Toy Story 4 review

For inSing

TOY STORY 4

Director: Josh Cooley
Cast : Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Christina Hendricks, Joan Cusack, Madeleine McGraw, Keanu Reeves, June Squibb
Genre : Comedy/Animation/Family
Run Time : 1 h 40 mins
Opens : 20 June 2019
Rating : PG

            The denizens of Andy’s toy box are back, reuniting audiences with friends old and new in the fourth instalment of Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story film series.

At the end of Toy Story 3, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Hamm (John Ratzenberger) and the other toys were given by Andy to a young girl named Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). A few years later, Bonnie is starting kindergarten, and at orientation, she makes a new toy from arts and crafts: Forky (Tony Hale), who is comprised of a disposable spork, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, a popsicle stick and plasticine.

Forky becomes Bonnie’s favourite toy, but Woody and the other toys have a hard time dealing with Forky because formerly being a spork, this new existence has been unexpectedly thrust upon him. When Bonnie takes Woody, Buzz, Forky and other toys along with her on a road trip with her parents, Forky attempts to escape. While chasing after him, Woody discovers an antique store where the long-lost Bo Peep (Annie Potts) now lives. The antique store is also home to the doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her unsettling army of ventriloquist dummy henchmen. Woody must escape Gabby Gabby’s clutches and bring Forky back to Bonnie, as his unexpected reunion with Bo Peep upends his existence.

The Toy Story trilogy comes extremely close to perfection, and the announcement of a fourth film was met with understandable scepticism. We should’ve known that Pixar would deliver – while it may not have the richness and complexity that Toy Story 3 did, Toy Story 4 is an excellent addition to the series. Josh Cooley, who started out at Pixar as a storyboard artist on The Incredibles, helms a film that is funny, thrilling and moving. It’s a road trip movie that hits all the right notes.

Thematically, Toy Story 4 is about purpose, and what happens when purpose goes unfulfilled. The purpose of a children’s toy is to be played with, and multiple characters in the film long to be loved by their owners but have instead been neglected. This has been a running theme in the series, but Toy Story 4 emphasises it by re-introducing Bo Peep. Through the Forky character, the film explores what exactly it means to be a toy.

The animation is, as expected, technically polished. The film places familiar characters in unfamiliar environments, with the main new locations being the bright, inviting travelling fairground and the shadowy, dusty antique store. Key to making the fantastical premises of toys that come alive work is in establishing the world as believable and tactile, which is accomplished here. Great attention is paid to the geometry of the set-pieces, in which potential dangers and obstacles are highlighted before the characters attempt to navigate them.

Many of the voice actors from the previous films return. Once again, it’s Woody who drives the story, with Tom Hanks’ performances helping to further flesh the character out. Woody’s insecurities were the catalyst of the conflict in the first Toy Story film, as he felt threatened by Buzz’s entrance onto the scene. In this film, Woody’s insecurities manifest in his fear of becoming a ‘lost toy’, and he projects some of these feelings onto Forky. It’s a satisfying arc that makes sense for the character.

Bo Peep has been turned into a resourceful action heroine, not entirely unlike Rey from the Star Wars sequel trilogy – they even both wield a staff. Bo Peep was absent from the third film, with Annie Potts returning to voice her. Her relationship with Woody and his reaction to how she has changed play a big part in the plot of this film, and the film attempts to give both parties closure.

Christina Hendricks’ Gabby Gabby is ostensibly the film’s antagonist, even if she’s not exactly a villain. There are superficial similarities between her and Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear, the villain of Toy Story 3, but Gabby is a less interesting character. She still manages to be equally threatening and empathetic – the film’s horror movie-inspired sequences are entertaining but stop short of being legitimately traumatising.

Tony Hale charmingly captures the neuroses of Forky, who is caught in the throes of existential panic. The idea behind the character is a witty one, and the film manages to get more out of Forky than just the one joke that he’s a toy who’s freaking out because he was not meant to be a toy.

The duo of Key and Peele voice plush toys Ducky and Bunny and provide some of the biggest laughs in the film, with a standout sequence being their plan to acquire a set of keys from the elderly owner of the antique store. The movie uses them just enough, such that their presence doesn’t feel overly gimmicky.

Another standout character is Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves). Reeves is enjoying a surge in popularity following the release of John Wick: Chapter 3, Always Be My Maybe and the announcement that he will be in the videogame Cyberpunk 2077. An Evel Knievel-type daredevil stuntman Duke seems to have come straight out of Robot Chicken. Reeves bring enthusiasm, gruffness and a hint of a Canadian accent to the part.

Director Cooley was 15 when the first Toy Story movie came out, and it’s remarkable that the series has maintained such consistently high quality across four instalments released over 24 years. Toy Story 4 offers up a beautifully realised adventure and engaging character dynamics, bringing more to the table than mere nostalgia. Yes, a fourth Toy Story film is not strictly necessary, but the film radiates such warmth and good heartedness that it’s useless to resist its embrace.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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The LEGO® Movie 2 review

THE LEGO MOVIE 2

Director : Mike Mitchell
Cast : Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Charlie Day, Richard Ayoade, Maya Rudolph, Will Ferrell, Jadon Sand, Brooklyn Prince, Noel Fielding
Genre : Animation/Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 1 h 47 mins
Opens : 7 February 2019
Rating : PG

It’s been five years since The LEGO® Movie was released, defying expectations by being a movie made to sell toys that was about so much more than just selling toys. In the meantime, the spin-offs The LEGO Batman Movie and The LEGO Ninjago Movie have graced the big screens, but The LEGO Movie 2 has plenty to live up to.

The LEGO Movie ended with Bricksburg being invaded by aliens from the Systar System. Five years later, Bricksburg has become ravaged by repeated alien invasions, and is now the wasteland Apocalypseburg. Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) is still his cheery self, while the other denizens of Apocalypseburg, including Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie) and Metalbeard (Nick Offerman) have become hardened road warriors.

The latest invasion is led by General Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), who captures Lucy, Batman, Unikitty, Metalbeard and Benny the 1980-something Space Guy (Charlie Day). Mayhem takes them back to the shape-shifting alien queen of the Systar System, Watevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish). Emmet travels to outer space to save his friends, and along the way meets Rex Dangervest (also Pratt), a super-cool spacefaring explorer and crime-fighter who is everything Emmet has ever wanted to be. Lucy suspects that Watevra harbours malice, thinking she has brainwashed the others, but there’s more to this conflict than first appears.

The LEGO Movie was a beautifully-made animated film that explored surprisingly sophisticated ideas, benefitting from the gleeful but good-hearted anarchy that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller bring to their projects. The duo remains onboard as screenwriters for the sequel but pass the director’s chair on to Mike Mitchell. The LEGO Movie 2 is an excellent continuation of the first movie’s plot, delivering a different message from the first film but one that’s also clever and slyly subversive.

The first film ended with the revelation that there was a human world beyond the LEGO world and that the film’s story sprung from the imagination of a young boy named Finn (Jadon Sand). Finn’s sister Bianca (Brooklyn Prince) wants to play with him, with her contribution to Finn’s story represented as an alien invasion. This metatextual knowledge informs the audiences’ interpretation of the story, which comments on gendered toys. Toys are generally marketed to boys one way and to girls another way, and there’s a perception that boys and girls play with toys in different ways.

The LEGO Movie 2 also deals with growing up, taking advantage of the five-year gap between films. The desire to be perceived as tough, cool and well, grown-up is reflected in Emmet’s awe at his newfound ally Rex. Emmet’s cheerful optimism is often taken as naivete; he wishes that he could be tougher and cooler because he thinks that’s what Lucy wants of him. The movie comments on masculinity in an astute way – there are some parallels between Emmet and Hiccup, the protagonist of the How to Train Your Dragon Movies, in that both are not traditionally badass heroes. The LEGO Movie 2 addresses why it’s important that Emmet retains the essence of who he is.

Just like in the first film, there’s the sense of imagination running amok without the movie feeling like a mess. There’s a straightforward narrative trajectory and a twist or two towards the end, but there’s a joke every other minute and the film constantly feels alive. The innumerable pop culture references feel organic rather than mechanically slotted in. The animation by Animal Logic is just as dynamic and eye-catching as in the previous LEGO movies. The photo-realistic CGI animation creates the illusion of stop-motion animation and makes each LEGO brick and element feel tactile.

The returning cast is a joy to hear. From Alison Brie’s mix of innocence and rage as Unikitty to Charlie Day’s unbridled, single-minded enthusiasm as Benny, these are eminently loveable characters. Pratt shines in a dual role, with Rex Dangervest riffing on other Pratt roles including Star-Lord from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Owen Grady from the Jurassic World movies and Joshua Faraday from the Magnificent Seven remake (with a possible nod towards Cowboy Ninja Viking, still in development).

Lucy’s character is shaded in a little more, with the indication that her cool, rebellious exterior is an affectation. Will Arnett’s portrayal of Batman as a self-obsessed loner continues to be amusing, with Batman’s own complex figuring heavily into the plot of this film.

Tiffany Haddish is a hot commodity in the movie business after the success of Girls Trip, lending plenty of personality to Watevra, a mercurial force of nature. Stephanie Beatriz voicing a LEGO character is especially rich because she got her signature eyebrow scar from tripping on a LEGO brick at age 10.

The LEGO Movie 2 hits the sweet spot of being a family film that isn’t condescending to kids and isn’t pandering to adults. There’s something for everybody, and it doesn’t feel forced. There’s surprising poignancy to the message at its heart, but it’s also consistently funny and lively. Because it’s a sequel, it doesn’t have the explosive freshness of the first film, but it’s a satisfying and intelligent follow-up that has plenty to offer.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Ralph Breaks the Internet movie review

RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET

Director : Rich Moore, Phil Johnston
Cast : John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Taraji P. Henson, Alfred Molina, Alan Tudyk, Flula Borg
Genre : Animation/Comedy/Family
Run Time : 113 mins
Opens : 22 November 2018
Rating : PG

Ralph-Breaks-The-Internet-posterWreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) may come from different arcade games, but after the events of the first Wreck-It Ralph film, they’ve become inseparable. In this sequel, the good-hearted oaf and the hyperactive princess get a lot more than they bargained for as they venture into the wild wild web.

It has been six years since Ralph and Vanellope became friends, and while Ralph finds comfort in the predictability of his daily routine as the designated villain  in the Fix-It Felix game, Vanellope has grown restless, the tracks of Sugar Rush no longer providing any excitement. When the steering wheel component of the Sugar Rush console breaks, Ralph and Vanellope use the arcade’s newly-installed connection to the internet to seek a replacement.

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In the cyber realm, our heroes meet all manner of colourful characters, including the badass driver Shank (Gal Gadot) from Slaughter Race, Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), head algorithm of video sharing site BuzzTube, search engine KnowsMore (Alan Tudyk) and all the Disney princesses. While the internet contains endless wonderment and awe, there is also a dark side that Ralph and Vanellope are exposed to. When a calamity that could possibly break the internet is accidentally unleashed, Ralph and Vanellope’s friendship (and the computing power of servers around the world) will be put to the ultimate test.

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2012’s Wreck-It Ralph is one of this reviewer’s favourite Disney animated films in recent memory. It’s an energetic, effervescent film that cannily plays with video game tropes while delivering a heartfelt story populated by loveable characters. The sequel turbo-charges this, taking place on a larger scale and crammed with pop culture references, wordplay jokes and visual gags. Amidst everything swirling about in the teeming metropolis that is the internet, Ralph Breaks the Internet holds together because of its focus on the friendship between Ralph and Vanellope.

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It’s easy to be cynical about a movie like Ralph Breaks the Internet, given that much of the story and humour is fuelled by online culture. Co-director Rich Moore cut his teeth on such series as The Critic, The Simpsons and Futurama, bringing much of that self-aware reference-heavy comedy to bear. A Grand Theft Auto-like game is crucial to the plot, Vanellope hangs out with Disney princesses, and Ralph attempts makeup tutorial, hot pepper eating challenge and unboxing videos, among others, in the hopes of becoming a viral sensation. The jokes could’ve very easily been too obvious or cringe-worthy, but in the hands of directors Moore and Phil Johnston, this film never feels like it’s made by clueless adults pandering to kids they don’t understand.

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As is expected from Disney Animation, the visuals brim with detail and the character animation is just the right amount of cartoony, the degree to which their features and expressions are heightened varying from character to character. There is a high-octane car chase straight out of the Fast and Furious films, and the visual interpretations of sites like eBay, Instagram and Pinterest are well thought-out and amusing.

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The film’s signature sequence is the meeting between Vanellope and every official Disney Princess, including Snow White (Pamela Ribon), Cinderella (Jennifer Hale), Aurora (Kate Higgins), Ariel (Jodie Benson), Belle (Paige O’Hara), Jasmine (Linda Larkin), Pocahontas (Irene Bedard), Mulan (Ming-Na Wen), Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), Merida (Kelly McDonald), Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Moana (Auli’i Cravalho). Ribon, a screenwriter who also worked on Moana, conceptualised the scene. The House of Mouse gamely and entertainingly takes the Mickey out of its own core sub-brand, commenting on common tropes seen in the Princess movies while providing the fantasy imagery of all one’s favourite characters just hanging out together. Vanellope also runs into Marvel and Star Wars characters, and there is a cameo that is wont to tug on the heartstrings given recent events.

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Both Reilly and Silverman continue to provide great humanity and heart to their characters. Ralph has never had a real friend before Vanellope, and is understandably distraught at the prospect that he might be replaced as her best friend. Meanwhile, Vanellope struggles with issues of identity and belonging, feeling like she is meant for something greater and perhaps a little less safe than Sugar Rush. While the misunderstandings that occur between Ralph and Vanellope feel a little like a re-tread of the conflicts in the first film, both characters continue to develop and continue to be endearing.

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Gal Gadot plays a character who is pretty much exactly Gisele from the Fast and Furious series, which is a neat little nod. Taraji P. Henson voices the Yesss with effortless cool, with real-life YouTube personality Flula Borg as Yesss’ right-hand man Maybe. Alan Tudyk, Disney’s current lucky charm, voices KnowsMore; he voiced King Candy in the first film.

Ralph-Breaks-The-Internet-Ralph-Yesss-and-Vanellope

While Ralph Breaks the Internet’s pop culture reference jokes might lose some of the younger kids, its eye-catching design and heart-warming character interactions will hold their interest. The film doesn’t reach the surprising emotional heights of the first film, nor is it as creative and fresh, but it’s still plenty of fun and utterly hilarious. Stick around for a scene after the main-on-end titles and another at the very end of the credits.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Coco Movie Review

For inSing

COCO

Director : Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Voice Cast : Gael García Bernal, Anthony Gonzalez, Benjamin Bratt, Renée Victor
Genre : Animation/Comedy/Musical
Run Time : 109 mins (+22 mins for Olaf’s Frozen Adventure)
Opens : 23 November 2017
Rating : PG

Coco-posterThe dead have never been more alive than in this animated fantasy-comedy-musical. Nobody’s suffering from even the slightest hint of rigor mortis, and the Land of the Dead is filled with dancing and singing. That’s not to say there isn’t drama afoot.

Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez) is a 12-year-old boy who dreams of being a musician, and who idolises the singer and film star Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), the most famous musician in the history of Mexico. There’s just one catch: music is forbidden from the Rivera household. This is because Miguel’s great-great-grandmother Mamá Imelda (Alanna Ubach) was married to a musician, who abandoned the family and broke her heart. Miguel’s great-grandmother Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia), the oldest living member of the Rivera clan, has never quite recovered from this.

On the night of Día de Muertos, the Day of the Dead celebration, the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest. Miguel accidentally finds himself a visitor in the Land of the Dead where he meets his deceased relatives, who attempt to get Miguel safely home to the land of the living. Miguel befriends the roguish trickster Hector (Gael García Bernal), who says he can help Miguel cross back. It’s a family reunion between the living and the dead, but it’s also a race against time – if Miguel doesn’t make it back by sunrise, he will find himself a permanent resident in this ghostly realm.

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The Mexican tradition of Día de Muertos has figured in popular culture before, notably in the computer game Grim Fandango, the earlier animated film The Book of Life, and in the pre-titles sequence of the Bond movie Spectre. Día de Muertos embodies an uplifting attitude towards death that treats it as a part of life – death is still mourned, but perhaps is not as feared or as a dreaded as in other cultures.

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Coco does not appear to cherry-pick elements of Mexican culture to bolt on to a generic product. This is a film which is richly authentic and takes sheer delight in being so. While director Unkrich is white and was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Coco does not feel like the work of a curious outsider peering in through the window. The screenplay is credited to Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich, and this is a strong, fully-realised story. Molina was promoted to co-director partway through production. The central conceit is clever, the characters are distinctive but not overly gimmicky, and the jaw-dropping twist is sheer masterful storytelling.

This being a Pixar film, the visuals are a joy to behold. The animation team had to rethink how the characters move, since the skeletal denizens of the afterlife do not have the musculature which informs how flesh-and-blood human beings move. The designers have great fun devising the look of the Land of the Dead. It’s colourful and zany, but everything feels guided by rock-solid design principles, and not one detail seems superfluous.

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Directors of photography Matt Aspbury and Danielle Feinberg utilise warm lighting that makes the afterlife appear inviting and festive rather than foreboding, while keeping it otherworldly. The film features a variety of creatures known as Alebrije, which function as spirit guides. Mama Imelda’s Alebrije, a winged jaguar called Pepita, is especially striking. Miguel’s ‘Alebrije’ of sorts is a mangy-but-loveable stray dog named Dante – after Dante’s Inferno.

The voice actors impart believable verve, and are just heightened and theatrical enough without coming off as too over-the-top. Miguel is eminently loveable, and the character’s conflict between following his passion for music and the life his family dictates for him is one that is readily relatable.

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The Hector character is a likeable scamp who can fast-talk his way out of any jam, and who ‘knows a guy who knows a guy’. Once Hector is introduced, we think we’ve got him all figured out, since he fits that old archetype to a tee. Bernal lends the character surprising nuance, and as we learn more about him, there’s considerable depth to be found.

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Bratt has fun as the beloved matinee idol Ernesto de la Cruz. He sings the song “Remember Me”, but for the other songs, Ernesto’s singing voice is provided by Antonio Sol. The mini-mythology of the canon of songs that Ernesto has sung and movies he’s starred in provides valuable texture to the world.

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As in almost every culture, music figures heavily in Mexican traditions. Coco features songs written by Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez of Frozen fame, as well as Germaine Franco and co-screenwriter Molina. The film’s signature song “Remember Me” is a stirring, evocative number and it works as a crucial plot point as well as it does a standalone ballad.

Coco did not just move this reviewer to tears, it made him bawl. There’s power and enveloping warmth to this tale and the visually inventive way in which it’s told. Just as Inside Out was the launchpad for many a family discussion on mental health after watching the movie, Coco is a great way for kids to process death and how it is a part of life. Steeped in a fascinating culture and bringing that culture to mass audiences, Coco is an all-involving celebratory masterpiece.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Lego Ninjago Movie

For inSing

THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE 

Director : Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
Cast : Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Jackie Chan, Abbi Jacobson, Kumail Nanjiani, Zach Woods, Michael Peña, Fred Armisen, Olivia Munn
Genre : Animation/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 41m
Opens : 28 September 2017
Rating : PG

After taking a journey to Gotham City in The Lego Batman Movie, this second spin-off of The Lego Movie whisks audiences to Ninjago. This mythical realm, which incorporates elements of Feudal Japan with modern metropolises like Hong Kong, is constantly under threat of invasion by the evil Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux). As a result, Garmadon’s son Lloyd (Dave Franco) is shunned by the citizens of Ninjago. He finds acceptance in his mother Koko (Olivia Munn), as well as his friends Kai (Michael Peña), Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), Nya (Abbi Jacobson), Zane (Zach Woods) and Cole (Fred Armisen). Lloyd and his friends have secret double lives as ninjas who operate giant mecha and protect Ninjago City from Garmadon’s attacks, under the tutelage of Lloyd’s uncle, the wise Master Wu (Jackie Chan). Lloyd is torn between his duty to defeat Garmadon’s troops and his desire for a normal, loving relationship with his estranged father, with the fate of the city and Lloyd’s bond with his friends at stake.

Lego’s Ninjago theme is one of its more successful product lines in recent years, running since 2011 and spawning an animated series. The film departs from the plot of the series, but Dan and Kevin Hageman, who wrote the TV show, receive a ‘story by’ credit here. Meshing a Feudal Japanese aesthetic with anime-inspired mecha-punk, the underlying design principle provides endless interesting possibilities for toys of all kinds.

The Lego Ninjago Movie, like its predecessors The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie, is primarily a long, elaborate toy commercial. However, it’s entertaining enough to justify its existence. The photo-realistic animation by Australian-based visual effects house Animal Logic is vibrant and hyper-detailed – while the process of animating this film must’ve been technically complicated, it looks like the animators had lots of fun doing it.

There are lots of jokes and several delightful visual gags, but parents should bear in mind that the film is heavily geared towards the younger set. The humour isn’t embarrassingly juvenile, but it tends towards extreme silliness. The film has six credited screenwriters, usually a sign that things will be scattershot and cluttered. Like The Lego Batman Movie, it has a bit of a ‘punched-up’ feel to it – the presence of comedians brought in to add jokes after the script has already been written is strongly felt. The Lego Ninjago Movie also borrows heavily from classic martial arts movies, and its moral is as old as the hills – ‘the power was inside you all along’. While The Lego Ninjago Movie winks and nods at its influences, it’s also too straightforward in its plot to come off as particularly inventive.

Our team of heroes is pretty much the Power Rangers – colour-coded teen ninjas who operate giant, awesome mechas themed to each of their personas. As with most movies featuring an ensemble cast, there isn’t nearly enough time to give all the characters enough definition. As such, everyone in the team apart from Lloyd feels defined by their powers and some superficial character traits. This is clearly Lloyd’s story, with everyone else taking a backseat and some talented comedians given short shrift in the voiceover booth.

Franco lends Lloyd enough likeable earnestness such that he doesn’t come as a boring, de-facto hero. Theroux steals the show, relishing the over-the-top villain role and giving Garmadon oodles of personality. Lord Garmadon belongs to the Dr. Evil/Dr. Drakken/Mojo Jojo school of comical supervillain. The strained relationship between pillaging, conquering dad and city-saving son generates laughs and, eventually, warm fuzzy feelings. It is interesting that all three theatrically-released Lego movies thus far have featured father-son relationships so heavily.

Jackie Chan’s wheelhouse might be physical comedy, but he proves adequately adept at funny line delivery. There is very little that distinguishes Master Wu from similar characters like Kung Fu Panda’s Master Shifu, or indeed The Lego Movie’s Vitruvius. Chan does figure in the film’s framing device, which we shan’t spoil.

Kids are sure to leave the theatre pestering their parents to buy one or more (likely more) of the tie-in Lego sets. Adults might roll their eyes at some of the goofier jokes, but the film moves along quickly and is entertaining enough that you won’t hear too many complaints from accompanying adults.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Boss Baby

For F*** Magazine

THE BOSS BABY 

Director : Tom McGrath
Cast : Alec Baldwin, Miles Bakshi, Tobey Maguire, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow
Genre : Animation/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 38min
Opens : 30 March 2017
Rating : PG

Alec Baldwin recently played the sitting President of the United States on Saturday Night Live. In this animated film, Baldwin plays a character who wears better-fitting suits, is more articulate, throws fewer tantrums, but has the same sized hands.

Virtually every review of The Boss Baby will open with or otherwise contain a passage just like the one above, but it’s just too difficult to pass up the comparison. Baldwin voices the title character, a corporate high flyer who just happens to be an infant. He is dispatched to the Templeton family by Baby Corp, after the love that babies in general are receiving is threatened by ever-cuter breeds of puppies. Mr. and Mrs. Templeton (Kimmel and Kudrow) work for Puppy Corp, so the Boss Baby attempts to infiltrate the company via his new parents. Seven-year-old Tim Templeton (Bakshi) has a feeling that something’s amiss with his new baby brother, and quickly discovers the Boss Baby’s secret. Even though they strongly dislike each other, Tim and the Boss Baby must cooperate to stop a dastardly scheme engineered by Puppy Corp’s CEO, Francis E. Francis (Buscemi).

The Boss Baby is directed by Tom McGrath, who directed Megamind, co-directed the Madagascar films and voiced Skipper the Penguin. Dreamworks Animation has built its brand as being more cynical and wiseacre than other studios that cater to children. The Shrek films were a vehicle for Dreamworks studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg to express his spite towards Disney, his former place of employment. You get the occasional oddity like Bee Movie. There’s an expectation that there will be lots of pop culture references. Big-name stars are slotted in, regardless of whether they’re capable voice actors. The best Dreamworks films, like the two How to Train Your Dragon movies, are praised as being “Pixar-like”.

The fundamental problem with The Boss Baby is that this is a premise which some suits in a boardroom found amusing. Much of the humour is derived from the incongruity of an infant spouting business jargon, and that the Boss Baby salivates at the thought of a gleaming corner office in Baby Corp. This is not stuff that kids will connect to. In the meantime, the parents will be alienated by the typical bodily function gross-out jokes. Family-aimed animated films can package challenging themes in a palatable way, the example that springs to mind being the recent Oscar winner Zootopia. The Boss Baby doesn’t do this at all. The best animated films are easy to connect and get lost in, when it’s clear that The Boss Baby was the brainchild of a bored studio exec.

Even though the premise doesn’t work as a whole, there are individual parts of The Boss Baby that are entertaining. The animation is lively, and there’s an inventive stylistic flourish in how Tim’s overactive imagination is depicted in a simpler, more colourful animation style. There’s an unexpected grandeur to the soundtrack composed by Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazarro, which is influenced by the big band style. The Tim character is likeable and has adequate personality thanks to Bakshi’s performance. Baldwin also showcases keen comic timing, even though his turn as Santa Claus in Dreamworks’ Rise of the Guardians was more fun.

Buscemi, replacing the initially-cast Kevin Spacey, can play ‘weaselly’ in his sleep. It’s a fine performance, but nothing we haven’t heard from him before. Kimmel and Kudrow are serviceable but unremarkable as the Templeton parents. Weirdly enough, there isn’t a scene-stealing supporting character, when Dreamworks movies can often be counted upon to provide those.

Throwing the parents a bone in the form of a pop culture reference or two is fine, and can be amusing if done right. However, The Boss Baby has entire scenes built around homages to films that its target audience will not be familiar with, including a gag spoofing the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. There’s also the “cookies are for closers” line, a nod to “coffee is for closers” from Glengarry Glen Ross, in which Baldwin starred opposite Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon. These moments geared towards older audience members do not gel with the lowbrow humour, such that it’s not quite clear who exactly The Boss Baby is for.

While The Boss Baby can be viewed as a comically exaggerated allegory for sibling rivalry and it does get some moving moments in, cynicism is always bubbling beneath its talcum powdered skin.

Summary: An animated film with a half-clever premise, The Boss Baby’s corporate-themed plot will fly over the heads of most younger viewers, while the adults will barely tolerate the lowbrow gross-out jokes.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong