents the implication that he is old and on the brink of retirement. While initially dismissive of Cruz, the two eventually bond as they go in search of Smokey (Cooper), the former mechanic and crew chief of Lightning’s late mentor Doc Hudson (Paul Newman). With his girlfriend Sally (Hunt) and his friends Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), Luigi (Tony Shalhoub), Guido (Guido Quaroni) and Mack (Ratzenberger) in his corner, Lightning gathers the courage to regain the title and beat Jackson.

The Cars series is not viewed as one of Pixar’s crowning achievements, with 2011’s Cars 2 often viewed as the studio’s worst film. Cars 3 is a definite improvement on the second entry, often sincere and never aggressively obnoxious. However, it’s still difficult to get swept up in the story: the basic plot structure of an aging champion threatened by a rookie competitor brings films like Rocky Balboa to mind. It’s no surprise that co-writer Mike Rich is primarily known for penning sports films, including The Rookie, Miracle and Secretariat.

Lightning’s arc in this film isn’t exactly the easiest for kids to readily relate to. The themes of re-evaluating one’s purpose after getting a wake-up call in the form of a younger, faster rival might not resonate as well with the film’s young target audience as Pixar hopes. There’s also a great deal of sentimentality, with the impact that Doc Hudson had on Lightning, and Lightning’s search for inspiration in his late mentor’s wisdom being a crucial plot point. The adults might get a touch misty-eyed, but this might be lost on most kids.

As expected from Pixar, the animation is top-notch. The Cars are easy to buy as actual characters, and the way the characters shift their weight from one wheel to another is amusingly expressive. We get some gorgeously-rendered backgrounds and realistic atmospheric effects such as sparks and dust. However, Cars 3 lacks memorable set pieces. A Demolition Derby sequence is the most exciting the film gets, and even that falls a good distance short of the creatively conceived set pieces in other Pixar films. The bulk of the movie is spent chronicling Lightning’s training, which is good for character development, but isn’t all that exciting.

Wilson’s easy-going charm makes Lightning likeable even when the character gets caught up on his own success. The biggest thing Cars 3 gets right is the new character Cruz Ramirez. Alonso lends the character an upbeat eagerness and she’s set up to be annoying because she’s standing in Lightning’s way, but the character’s motivations are gradually revealed and the relationship between her and Lightning evolves organically. The dynamic between the two characters is sufficiently different from what we usually see in animated films, and to make another comparison to a boxing movie, is a little Million Dollar Baby-esque.

Thankfully, Mater takes a back seat in this one – arguably the biggest mistake the second film made was elevating him to a leading role. Fillion’s performance as billionaire Sterling is coolly sophisticated and just the right amount of condescending. Unused recordings of Newman from the first film are used for the flashbacks featuring Doc, displaying significance reverence for the legendary actor. Orange is the New Black’s Lea DeLaria has plenty of fun as the sadistic monster schoolbus Miss Fritter. As in the previous instalments, real-life racing drivers and sports commentators making vocal cameos: listen out for Lewis Hamilton, Bob Costas, Darrell Waltrip, Junior Johnson, Daniel Suárez and others.

While Cars 3 has its heart (or engine, as it were) in the right place, it’s far from impressive enough to justify its own existence. It surpasses the low expectations generated by its disappointing sequel and showcases surprising depth, but instead of sending heart rates racing, Cars 3 mostly coasts along.

As is customary for Pixar films, Cars 3 is preceded by an animated short. This one is Lou, directed by Dave Mullins, and about a loveable creature who lives in the lost and found box at an elementary school playground. Built on a charming, simple premise and packing a whole lot of emotion into its six minutes, Lou is a fine example of the storytelling power can summon.

Summary: Despite a story that most kids might find challenging to connect to and a dearth of memorable set pieces, there’s enough amiable sweetness to Car 3, making it a marked improvement on its immediate predecessor.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Despicable Me 3

For F*** Magazine

DESPICABLE ME 3

Directors : Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda, Eric Guillon
Cast : Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews, Jenny Slate
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 1h 30min
Opens : 15 June 2017
Rating : PG

Supervillain-turned-doting-dad Gru (Carell) is back, with his wife Lucy (Wiig), adopted daughters Margo (Cosgrove), Edith (Gaier) and Agnes (Scharrel), and yes, the Minions (Coffin) in tow. In this instalment, Gru and Lucy face off against Balthazar Bratt (Parker), a dastardly, bitter former child star with an 80s pop culture and fashion gimmick. Gru faces upheaval when Valerie Da Vinci (Slate), the new chief of the Anti-Villain League, unceremoniously fires both Gru and Lucy. The Minions, longing for the glory days of being on the wrong side of the law, revolt and leave Gru’s employ. During all this, Gru discovers a secret that his mother Marlena (Andrews) has been keeping from him for his entire life: Gru has a twin brother. Gru finally meets Dru (also Carell), who is eager to join his brother on his exploits and attempts to convince Gru to carry on the proud family legacy of villainy. Gru and Dru embark on a quest to steal back a priceless diamond from Balthazar, as Balthazar plots his revenge on the town that scorned him: Hollywood.

We’ll be upfront about it: Despicable Me 3 wasn’t exactly high on our list of summer movies we were looking forward to. One is likely to find more people who are annoyed by the Minions than who find them adorable, but it’s not just that. The first Despicable Me film was weird, inventive, subversive and full of heart. At that point, Illumination Entertainment was still an underdog. Now, with a string of box office successes under its belt, not to mention tons of Minions merchandise and even theme park rides, it all seems to have gone to the heads of producer Chris Meledandri and the other Illumination bigwigs. The studio appears to be heading down the Dreamworks path, and Meledandri has been instated as Universal’s equivalent to Disney/Pixar’s John Lasseter. Early in Despicable Me 3, we get a particularly mean-spirited swipe at Finding Nemo. This can’t help but recall the sly, slightly bitter digs at Disney that were snuck into the Shrek movies.

Kids in general are unlikely to care about animation studios jostling for supremacy, and kids in general are likely to enjoy Despicable Me 3. The animation is energetic, the gizmos and gadgets on display are over-the-top and imaginative, and there is so much slapstick. The main issue here is that the film isn’t character-driven at all. In the first film, the blossoming relationship between Gru and his young charges served as the film’s emotional core. Then, the Minions became the toyetic marketing sensation they are, and that got pushed to the background. One can sense directors Coffin (who also voices all the Minions), Balda and Guillon struggling with the question “how much of the Minions is too much?” For most of this film, the Minions are separated from Gru, accidentally entering a singing competition and then getting tossed into prison, where they spoof Jailhouse Rock. It’s all gag-driven, and there are several genuinely funny jokes here, but it ends up being scattershot.

“Long-lost twin brother” is a plot device screenwriters truck out when they’re all out of ideas. In this case, there’s an attempt to wink and nod at how it’s a bit of a cheat, but there’s still not enough to justify going this route. Carell gets to try a slightly different, higher-pitched voice as the irrepressibly cheerful Dru, and for all of five seconds, it’s funny that Dru has lustrous blonde locks, while Gru is bald. Despicable Me 3 tries for an emotional arc with Lucy struggling in her position as the girls’ adoptive mother, clashing with Margo in particular. While it’s an attempt to add depth to the story, it doesn’t become much more than just an attempt, and the conflict is resolved too easily.

Parker, along with South Park co-creator Matt Stone, has long been the gatekeeper of offending everyone for the sake of comedy. Parker and Stone have been especially savage towards what they view as the Hollywood elites, who will stop at nothing for a quick buck. As such, it seems like a sell-out move for Parker to take a role in the Despicable Me franchise, but the character is amusing. A delusional former child actor who obsessively grasps at the remains of his glory days is a familiar archetype, but the 80s gimmick is enjoyably silly. There are perhaps one too many snippets of songs from the era, including Take on Me, Bad, Sussudio and Physical, though.

There exist more desperate examples of attempts to keep floundering franchises afloat, and there’s still enough wit on display in Despicable Me 3. However, parents are likely to get increasingly impatient with these movies as more and more get made, when there are other animated films out there that older viewers will get more out of.

Summary: if Minions make you miserable, you don’t need us to tell you to give Despicable Me 3 a wide berth. There’s more emphasis on sustaining a lucrative franchise, less heart, and more animated zaniness to amuse the kids and annoy the adults.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Lego Batman Movie

For F*** Magazine

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

Director : Chris McKay
Cast : (Voice Cast) Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Jenny Slate, Mariah Carey, Billy Dee Williams
Genre : Action/Animation
Run Time : 1h 45min
Opens : 9 February 2017
Rating : PG

the-lego-batman-movie-posterHe puts the ‘bat’ in ‘brickbat’ and serves as a stumbling block to Gotham City’s evildoers: he is Lego Batman (Arnett). When the Joker (Galifianakis) leads a collection of Batman’s rogues gallery in an assault on Gotham, Batman is confident that he alone can take them on. Police Commissioner Jim Gordon (Elizondo), whose primary job has been activating the Bat-signal to summon Batman, retires. Replacing Gordon is his daughter Barbara (Dawson), who calls attention to Batman’s inefficacy in keeping Gotham’s streets crime-free, much to Batman’s chagrin. Alfred Pennyworth (Fiennes), loyal butler to Batman/Bruce Wayne, sees Batman’s self-aggrandizement as a façade. After accidentally adopting orphan Dick Grayson (Cera), Bruce must learn that relying on others in the face of overwhelming odds isn’t a sign of weakness, eventually teaming up with Robin/Dick Grayson, Alfred and Batgirl/Barbara Gordon to face an other-worldly threat.

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The Lego Batman Movie is a spin-off of 2014’s The Lego Movie, and is directed by Chris McKay, who served as an animation co-director on The Lego Movie. McKay has also directed multiple episodes of Robot Chicken, the stop-motion sketch comedy series which lampoons comics, cartoons and other aspects of geek culture. The Lego Batman Movie is reminiscent of Robot Chicken in its style of humour, which is heavily reference-based, albeit more kid-friendly than Robot Chicken. There are shout-outs to elements both well-known and obscure of the DC Comics universe and beyond, which are rewarding to spot. However, since this is based on a line of toys and primarily made to sell toys, there are moments when it’s evident that The Lego Batman Movie struggles to strike a balance between appealing to geeks and appealing to children.

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The animation by Animal Logic Studios is done in the same style as The Lego Movie, which emulates stop-motion animation using computer graphics. Each frame bursts with lovingly-rendered detail and the film is consistently eye-catching, if not quite as creatively designed as The Lego Movie. This version of the Batcave is delightfully outlandish, packed with needlessly extravagant machinery and containing a ludicrous number of vehicles with a ‘Bat’ prefix in their names. Of the various and sundry modes of transportation utilised by the Dark Knight in this movie, something called ‘the Scuttler’ is the most interesting. It’s a mecha that walks on four stilt-like legs and expresses emotion with dog-like ears which can droop to indicate sadness.

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There is a Batman for all seasons, and part of the character’s longevity is his malleability. The Lego Batman Movie does a fine job of gently poking fun at various incarnations of the Caped Crusader, from the 1966 TV show to the 1989 film to the recent Batman v Superman. At times, it’s evident that this wants to be Deadpool for Juniors, the film begins with Batman breaking the fourth wall and providing voiceover as the opening logos roll. Arnett’s performance, impeccable in its timing and just the right pitch of gruff, suits the tone of the film to a tee. Fiennes’ drolly prim and proper Alfred serves as a wonderful complement.

the-lego-batman-movie-joker

Galifianakis’ turn as the Joker is passable, but is far from the high bar set by Mark Hamill, whose indelible vocal performance as the Clown Prince of Crime has made him the definitive voice of the Joker in many fans’ eyes (make that ears). The film addresses the psychosexual nature of Joker and Batman’s mutual obsession with the other, which Batman vehemently denies. Jenny Slate’s Harley Quinn is a slight disappointment, largely lacking the character’s signature Brooklyn accent.

the-lego-batman-movie-bane-clayface-and-other-villains

While Batman’s rogues gallery is generally agreed on as being the most dynamic in all of comics, these villains don’t make too much of an impact in The Lego Batman Movie. Sure, the film crams a lot of them in, but the likes of Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), Poison Ivy (Riki Lindhome), Clayface (Kate Miccuci), Mr. Freeze and anyone who isn’t the Joker seem relegated to the background. It is fun to see D-listers like Condiment King and Kite-Man onscreen. Bane (Doug Benson) speaks in the same accent Tom Hardy affected for The Dark Knight Rises, even more amusing given how Bane was quoted in a certain inaugural address.

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One of the funniest aspects of the story is how Bruce Wayne adopts Dick Grayson completely by accident. The interpretation of Dick as a wide-eyed, bespectacled dork is a departure from the source material, but Cera’s inherent awkwardness as a performer suits this version fine. This reviewer enjoyed the changes made to the Barbara Gordon character, who is introduced as her father’s successor as Police Commissioner long before she dons the Batgirl costume. Batman has romantic designs on Batgirl – this is a pairing which many fans understandably find icky, and was a major factor in the backlash against the animated film The Killing Joke. Thankfully, Barbara does not reciprocate Bruce’s advances. The stunt casting of Mariah Carey as Mayor MacCaskill is completely unnecessary – but perhaps this can be viewed as akin to the celebrity cast on the ’66 Batman TV show.

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The Lego Batman Movie’s final act does involve a giant portal opening up in the sky, unleashing destruction that the townsfolk must scurry away from. There are some surprises as to who or what emerges from said portal, but even given that, it’s easy to tune out during the climactic battle. There’s an overreliance on incongruous pop ditties and not all the jokes land, but things are funny and frenetic enough to propel The Lego Batman Movie forward.

Summary: The Lego Batman movie prizes reference-based humour over plot, but even if it doesn’t use the Lego Batman world to its full comic potential, it’s an entertaining time.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Sing

For F*** Magazine

SING 

Director : Garth Jennings
Cast : Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Tori Kelly, Taron Egerton, Nick Kroll, Nick Offerman, Garth Jennings, Peter Serafinowicz, Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson, Beck Bennett, Leslie Jones, Jay Pharaoh
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 1h 50min
Opens : 8 December 2016
Rating : PG

sing-posterIllumination Entertainment aims to unite all creatures great and small through the power of song in this animated musical comedy. Buster Moon (McConaughey) the koala is running out of options. After a string of flops, the showbiz entrepreneur’s theatre will soon be foreclosed upon. Moon and his business partner Eddie (Reilly) the sheep mount a singing competition to save the theatre. The contestants include harried housewife Rosita (Witherspoon) the pig, the flamboyant pig Gunter (Kroll) who is paired with Rosita, an arrogant jazz crooning mouse named Mike (MacFarlane), punk-rocker porcupine Ash (Johansson), stage fright-afflicted elephant Meena (Kelly), and Johnny (Egerton), a mountain gorilla who goes against the wishes of his criminal father Marcus (Serafinowicz) by pursuing his passion for singing. As Moon seeks the financial assistance of wealthy diva Nana Noodleman (Saunders), Eddie’s grandmother, this motley crew of animal performers must sing to save the theatre.

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“Hey, let’s put on a show!” is a stock trope as old as Hollywood itself. To save an orphanage/theatre/hospital/school from being demolished, an unlikely group must draw on their talents and mount a fund-raising production. Babes in Arms, starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, codified this formula. Sing adds funny anthropomorphic animals and top 40 hits to the mix, but the results feel rote. Illumination Entertainment is quickly gaining on the big boys like Pixar and Dreamworks, what with the Minions taking over the world and all. Sing is the studio’s second film this year, following The Secret Life of Pets. Sing is probably Illumination’s most Dreamworks-like film yet, with its celebrity voice cast and surfeit of pop tracks. For a studio trying to set itself apart from the competition, perhaps that’s not the wisest move.

Sing suffers immensely for being released in the same year as Disney’s Zootopia. The design of Zootopia was thoroughly thought through, and each frame was bursting with clever, amusing details to notice. In Sing, anthropomorphic animals are plonked into a non-descript coastal city. While some might appreciate an animated film that isn’t hyperkinetic, Sing lacks dynamism and forward momentum. There’s a nicely staged set piece in the middle and the film’s climax is enjoyable, but Sing lacks the energetic visuals and propulsive pacing of Zootopia or The Secret Life of Pets. For a film with lots of dancing in it, it feels oddly static in parts.

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As a tribute to old-fashioned movie musicals, Sing seems half-hearted at best, and the selection of songs isn’t especially inspired. There are shades of A Chorus Line and The Producers, but there’s no thematic cohesion to the musical numbers, and Sing often feels like an animated variety show with a bit of plot tacked on. If you roll your eyes whenever a cheery pop ditty shows up in a Dreamworks movie, prepare to cringe through a good amount of Sing. This reviewer did appreciate that Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure makes an appearance, when it seems more likely that the filmmakers would’ve gone with the Under Pressure rip-off Ice Ice Baby.

To accommodate the large cast of characters, most of the arcs are simplistic. McConaughey delivers an amiable, earnest performance, but seems miscast. There’s the dissonance of a Texan drawl coming out of a koala’s mouth – perhaps Hugh Jackman would’ve been a better fit, especially since Jackman has more of a slick, old-school showman vibe than McConaughey does. It might be difficult for kids to care about a character who can’t pay the electric bill to keep his theatre operational – there’s a difference between mature themes and adult worries.

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Rosita is the overtaxed stay-at-home mom who struggles to care for her 25 children and jumps at the chance to break out of her routine and embrace her inner diva. It’s a predictable arc and Witherspoon’s performance isn’t distinctive. MacFarlane’s character is smug and self-important, with a penchant for big band jazz – we can’t argue with that casting. Johansson’s Ash is spurned by her boyfriend and is out to prove that she can make it as a solo act – shooting quills into the audience while rocking out is pretty punk. Director Jennings’ cameo as Miss Crawley, a senile green iguana with a glass eye who works as Moon’s assistant, might not be a patch on Brad Bird as Edna Mode in The Incredibles but it has its moments.

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The big revelation here is Taron Egerton of Kingsman: The Secret Service fame, who shows off some impressive pipes. We’ve often seen the archetype of a kid who marches to the beat of his own drummer, much to the chagrin of his parents – Johnny the Gorilla is not unlike Lenny from A Shark’s Tale, who wanted out of the mob headed by his father. The Cockney street tough accent sounds right coming out of a gorilla.

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If you were moved by Tori Kelly’s rendition of Hallelujah during the In Memoriam segment at this year’s Emmys, you’ll get to hear her sing it again here – never mind that the song is overused. Since Kelly is the one professional singer in the principal cast, it’s a shame that Meena sings as little as she does. Jennifer Hudson, as the younger version of Nana Noodleman, gets to open the film with a soaring rendition of Golden Slumbers, and then is absent from the rest of the film.

Sing isn’t just clichéd, it’s a gathering of lots of clichés in one place. If singing and dancing cartoon animals are all you’re looking for, then Sing has you covered – but then again, the history of animation is filled with singing and dancing animals. Sing has several entertaining sequences and a talented voice cast, but is too generic for its own good.

Summary: You know how this song goes: Sing’s “let’s put on a show plot” doesn’t offer any surprises, and will inevitably be compared to stronger animated films from this year.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Moana

For F*** Magazine

MOANA 

Director : Ron Clements, John Musker
Cast : Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Temuera Morrison, Rachel House, Nicole Scherzinger, Jemaine Clement, Alan Tudyk
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 1h 54min
Opens : 24 November 2016
Rating : PG

moana-posterDisney heeds the call of the ocean with the studio’s 56th animated feature film. Young Moana (Cravalho), the daughter of chief Tui (Morrison) and Shira (Scherzinger), lives on the Polynesian island of Motonui. Tui insists that his daughter remain on the island to eventually take over the duties of chief, but Moana is unable to resist the beckoning of the sea. Moana’s grandmother Tala (House) encourages the girl’s instincts, much to Tui’s chagrin. When the Motnonui islanders find their livelihoods threatened as coconut trees fail to bear fruit and no fish can be caught, Moana sets out to find the one person who can fix the situation. This is the demigod Maui (Johnson), who can shape-shift into various animals. Accompanied by the none-too-bright rooster Hei Hei (Tudyk), Moana and Maui embark on a journey to return a mystical artefact known as the Heart of Te Fiti. Neither is too fond of the other, but they will need to work together to survive the arduous voyage and defeat the deadly lava goddess Te Kā.

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Moana is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, Disney animation mainstays whose first film for the studio was 1986’s The Great Mouse Detective. Clements and Musker kick-started the studio’s ‘Renaissance’ period with The Little Mermaid three years later, following that with Aladdin, Hercules, Treasure Planet and The Princess and the Frog. The duo undertook extensive research trips to Polynesian islands, and the effort put into authentically capturing and portraying that rich culture is evident in Moana. The animation is detailed and vibrant, with some of the finest computer-generated water we’ve ever seen playing an important role. The ocean is personified as a living entity, with globules of water reminiscent of The Abyss extending from the surface to greet Moana.

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Moana has been billed as being vastly different from all the other Disney Princess films in the studio’s canon, but for the most part, it sticks to a tried and true Hero’s Journey formula. There’s a MacGuffin in the form of the Heart of Te Fiti jewel, there’s a quest to go on and hurdles to overcome. While there’s a big reveal during the film’s climax, there isn’t too much here that’s very surprising. Moana and Maui’s adventures take on an episodic nature. A thrilling action sequence in which the pair is ambushed by a horde of pygmy pirates called the Kakamora brings Mad Max: Fury Road to mind. There isn’t really an overarching villain, with Te Kā only really making her presence felt during the film’s final battle.

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There are plenty of visual gags that work great, including a moment in which Maui hits a snag with his shape-shifting superpowers. Hei Hei, whom Clements describes as “the dumbest character in the history of Disney animation,” is endlessly amusing. However, several stabs at self-referential humour seem a little jarring. Maui tacitly comments on Moana’s status as a Disney Princess, and there’s a particularly on-the-nose reference to The Little Mermaid. There’s also a joke about Twitter that seems Dreamworks-y.

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One of the film’s biggest selling points is that, as with Brave, there isn’t a love interest in sight. Moana has great agency and isn’t defined solely by her relationships to any of the other characters.15-year-old Cravalho was the last of hundreds of Polynesian women to audition. She makes her feature film acting debut here, bringing an appropriate blend of plucky adventurer and 21st Century teenager to her performance. While Moana is a great character, there are familiar elements to her – she wants adventure in a great wide somewhere, and longs to get out from under the thumb of her overprotective father. It is nice that the character is given a noticeably different body type from the standard svelte Disney princess, and the character’s beauty is showcased in beautifully-lit magic hour scenes.

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Johnson’s trademark charm and charisma is on display as Maui, a self-centred demigod who craves adulation. Maui’s facial expressions appear to be modelled directly on Johnson’s, with the signature ‘people’s eyebrow’ look getting the spotlight. The character isn’t intended to be wholly likeable, and while the relationship between Maui and Moana does get satisfactory development, it can be tedious at times. Musker and Clements have cleverly worked some 2D animation into the film, in the form of Maui’s tattoos. ‘Mini Maui’, who acts as the demigod’s conscience, is a clever way of giving Maui his own sidekick.

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We’re not sure why Alan Tudyk was needed solely to make clucking sound effects, but in any case, we’re glad that Hei Hei and Pua the pig don’t talk. Bit of a shame that the adorable Pua was left behind on Motonui and didn’t join Moana, Maui and Hei Hei on their voyage. House’s Gramma Tala is the stock ‘wise grandmother’ archetype through and through, but her interactions with Moana do provide some of the film’s most emotional moments. Jemaine Clement pops up voicing a colossal crab monster named Tamatoa, in what is probably the film’s low point. It seems like such a calculation, that this is the designated scene-stealing supporting villain. Clement’s Tim Curry-type delivery is all too similar to his performance in the Rio films.

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The aspect of Moana that most disappointed this reviewer is the music. Please put away your pitchforks. Oceanic music group Te Vaka, Mark Mancina and vaunted Broadway impresario Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the film’s music, with Miranda writing the lyrics. They’re all fine, but aren’t as hummable as one would expect. Maui may have his magical fish hook, but these songs seem to lack hooks of their own. The Disney animated canon has produced such memorable tunes as Part of Your World, A Whole New World, Beauty and the Beast and, yes, Let It Go. Alas, nothing in Moana is that instantly catchy and memorable. This reviewer is sure the songs will grow on him, but we were hoping for songs that cling to you immediately.

While Moana delivers grand adventure and meticulously-animated spectacle, it doesn’t hit the heights of sublime poignancy which Disney has proven capable of. It’s a fine quest movie with a few lulls and songs that are okay at best, but lots of kids are bound to gravitate to the spirited heroine.

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Inner Workings, the short film preceding the feature, is delightful and infectiously silly. Stick around for a post-credits gag.

Summary: Splendid animation and a sincerity in putting Polynesian culture on the big screen offset Moana’s formulaic elements and somewhat unmemorable songs.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

WAVERIDERS: The star and filmmakers of Moana island-hop to Singapore

For F*** Magazine

WAVERIDERS
The star and filmmakers of Moana island-hop to Singapore

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This morning, F*** was at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre in Singapore to meet the leading lady, producer and artists from Disney’s Moana. The film tells the story of its titular heroine’s epic voyage across the ocean. Accompanied by the demigod Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, Moana embarks on a quest to restore life to her home of Motonui, threatened by the lava goddess Te Kā.

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In addition to Moana’s voice actress Auli’i Cravalho, producer Osnat Shurer, lighting artist Roger Lee and visual development artist Griselda Sastrawinata took the stage to talk to the press about the film.

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Before the press conference began, we were treated to a performance of the song How Far I’ll Go from the film. Janella Salvador from the Philippines, Maudy Ayunda from Indonesia, Ayda Jebat from Malaysia, Myra Maneepat Molloy from Thailand and Minh Nhu from Vietnam performed the film in their respective native languages. Molloy and Minh Nhu are voicing Moana in the Thai and Vietnamese dubs of the film respectively.

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Cravalho did seem like a Disney princess come to life, displaying both bubbly enthusiasm and measured poise throughout the press conference. “We’re practically all family from across the sea,” she said cheerily to the crowd.

Clements, Musker and Shurer auditioned hundreds of Polynesian women for the lead role, and Cravalho was the last one they saw. “I didn’t initially audition for Moana, because [at] first, I had seen so many wonderful auditions on YouTube, and my friends were trying out, and I thought ‘you know what, whoever is chosen is going to be so awesome’,” Cravalho admitted.

The character’s name means ‘ocean’, and Cravalho’s hobbies include paddle-boarding and sailing. “It’s meant to be, I now believe in fate,” Cravalho said. She added that she doesn’t do any land sports, because she’s “a klutz on land”.

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Cravalho took the responsibility of representing her Polynesian heritage seriously. “This movie is real,” she proclaimed. “Wayfinding and navigating by the stars, that’s something that my ancestors really did, so the fact that Disney has made a film that is inspired by my culture, gives me a great deal of pride.” Moana is an adventurer, descended from a long line of voyagers who settled down and stopped traversing the ocean a thousand years ago. “Another thing that I love about Moana is that I get to describe her as a heroine,” Cravalho enthused.

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Great pains were taken to ensure that the rich culture of Oceania was not shown in a superficial manner, with Clements and Musker leading multiple research expeditions to the Pacific Islands. Disney assembled a team of advisors who came to be known as the Oceanic Story Trust, comprising anthropologists, archaeologists, educators, linguists, master tattooists, dance choreographers, haka practitioners, navigators and experts on Polynesian culture.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACravalho’s choice of favourite Disney character made perfect sense – it was a heroine who, like Moana, embarked on a life-changing, self-sacrificial adventure: Mulan. “She’s so incredibly amazing and she broke that gender norm, she went out there and did her thang. I remember telling myself at a young age, ‘that’s what I want to do.’ I want to honour my family wherever I go,” Cravalho declared.

Shurer was quick to acknowledge the massive team who assembled the film, saying “Disney has hundreds and hundreds of artists in our studio from over 25 countries, and that adds to the richness and diversity of everything we do. When you see the film, you see everyone’s work, so
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwe’re the lucky ones.”

Two of those artists, Lee and Sastrawinata, have become hometown heroes. Lee was born and raised in Singapore and moved to the United States four years ago to pursue a career in animation at Walt Disney Animation Studios as a lighting artist, lighting and compositing shots. Lee’s credits include such blockbusters as Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia. “This dream seemed so out of reach, Disney seemed so far away,” Lee reflected. “It definitely needs a lot of perseverance, I focused on what I wanted to do and kept tweaking my path”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASastrawinata joined Disney Animation a year ago, and Moana is her first film at the studio. “I didn’t think that I would work on a movie with directors whose movies I watched as a kid, Aladdin and Little Mermaid, so it’s just
amazing to get to do that,” Sastrawinata said. She gravitated to the film’s lead character, recalling “I heard about Moana, a story with a heroine, and I was like ‘yes, put me in it!’”

“It’s going to make you laugh, it’s going to make you cry and it’s going to make you think,” Shurer promised. “Moana in part is about us stopping to listen to the voice inside ourselves. The world will always tell you who you’re meant to be, and it’s the voice inside us who tells us who we really are,” Shurer explained. “Any age, any gender, to stop to listen and to follow that call is relevant to every one of us.”

At the conclusion of the press conference, Cravalho, Shurer, Lee and Sastrawinata were presented with bento boxes designed by Shirley Wong. Made with local ingredients, the food was arranged to resemble characters from Moana. “This is the most beautiful food I’ve ever seen,” Cravalho exclaimed.

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Moana opens on 24 November 2016 in Singapore.

Cravalho, Shurer, Lee and Sastrawinata will attend a festive light-up ceremony at the Helix Bridge at Marina Bay Sands tomorrow night, 9th November 2016, at 8 pm.

 Words and pictures by Jedd Jong

The Secret Life of Pets

For F*** Magazine

THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS

Director : Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney
Cast : Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, Steve Coogan, Ellie Kemper, Bobby Moynihan, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Albert Brooks, Tara Strong
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 1 hr 31 mins
Opens : 1 September 2016
Rating : PG

The Secret Life of Pets posterDouble lives make for inherently intriguing storytelling: from the playboy/vigilante to the Wall Street stockbroker/serial killer to the electronics salesman/superspy, we can’t get enough of them. This animated film sheds light on what pets get up to when their owners head out to work. Naturally, it’s not quite as dramatic as the above examples.

Max (C.K.) is a Jack Russell terrier who is completely devoted to his owner Katie (Kemper). His idyllic existence is upended when Katie brings home a new dog, the shaggy mongrel Duke (Stonestreet). Upset that he is no longer the sole beneficiary of Katie’s affection, Max plots to get Duke kicked out of the house. The two get into an altercation and get lost, running into a gang known as the “Flushed Pets”. These unceremoniously abandoned animals are led by the psychotic rabbit Snowball (Hart), who has vowed vengeance against all humans. Gidget (Slate), a Pomeranian who has been nursing a crush on Max, leads a group of their friends to search for and rescue Max and Duke. The group includes aloof tabby cat Chloe (Bell), geriatric basset hound Pops (Carvey) and Tiberius (Brooks), a red-tailed hawk who has to keep his killer instincts in check. An odyssey through New York ensues, as Max and Duke have to put aside their differences and try to make it home.

The Secret Life of Pets Duke, Katie and Max

The Secret Life of Pets is directed by Chris Renaud, who helmed the Despicable Me movies, and Yarrow Cheney, who was the production designer for them. Animation studio Illumination Entertainment is on a roll, with The Secret Life of Pets now a worldwide box office hit. The bits and pieces that have been cobbled together from other films are clearly evident and have been frequently pointed out: Max’s resentment of Duke echoes Woody’s jealousy when Buzz Lightyear enters Andy’s playroom in Toy Story and the story of stranded pets finding a way back to their owners is reminiscent of Homeward Bound.

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While it isn’t exactly original, the film is energetic and vibrant and remains engaging throughout. The animation isn’t a dizzying sensory overload, and the design of New York City is just heightened enough while still being recognisable. Composer Alexandre Desplat channels George Gershwin with a breezy, jazzy score. Inventive moments of physical humour are showcased during several intricately choreographed set pieces, including a skirmish in which Max and Duke are bounced about between multiple clotheslines and when Buddy (Buresss), a dachshund, navigates a fire escape. While there are obvious jokes about bodily functions, The Secret Life of Pets does hit a few balls in the direction of the parents in the audience. “For me, every breath is a cliff-hanger,” the elderly Pops wheezes. Elsewhere, there’s a reference to the gentrification of Brooklyn. It’s the right shade of ‘adult’. A hallucination sequence in which Sausage Party seems to have invaded this film is more miss than hit, though. It’s not razor-sharp wit, but this reviewer laughed more often than not.

The Secret Life of Pets Chloe, Mel, Buddy, Tiberius, Gidget and Sweet Pea

This film marks C.K.’s first voice role. Cynicism and wry, world-weary observation is very much built into C.K.’s persona as a comedian – as such, this reviewer was pleasantly surprised at how convincing he sounds as an earnest, enthusiastic Jack Russell terrier. The conflict between Max and Duke is efficiently established and predictably enough, they have a few bonding moments along the way, eventually reaching inevitable that “hey, you’re not so bad” point. Stonestreet is a good choice for the loveable big lug, who isn’t as dim-witted as one might expect. Yes, we’re guilty of judging books by their covers.

The Secret Life of Pets Snowball and friends

Speaking of going off appearances, a lot of the humour in The Secret Life of Pets is derived from first impressions being deceiving. There’s the refined poodle who head-bangs to System of a Down’s Bounce, and of course there’s Snowball. Hart does a lot of manic yelling, and while it’s not a bad concept for the primary antagonist, the character’s drastic change of h(e)art towards the film’s conclusion is difficult to buy. As it stands, Snowball is not much more than a less esoteric Rabbit of Caerbannog from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

In this image released by Universal Pictures, Gidget, voiced by Jenny Slate, left, and Max, voiced by Louis C.K., appear in a scene from, "The Secret Lives of Pets." (Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures via AP)

Slate’s distinctive raspy tones sound very apt emanating from a Pomeranian, and the character’s determination to rescue her beloved Max is endearing. Brooks, voicing a very different animated character from Marlin in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, gets some of the film’s funniest moments. Tiberius is a lonely hawk cooped up in a cage whose nature as a predator gets in the way of him making any friends, and it’s always fun to see a kids’ film with talking animals actually acknowledge the fact that animals eat other animals, while giving the carnivore in question some redeeming features. Bell’s cool indifference as Chloe the cat is an amusing counterpoint to the overall enthusiasm expressed by the various dogs.

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            We’ve avoided this comparison for this long, so here goes: The Secret Life of Pets can’t match the warmth and profundity of Pixar’s best works, but it’s still sufficiently moving and entertaining, with quality animation work making it a visual treat. Oops, we said “treat” out loud. No, sit, sit!

Summary: Thanks to a funny, talented voice cast and eye-catching animation, The Secret Life of Pets is good fun in spite of its familiar aspects.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Finding Dory

For F*** Magazine

FINDING DORY

Director : Andrew Stanton
Cast : Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Dominic West
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 1 hr 40 mins
Opens : 16 June 2016
Rating : PG

Pixar beckons us back fathoms below in the sequel to Finding Nemo. In real life, it’s been 13 years since the first film, but our story picks up a year after the events of Finding Nemo. Dory (DeGeneres), the blue tang stricken with acute short-term memory loss, begins to have flashbacks to her childhood, hitherto entirely forgotten. Dory recalls her parents Charlie (Levy) and Jenny (Keaton), and sets out on a quest to track them down. Dory’s friends, the clownfish Marlin (Brooks) and his son Nemo (Rolence), accompany her from the Great Barrier Reef to the Marine Life Institute in California. There, they become acquainted with the cantankerous ‘septopus’ (he’s lost an arm) named Hank (O’Neill); Destiny (Olson), a near-sighted whale shark who was Dory’s childhood friend; Bailey (Burrell), a beluga whale with self-confidence issue, and the sea lions Fluke (Elba) and Rudder (West). While Marlin wants nothing more than to stay home, he has to brave the unexpected yet again so his friend can be reunited with her family.

Over the years, DeGeneres has relentlessly lobbied for a Finding Nemo sequel on her talk show. Not only has she gotten her wish, Dory has been bumped up to the main character. In addition to voice actors DeGeneres and Brooks, director Andrew Stanton has returned. Stanton also co-wrote the screenplay with Victoria Strouse, with Bob Peterson and Stanton receiving a “story by” credit. There was always the danger of this being a mere retread of the first film, now considered a classic of contemporary animation. While it does cover some of the same territory and doesn’t arrive at the same purity of emotion that Finding Nemo did, the sequel is still packed with heart and offers entertainment by the tank-full.

Sequels have a tendency to lose sight of what made the first film work in their pursuit of being “bigger and better”. Finding Dory is actually smaller in scope than the first film, with most of the action taking place within the Marine Life Institute, modelled on the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. As we’ve come to expect from the studio, the animation is awe-inspiring and suffused with life, the environments spilling over with realistic detail. The animators have a lot of fun guiding Dory through the various mini-environments within the Marine Life Institute and the action sequences have a dynamic theme park ride feel about them.

Like its predecessor, it’s still a road movie: our heroes meet weird and wonderful personalities as they journey far from home in search of something, or someone. The story possesses a crucial forward momentum: there’s never a dull moment and the characters get from point A to point B in increasingly inventive ways. Not only is it fast-paced, it’s also frequently funny, with many jokes eliciting guffaws from this reviewer. A well-known actor who has appeared in a Pixar film before gets a riotous vocal cameo.

This reviewer was worried that Dory would be the latest victim of what we call “breakout character-itis”, wherein a supporting character becomes such a hit with audiences that their screen-time is massively increased in the sequel, sometimes to the film’s detriment. Dory’s appeal remains untarnished – much comedy is derived from the character’s ailment, but the film also recognises it as a source of profound tragedy, and this becomes the driving force in the plot. Dory’s back-story is established from the outset, and while it doesn’t quite tug on the heartstrings the way Nemo and Marlin’s bond did in the first one, there will still be no shortage of tears. Keaton and Levy bring understated warmth to the roles of Dory’s long-lost parents.

Marlin and Nemo receive just the right amount of character development: while they’ve both learned from their harrowing adventure, the essence of who they are remains unchanged. The pragmatism and impatience that Brooks brings to his performances ensure that Marlin remains an excellent example of the “comically serious” trope, while Rolence is as ideal a replacement for original Nemo voice actor Alexander Gould as any imaginable. Gould, now 22, has a vocal cameo.

O’Neill can play the curmudgeon in his sleep, and Hank is eminently endearing despite, or perhaps because of, his crankiness. Hank is the focus of many clever visual gags that make playful use of an octopus’ ability to contort itself and change its skin colour with the help of chromatophores to blend seamlessly into the background. Some of the other new characters, while often amusing, are not quite so memorable, and each of them have an obvious hook which seems like something a lesser animated film might fall back on. It’s always great to hear Elba’s distinct baritone, but he was better in Zootopia earlier this year.

Finding Dory isn’t as good as Finding Nemo, but considering the stratospheric watermark that film set, it’s to be expected. This film reunites us with the characters we love, just as we remember them, plunged into zany new scenarios. Pixar knows how to reel an audience in, and there’s so much here to hook on to. The short film preceding the feature, Piper, is an exercise in straightforward storytelling, starring a particularly adorable feathered hero and boasting some of the most sublime computer-generated animation this reviewer has ever seen. Oh, stick around for a post-credits stinger!

Summary: Seek and ye shall find all those Pixar hallmarks: beautiful animation, humour, moving sentiment and family-friendly thrills. It’s not as profound as some of the studio’s other work, but it’s so entertaining that its shortcomings are easy to forgive.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Angry Birds Movie

For F*** Magazine

THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE 

Director : Fergal Reilly, Clay Kaytis
Cast : Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Peter Dinklage, Kate McKinnon, Sean Penn, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Blake Shelton
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 97 mins
Opens : 26 May 2016
Rating : PG

Red feathers at morning, pigs take warning. In this animated comedy, we become acquainted with Red (Sudeikis), a resident of Bird Island who has trouble keeping his temper in check. After a particularly bad flare-up, Judge Peckinpah (Key) sentences Red to anger management classes. The classes are conducted by Matilda (Rudolph), and Red eventually befriends the jittery Chuck (Gad), Bomb (McBride), prone to literally exploding when he gets upset, and the gigantic, constantly growling Terence (Penn). Out of the blue, Bird Island receives visitors in the form of green pigs, led by Leonard (Hader). Claiming to be peaceful explorers, the newcomers are received with open arms by all of Bird Island’s residents – apart from Red, who harbours his suspicions. Red is proven right when it turns out that the pigs intend to steal and eat all of the birds’ eggs. Red, Chuck and Bomb seek the advice of the Mighty Eagle (Dinklage), a mythical hero whose glory days are far behind him. In retaliation, the denizens of Bird Island stage an attack on Piggy Island to rescue their unborn offspring.

            The Angry BirdsMovie is an adaptation of the mobile game developed by Rovio, which became a cultural phenomenon around 5-6 years ago. Beyond the point that this might be flapping its way into theatres a tad late, there is another elephant bird in the room. Large swathes of the internet are convinced that the film is a thinly-veiled anti-immigration screed. It seems far-fetched that a kids’ movie based on a puzzle game might be politicised, but it’s not absurd on its face. The villains are insidious foreigners with a hidden agenda, their leader is sporting a curly beard, they arrive bearing gifts and the promise of peace, and our hero is the one guy who suspects all is not as it seems. Alternatively, it’s an anti-colonialist message, with the pigs as the conquistadors who have arrived to bamboozle the locals and make off with their resources. Naturally, the makers of the film won’t confirm or deny the hypotheses outright. It slingshots right over the heads of the young target audience, but it’s something to mull over – or just chuckle about – all the same.

            Past the possible political commentary, Angry Birds is very much a serviceable, run-of-the-mill animated comedy. There are reasonably well-known comic actors in the voice cast, cloyingly cutesy baby characters, getting-crap-past-the-radar jokes to make the adults snicker, and the inclusion of pop songs aplenty. The birds might be flightless, but a surprisingly high number of the jokes land. Amidst the more questionable gags, like a Fifty Shades of Grey reference and scatological humour, there’s a litany of groan-inducing puns – think “Kevin Bacon in Hamlet”, “Calvin Swine underwear” and “The Birds and the Bees Fertility Clinic”. Screenwriter Jon Vitti is a Simpsons alum who also penned the first two Alvin and the Chipmunks movie, so one kind of knows what to expect jokes-wise. There is a niggling sense that a lot of the jokes were cooked up by a writer’s room of stand-up comics roped in to do a last-minute punch-up. It’s also not terribly original: one scene borrows the “most annoying sound” joke from Dumb and Dumber, while another lifts the Quicksilver kitchen sequence from X-Men: Days of Future Past wholesale.

            Angry Birds may be markedly unsophisticated, but its protagonist does go a good way to making it work. Red is flawed, a bitterly anti-social loner whose deep-seated issues stem from a childhood of neglect (he was orphaned) and bullying. Sudeikis doesn’t phone it in and ends up being pretty engaging as Red, allowing the viewer to sympathise with his myriad frustrations. Gad essentially reprises Olaf from Frozen, while McBride is reasonably cuddly as the gentle giant who just can’t help his outbursts. Dinklage is an absolute hoot as the Mighty Eagle, a widely-admired Wizard of Oz type who turns out to be out of shape and comically ineffectual – wait, the Bald Eagle is the national bird of which country, again?

            Hader could stand to be a little – yes, we’re going there – hammier in his role as the big bad of the piece. Leonard and his fellow pigs want to consume unborn children – it would’ve been interesting to see the movie acknowledge just how dark this is. And hiring Oscar winner Penn to grunt and growl seems even more puzzling than having Vin Diesel’s only lines be “I am Groot”. Penn taped all his, uh, “dialogue” in one recording session and co-director Clay Kaytis openly admits it was stunt-casting. Apparently, the film’s executive producer David Maisel is a friend of Penn’s and reached out to him. Penn, enjoying an early cut of the film (and probably not wanting to pass up the incredibly easy pay cheque), signed on.

            Angry Birds is sufficiently colourful, fast-paced and funny, such that parents won’t be tearing out their hair – though it’s likely they won’t genuinely enjoy it. It is what it is, a franchise-ready animated movie made by committee, and it really could’ve turned out significantly worse.



Summary:It’s an animated movie as ordered via corporate mandate, but The Angry Birds Movie does pack in the jokes and some lively animation. Have meaningful post-movie discussions with your kids about the supposed anti-immigration sentiment in the movie at your own risk.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong