Raya and the Last Dragon review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada
Cast : Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, Izaac Wang, Alan Tudyk
Genre: Animation/Adventure/Comedy
Run Time : 114 min
Opens : 5 March 2021
Rating : PG

Disney Animation has drawn on stories from various regions as the basis for their films. With Raya and the Last Dragon, the House of Mouse goes a little mousedeer, telling a story inspired by the mythology of Southeast Asia.  

Dragons were the protectors of the mythical land of Kumandra, sacrificing themselves to save humanity when monsters called the Druun attacked, petrifying all in their path. Kumandra is divided into Heart, Talon, Fang, Spine and Tail, each land named for a different part of the dragon.

Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) is a warrior princess from the Heart kingdom, whose father Chief Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) is training her to become the guardian of the Dragon Gem. Chief Benja attempts to broker peace between the disparate lands, but the Druun return and the conflict continues. As an adult, Raya finds and revives Sisu (Awkwafina), the last dragon. Raya and Sisu must unite the fractured pieces of the Dragon Gem to bring back all who were lost to the Druun. Along the way, Raya must face off with a figure from her past: the equally formidable Namaari (Gemma Chan), princess of the Fang Kingdom.  

Raya and the Last Dragon is gorgeously animated and the world of Kumandra is a visually captivating one. The details in the costumes and architecture are plentiful, and the effects animation, especially on the angry black mist that is the Druun, is exceptional. The hand-to-hand fight sequences are well choreographed and there is a genuine sense of thrilling adventure to the story.

The voice cast is also excellent, with Kelly Marie Tran bringing both steeliness and warmth to the part of Raya. Awkwafina’s rasp works well as the voice of an animated character and she plays the fish-out-of-water aspect of Sisu entertainingly. Daniel Dae Kim effortlessly essays calm authority, while Benedict Wong seems to be having the best time as Tong, a boisterous gentle (?) giant type. Boun (Izaac Wang), a kid entrepreneur who runs a shrimp congee restaurant out of a boat, is also a fun, likeable road movie side character.

The most interesting part of the film is the rivalry between Raya and Namaari, and the possibility that they might still find common ground with each other. Namaari is sufficiently different from your standard snarling Disney villain, and this reviewer feels not enough of the movie is about this relationship.

While watching Raya and the Last Dragon, it’s evident that there is a tension between making this something fresh and innovative, while also honouring the storied legacy of Disney animation, and fulfilling expectations associated with its most successful films. As such, Raya and the Last Dragon can sometimes feel tied down to Disney animated movie formula. There’s a plucky princess raised by a single father, and she goes on a quest accompanied by a comic relief sidekick (or two or three). Sticking to a formula isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and Raya breaks from formula in certain significant ways, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the movie is still constrained by certain expectations associated with Disney animated movies.   

Tonally, there are moments that don’t quite work. This is a movie about a world and its inhabitants dealing with trauma and loss. However, it also wants to be light-hearted and appealing to children – hence characters like an adorable half-armadillo-half-pillbug named Tuk-Tuk (Alan Tudyk) who clearly exists to sell toys – not that we don’t want a Tuk-Tuk plushie.

Like the Dragon Gem, the story sometimes seems fragmented, and feels episodic the way many movies with a road trip structure do. Some of the dialogue is clunky, and several of the anachronistic jokes don’t work, including a moment when Raya proclaims, “bling’s my thing”. Several of Sisu’s jokes sound like improvisational riffs that Awkwafina came up with in the booth, and can be a little grating, but Sisu is generally likeable. Unfortunately, Sisu’s character design sticks out – typically, East Asian and Southeast Asian dragons are depicted with a maned head and a scaly body, but Sisu is entirely furry and doesn’t seem like she belongs stylistically.

Kumandra incorporates facets of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Laos. For Raya and the Last Dragon, Disney assembled the Southeast Asia Story Trust comprised of experts in various fields, including an Indonesian linguist, a textile expert from the USC Pacific Asia Museum and a visual anthropologist. Head of Story Fawn Veerasunthorn is an artist of Thai descent, while co-writers Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim are of Vietnamese and Malaysian Chinese descent, respectively.

There is a desire here to tell a story that has a degree of authenticity, but “authenticity” is something that’s hard to measure empirically. As Moana did with Polynesian countries, Raya and the Last Dragon amalgamates and mashes up Southeast Asian countries to create the fictional Kumandra. While there is an overlap in the cultural traditions and mythologies of many Southeast Asian countries, residents of said countries would also generally prefer for others not to get one country confused with the other, and that creates a kind of paradox in telling a story that is inspired by a blend of cultures.

Watching Raya, it’s also hard not to think of the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender and the follow-up The Legend of Korra, which have thus far been western animation’s most successful attempts at creating fantasy worlds inspired by disparate Asian cultures. The world-building of Avatar seems more thought out than it is in Raya, but then of course the animated series had a lot more time to spend on that.

Summary: Raya and the Last Dragon sometimes struggles with telling a story that is authentic to the region from which it draws inspiration while also delivering what audiences expect from a Disney animated adventure, but it mostly succeeds in pulling off this balance. It may not be as revolutionary as Disney had hoped, but it is still a largely entertaining adventure that draws on rich storytelling traditions. Hopefully, filmmakers from varied backgrounds will continue getting the support they need in Hollywood to tell more stories from more places.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Spies in Disguise review

For F*** Magazine

SPIES IN DISGUISE

Director: Nick Bruno, Troy Quane
Cast : Will Smith, Tom Holland, Rashida Jones, Ben Mendelsohn, Reba McEntire, Rachel Brosnahan, Karen Gillan, DJ Khaled, Masi Oka
Genre : Action/Comedy/Animation
Run Time : 1 h 42 mins
Opens : 25 December 2019
Rating : PG

Animation studio Blue Sky is best known for the Ice Age movies, but also made the two Rio movies about Spix’s Macaws. Blue Sky turns their attention to a far more common bird in this action-comedy, loosely based on Lucas Martell’s 2009 animated short film Pigeon: Impossible.

Lance Sterling (Will Smith) is a dashing, somewhat arrogant superspy who hits a snag in his latest mission to save the world. Lance reluctantly turns to Walter Beckett (Tom Holland), a young tech genius working in the spy agency’s gadget labs, for help. Walter is developing a highly experimental form of “biodynamic concealment”, which will allow operatives to disguise themselves as animals and go practically unnoticed. Lance accidentally drinks a serum formulated by Walter, which turns Lance into a pigeon. In this new form, Lance can no longer rely on his highly honed combat skills and must adapt to life as an Avian agent. Pigeon-Lance and Walter must work together to take down Killian (Ben Mendelsohn), a criminal mastermind with a cybernetic arm who is hellbent on acquiring cutting-edge assassin drone technology. Meanwhile, agent Marcy Kappel (Rashida Jones) is convinced that Lance has gone rogue and is unaware that he has taken on the form of a pigeon.

Spies in Disguise is often energetic and entertaining, moving along at a decent clip. The film makes great use of stars Smith and Holland – the character designs resemble the actors enough while also being sufficiently stylised. While major animated movies can sometimes feel like they’re cramming a big name in there just for the sake of it, the two stars of Spies in Disguise fit well within this world. Smith’s effortless charm and Holland’s endearing earnestness are played to the hilt. There is the sense that we are watching Smith and Holland themselves, but the movie also does many things that are better suited to animation than to live-action – chief of which being the “human turns into an animal via genetic modification” aspect, which could otherwise be very David Cronenberg-esque.

There is a palpable affection for the spy-fi genre here and the film gets plenty of laughs from juxtaposing James Bond-style coolness and elaborate action sequences with the silliness of one of its main characters having been transformed into a pigeon. Early in the film, we even get an homage to Kill Bill, with Lance facing off against hordes of Yakuza goons. As with any espionage thriller worth its salt, Spies in Disguise features multiple exotic locations, including a villain’s lair in Japan’s Iwate Prefecture and a luxury resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. The film’s most outstanding environment is Venice, Italy, featuring a night-time St Mark’s Square filled with pigeons.

With its marquee name stars, wacky premise, colourful animation and wink-and-nod innuendo-based jokes aimed at the parents in the audience, Spies in Disguise sometimes feels like a middling mid-2000s Dreamworks animation product. While the element of a superspy turning into a pigeon is novel and rife with comedic possibilities, much of Spies in Disguise feels formulaic. This is most evident with its villain, Ben Mendelsohn’s Killian. He is mostly just referred to as “robot hand”, because that’s his sole defining characteristic, and Dr Claw from Inspector Gadget beat Killian to the punch some 30-odd years ago. While it’s nice to hear Mendelsohn’s natural Australian accent, he seems woefully underused, especially since there are hints of how truly sinister the character could have been if there were more to him. Seeing as this is a kids’ movie, perhaps it is a good thing that he’s not trauma-inducing levels of scary, but there’s still the sense that there could’ve been more here.

As breezily enjoyable as most of the movie is, there is a slightness to it – there’s just not a lot to the story or to the characters, and the attempts at engendering an emotional investment in the characters are only occasionally successful. Walter’s back-story, drawing on the bond he shared with his mother Wendy (Rachel Brosnahan), is moving but is barely sketched out. Most of the other characters besides the two leads, including Kappel and her surveillance experts Eyes (Karen Gillan) and Ears (DJ Khaled), barely register.

The product placement for the Audi E-tron is perhaps a touch egregious, but then again that kind of thing is all over the James Bond movies anyway.

Spies in Disguise has some flashy action sequences, but some of the best parts of the movie are the interactions between pigeon-Lance and the actual pigeons who form his ‘flock’. The amorous Lovey, Walter’s pet pigeon who immediately develops a crush on pigeon-Lance, is an irresistibly adorable character.

Summary: Spies in Disguise doesn’t deliver anything cutting-edge, but adequately balances spy action with pure cartoon silliness. It plays to the strengths of stars Will Smith and Tom Holland, who complement each other well. It does often feel like a commercial product and the story and characters are feather-light, but it’s fun where it counts.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Abominable review

For F*** Magazine

ABOMINABLE

Director: Jill Culton
Cast : Chloe Bennet, Albert Tsai, Tenzing Norgay Trainor, Eddie Izzard, Sarah Paulson, Tsai Chin, Michelle Wong
Genre : Animation, Comedy, Adventure
Run Time : 1 h 37 mins
Opens : 7 November 2019
Rating : PG

We’re not quite sure why, but lately there have been a slew of animated movies revolving around yetis and sasquatches, including Smallfoot, The Son of Bigfoot and Missing Link. DreamWorks animation presents the tale of an especially fluffy Yeti with Abominable, which has been in development at the studio since 2010.

Yi (Chloe Bennet) is an adventurous girl living with her mother (Michelle Wong) and grandmother (Tasi Chin) in Shanghai. Yi hasn’t quite processed the death of her father, who taught her how to play the violin. The violin he has left behind is a treasured possession of Yi’s. One night, she comes across a Yeti hiding on the roof of her apartment. The wealthy industrialist Burnish (Eddie Izzard) has sent a team led by zoologist Dr Zara (Sarah Paulson) to catch a Yeti, but the creature has escaped their clutches. Together with her basketball-loving friend Peng (Albert Tsai) and Peng’s vain cousin Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), Yi embarks on an odyssey to help the Yeti, dubbed ‘Everest’, return to his home in the Himalayas.

Abominable is charming and sincere, with an especially loveable creature at its centre. Everest feels a bit like the beloved Studio Ghibli creation Totoro, with a heaping dose of puppy dog enthusiasm and a roly-poly form covered in soft shaggy fur. He’s made to sell stuffed toys, but we’re not complaining (and we do actively want a stuffed toy of Everest now). The film’s story is straightforward, but it often manages to be genuinely moving and quite delightful. Several action sequences, including an aerial chase set against the mountains of Huangshan, possess the thrilling momentum we’ve seen in earlier DreamWorks animated movies.

The voice cast, led by Chloe Bennet of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fame, is lively and engaging. It’s also worth noting that the lead characters are all voiced by actors of Asian descent, unlike in films like Kubo and the Two Strings. Interesting, Tenzing Norgay Trainor is the grandson of the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, one of the first two men to reach the summit of Mount Everest. The animation is often beautiful – more on the scenery later.

Writer-director Jill Culton includes almost every device from the “a kid and their X” playbook in this film, such that the movie seems overly familiar at times. The movie’s magic is diminished ever so slightly by the recognisable elements it borrows from other films. The Yeti’s power to manipulate nature, which helps Yi and company escape the mercenaries pursuing them, is reminiscent of E.T. lifting Elliott and his friends’ bikes off the ground in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. The villains are generic and one-dimensional, even with a reveal thrown in around midway through the movie.

Some of the gags seem a bit more juvenile than others, but thankfully Abominable largely steers clear of grating, over-the-top cartoon antics. Abominable also suffers slightly for being released in the same year as How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. When it comes to ‘a kid and their x’ movies made by DreamWorks, the How to Train Your Dragon films are a tough act to follow. Abominable’s main poster art seems deliberately like that of the first How to Train Your Dragon movie. The animation is largely excellent, but the scenes set in Shanghai seem to lack the detail that would really make the city feel alive onscreen.

Music is an important and emotional element of the film. Yi’s violin is of sentimental significance to her, and playing the violin is her way of remembering her father. Everest’s powers over the natural environment are activated by music, specifically his melodious humming – Everest’s humming is provided by the film’s composer Rupert Gregson-Williams. The use of Coldplay’s “Fix You” is a bit cheesy, but for the most part, the movie’s use of music is lyrical and moving.

Abominable is set in China and like Kung Fu Panda 3 before it, is co-produced by Pearl Studios. Pearl Studios was formerly known as Oriental DreamWorks and is now wholly owned by China Media Capital. While we’ve seen some clumsy and unsuccessful attempts by Hollywood to pander to Chinese audiences, Abominable feels just authentic enough. Sure, the characters mostly behave like American kids (and everyone wears shoes in the house, a big no-no in most Asian households), but there’s enough of a cultural context to justify the movie’s setting in China. This is a road trip movie of sorts, and audiences get to take in some beautiful, breath-taking scenery inspired by real locations in China.

There has been considerable brouhaha about a map of China depicted in the film, which shows disputed territories as belonging to China. This has led Abominable to be banned in Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam. It’s a shame that this agenda had to be forced into a movie which is otherwise uncontroversial.

Abominable might not reach the sublime heights that we’ve seen from other animated movies and from other ‘a kid and their x’ movies, but it compensates for its well-worn story beats with plenty of heart and several truly magical moments.

Summary: Older audiences might be able to recognise where Abominable borrows many of its plot points from, but between the sweet, goofy Yeti and the superb use of music, this movie’s charm is difficult to resist.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Addams Family (2019) Review

For F*** Magazine

THE ADDAMS FAMILY

Director: Conrad Vernon, Greg Tiernan
Cast : Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Allison Janney, Conrad Vernon, Bette Midler, Elsie Fisher, Titus Burgess
Genre : Animation/Comedy
Run Time : 87 mins
Opens : 31 October 2019
Rating : PG

The Addams Family is as old as Superman: the loveably macabre characters debuted in The New Yorker in 1938, the same year the Man of Steel graced the cover of Action Comics #1. Charles Addams’ bizarre creation has endured through the decades, spawning numerous live-action and animated film and TV incarnations. The Addamses return to the big screen in this animated movie.

Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (Charlize Theron) Addams live in an abandoned mental asylum atop a hill in New Jersey. The family unit also includes their children Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) and their butler Lurch (Conrad Vernon). Pugsley is preparing for the Mazurka, a rite of passage involving choreographed swordplay that all Addams men must undergo. Grandmama (Bette Midler) and Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll) have arrived early, with the rest of the extended Addams clan soon to follow to attend the ceremony. Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), the host of a home makeover reality TV show, fears that the Addamses’ presence will jeopardise the sales of a planned community called Assimilation. Margaux’s distaste for the Addamses grows more intense when Wednesday befriends Margaux’s daughter Parker (Elsie Fisher).

The top-shelf voice cast is incredible, each of the main actors suiting their characters to a tee. One could very easily picture Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron playing live-action versions of Gomez and Morticia Addams, and one can tell they had a lot of fun with the roles. Theron’s withering delivery is another example of how she is underestimated as a comedic performer. Chloë Grace Moretz is just droll enough as Wednesday, while Nick Kroll’s excitable Uncle Fester is goofily endearing.

The character designs deliberately hew closely to the original Charles Addams drawings, so while most might not be used to seeing a shorter, stouter Gomez Addams, that’s how he was drawn even before the characters had first names. One addition to Wednesday’s design is especially clever – her trademark French Braid pigtails now end in nooses.

The writing is not very strong, but many of the jokes do land and some sight gags are inspired – there’s a joke about Instagram filters which is legitimately funny. The film attempts to touch on the themes of parental expectations of children and the fear of the other – while it doesn’t tackle these with much nuance or insight, they are themes that go well with the Addams Family. At the very least, the plot isn’t yet another version of “a normal family moves in next door” – or at least, it isn’t just that.

There’s a long and storied legacy to live up to whenever someone attempts a new version of The Addams Family. Some versions are better regarded than others, and time will tell if this take on The Addams Family will be regarded fondly. It just feels so underwhelming. Unfortunately, the animation comes off as somewhat flat and noticeably cheaper than the big-budget work of major Hollywood animation studios. The movie’s plot is very slight and feels more like a TV episode than a feature film. Margaux’s mission to drive the Addamses out to increase house sales in Assimilation is the A-plot and Pugsley’s preparation for the Mazurka is the B-plot.

The movie also sometimes succumbs to the gimmicks that are commonly seen in animated films that try to toss the accompanying parents a bone. The chief of this is the casting of Snoop Dogg as Cousin Itt, whose speech is famously garbled, therefore making the casting of a big name in the role especially pointless, and that’s apparently supposed to be the joke.

The movie struggles with how weird and dark it should go, because it’s ostensibly still aimed at kids. Directors Conrad Vernon and Craig Tierney also made Sausage Party, so they’re no strangers to more adult animated material. However, The Addams Family has most of the edges sanded off. The jokes are all on the safe side of dark, and while there are delightful moments like Morticia using her parents’ ashes as makeup, the movie never truly lives up to the potential of the franchise. This is not the first version of The Addams Family to have this problem, but in making it commercial and accessible, the filmmakers lose some of the subversiveness that is key to the appeal of these characters. The project was apparently conceived as a stop-motion animation project to be directed by Tim Burton, before eventually morphing into what it is now. That would certainly have been more interesting.

Summary: The Addams Family is a largely competent but unremarkable incarnation of the long-time goth icons. An impressive voice cast cannot disguise that this is ultimately a cookie-cutter animated movie that just isn’t weird enough to rank among the best versions of The Addams Family.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Incredibles 2 movie review

For inSing

INCREDIBLES 2

Director : Brad Bird
Cast : Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson, Brad Bird, Jonathan Banks, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Sophia Bush, Phil LaMarr
Genre : Animation/Family/Action
Run Time : 125 mins
Opens : 14 June 2018
Rating : PG

A lot can happen in 14 years. While that’s how long audiences have had to wait for a sequel to Pixar’s The Incredibles, barely a minute has elapsed in-universe.

Incredibles 2 picks up right where the first film left off. Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), his wife Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), and their children Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Milner) and Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) seem like the ideal crime-fighting family. However, superheroes are still deemed illegal, with the authorities blaming the Incredibles and their ilk for the collateral damage incurred.

Enter Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), heir to a telecommunications fortune and superhero fanboy. Together with his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), Winston runs DeavorTech and has a plan to win over the public and lawmakers, to make superheroes legal again. Bob feels a touch insecure when DeavorTech gravitates towards Helen, making her the face of this campaign while he’s left at home looking after the children.

To complicate things, Jack-Jack begins manifesting an array of powers. In the meantime, Elastigirl faces off against a dastardly villain called ‘the Screenslaver’, who hypnotises his victims via monitors. Together with long-time allies Lucius Best/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) and fashion designer Edna Mode (Brad Bird), The Parr family must adjust to the new status quo and save the world while they’re at it.

A follow-up to The Incredibles has been one of the most-requested films from Pixar fans. That movie was a game-changer, a stylish superhero film that also served as meta commentary on the superhero phenomenon. It’s been said that The Incredibles is the best Fantastic Four movie that could ever be made. It also touched on similar themes as the considerably more adult graphic novel Watchmen, primarily the relationship between superheroes and the public they protect, and following superheroes after they retire and attempt to adjust to everyday life.

As such, expectations for Incredibles 2 are sky-high. The film mostly meets those expectations. It’s unavoidable that the 14-year wait has dilated those expectations, but it’s important to consider how much the pop culture landscape has changed, and how big a boom the comic book movie genre has experienced in those intervening years. While Incredibles 2 isn’t as ground-breaking as its predecessor, it’s still enjoyable and, as expected from Pixar, finely made.

Many of the design elements first seen in The Incredibles are vividly expanded upon here. The appealing 50s-tinged retro-futurism is turbo-charged here – writer-director Brad Bird displays a similar mastery of nostalgia as he did with The Iron Giant. The Parrs move into a house that strongly resembles Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, and Michael Giacchino’s score homages both John Barry’s James Bond scores and Neal Hefti’s Batman ’66 theme. The influence of the classic Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons is also strongly felt. It’s nostalgia on multiple levels, since audiences are already nostalgic for the first Incredibles film. However, most nostalgia-driven media these days is centred around the 80s or 90s, not the 50s, giving Incredibles 2 a degree of novelty.

The action set pieces are marvels to behold. From the city-spanning spectacle of Elastgirl attempting to halt a runaway train to the physical comedy of Jack-Jack tussling with an unruly raccoon, Incredibles 2 packs in memorable, eye-catching moments. Several new superheroes, including the portal-generating Voyd (Sophia Bush), allow for even more dynamic visual invention. Every comic book movie seems to struggle with outdoing the last in terms of delivering spectacle, so its admirable that the action sequences in Incredibles 2 are as stylish and animated with as much panache as they are.

The characterisation remains consistent, and much of the fun and the heart in this film, as with the previous one, is in how convincing the Parrs are as a family unit. Superpowers may be thrown into the mix, but the interactions between parents and children are eminently relatable. Bob struggles with feeling inadequate as the spotlight is placed squarely on his wife, and the film fleshes this out instead of reducing it to a single joke. We see Bob try to be a good father to his three kids, struggling with understanding new math, helping Violet deal with relationship issues, and wrangling Jack-Jack, who can now disappear between dimensions (among other things).

Helen wants to be there for her family, but enjoys the thrill of solo superhero work, realising how much she’s missed that. Given how filmgoers are opening up to female-led superhero movies, it makes sense to train the spotlight on Elastigirl.

The Screenslaver has a cool gimmick and his character is commentary on our dependence on passive consumption of media. It’s meta, but not quite as meta as this reviewer was hoping. A supervillain with the power to control minds and brainwash heroes to do his bidding is hardly a fresh idea, but Incredibles 2 mostly makes it work.

The show is completely stolen by Jack-Jack. The film relishes in depicting the various mind-boggling abilities he exhibits, and how Bob and the other kids attempt to wrangle him. Lucius’ reaction to Jack-Jack’s powers is priceless, and the scene in which Bob goes to Edna for advice regarding the baby is hilarious. Despite a tendency to take the form of a demon, Jack-Jack is adorably good-natured yet not overly cutesy.

If you loved The Incredibles, there’s a lot in Incredibles 2 to enjoy. It might not reach the same heights as its predecessor, nor is it as poignant and emotional as many Pixar films, but it’s clear that plenty of love and effort went into constructing this stylish, entertaining movie.

Bao, the short film directed by Domee Shi that precedes the feature, is a gorgeously-animated, adorable and heart-rending meditation on empty nest syndrome which also plays on how integral food is to familial relations in Chinese families. Try not to watch it hungry.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Drawing of the Three: Animated Threequels

For inSing

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.

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 Cars 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.

the-lego-batman-movie-batman-robin-alfred-and-barbara-in-the-scuttler-cockpit

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.

the-lego-batman-movie-batman-1

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.

the-lego-batman-movie-batman-in-costume-chamber

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.

the-lego-batman-movie-robins-cape-in-batmans-face

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.

the-lego-batman-movie-speedwagon

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.

sing-group-shot

“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.

sing-buster-moon-and-miss-crawley

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.

sing-gunter-and-rosita

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.

sing-ash

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.

sing-johnny

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