Tag: Animation

Batman: Death in the Family (2020) Review 1

Batman: Death in the Family (2020) Review

Batman: A Death in the Family stands out as the comic that rocked Bat fans with its slaughtering of Jason Todd at the hands of Joker. But it wasn’t only Todd’s jarring death that made the book memorable, but the break between issues where fans were given a difficult choice to make: should Robin live or die? Fans phoned in and voted for the death of Bats’ sidekick, a decision that still stuns fans and makes them wonder what could have been. Batman: Death in the Family, DC animation’s new interactive Blu-ray, attempts to give us some answers.

In what appears to take place in animation canon with two other DC animated features, after Batman: The Killing Joke and before Batman: Under the Redhood, Batman: Death in the Family starts by sending Batman and Jason Todd, the current Robin, off to Bosnia to hunt down Joker and Ra’s Al Ghul. Batman had previously expressed concerns about Todd in the field, worried that he’s too bent on revenge and wishing for the death of the Clown Prince. The pair head for Bosnia and soon after, Todd is captured by Joker and beaten almost to death with that famous crowbar and left to die, locked in a warehouse with a time bomb.

That’s when viewers are given their first choice; kill Robin, let Robin survive on his own, or send Batman to save him. Each choice will set off varying versions of events that take Batman and Todd through numerous paths. Each path answers the darkest “what if?” questions before then being split by successive decision-making. It’s a disaster of a blast.

Batman: Death in the Family

The first trip I took through the story was a gut wrenching and fresh story for Todd that had me shrieking and crying in good measure. Replaying my way through was simple, as the Blu-ray has an easy-to-use interface that allows you to skip back to decisions with relative ease versus needing to sit through certain segments multiple times. While each pathway was enjoyable enough to make going back through them all worth it, not all pathways are created equally. Some came with new storylines and killer animation, but some were replays of Batman: Under the Redhood sequences or were carried by narrated exposition as opposed to new dialogue. The best parts of them all are the easter eggs both from canon and other Batman story lines, referencing various Robin successors, Joker’s ‘last joke,’ and even Zur En Arrh. Keen Bat fans will have fun peeking into the background for stills from other stories on screens, and casual conversations referencing older moments.

As a gimmick, the “choose your own adventure” style of the Blu-ray is well done and a lot of fun. It does a great job of dragging you into the story, making you feel culpable for certain outcomes and experiencing “monkey’s paw” regret. Though the Blu-ray comes with the varying choices, the matching digital version includes the more aptly named pre-made version, Under the Red Hood: Reloaded and additional predetermined stories, Jason Todd’s Rebellion, Robin’s Revenge and Red Hood’s Reckoning.

Batman: Death in the Family

Though named more similarly to the comic book, this animated feature follows much more closely to the story of Batman: Under the Redhood (from Judd Winick), which is a bit of a strange choice for a new feature to be a rehashing of an old. Animated features often borrow story beats from slightly differently named comic books (for instance Batman and Son versus Son of Batman) and this one follows that same tradition but rehashes old animated scenes. The comic book, (written by Jim Starlin and illustrated by Jim Aparo) like this feature, starts with Batman sidelining Todd over concerns of his impulse control. Todd, having learned he was adopted, sets off to track his birth mother in the Middle East. He stumbles across Batman who is also there to hunt down Joker. Todd’s story turns tragic before his eventual death, when his mother sells him out to Joker who takes his life. The story then explores Batman after the death of Todd. It’s unfair to demand the movie do everything the book does, or to expect the film to be identical to its source material, but the slick removal of these larger story elements takes a lot of the weight out of Todd’s various outcomes. The betrayal by his father figure, Batman, and his biological mother before his death support his rise to villainy. Batman struggling with the death of his Robin is a compelling addition to him taking the death of his charge (differently) than that of his parents. For Batman aficionados, it’s easy to read these things into the story which allows the heavy moments to hit incredibly well, but for a casual viewer, a lot of the emotional weight might not be there. To replace that, the film jams in Batman: The Killing Joke continuity, centering the emotional weight around avenging Barbara Gordon.

The animation and voice acting are as exceptional as you expect from DC’ animated features. Bruce Greenwood and John DiMaagio return as Batman and Joker respectively, which is fitting with the Batman: Under the Redhood overlap. Vincent Martella takes over as Jason Todd and brings an emotional flare that takes you into his head.

Though Brandon Vietti’s take on the narrative borrows a bit too much from another animated feature, and not enough from its matching comic book, he has created a compelling story that utilizes the interactive elements well enough to make the whole adventure worth the run time.

Batman: Death in the Family

Also included with the Blu-ray are four animated shorts from the DC Showcase. Sgt. Rock, directed by Batman: TAS’ Bruce Timm, takes Rock on a mission alongside universal monsters to hunt Nazi experiment generated super soldiers. The Phantom Stranger, also by Bruce Timm, sets the titular character up against a version of the devil who is compelling lost young people in the 1970s. Adam Strange, by Butch Lukic, brings a non-chronological story of Strange being lost on a mining colony hoping to find his way home. Death, by Sam Liu, borrows from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman for a short about an artist taking on his inner demons with the help of a mysterious woman who has hints of Eyptian patron of lost souls, Anubis. This was the strongest of the four. The shorts are fine, and are created by many DC heavyweights, but they’re forgettable enough that I can’t imagine firing up a Blu-ray to re-watch them. They’re most certainly a bonus, and not the main event.

This interactive Blu-ray in an incredibly entertaining way to burn through an afternoon. It never lets you zone out of the film, forcing your attention onto a story that’s worth your interest. Though it often feels like a replay of dusty old assets, there is enough new material to take with you to other stories of characters like Red Hood, Red Robin and Hush, finally allowing you to see what would happen if Jason Todd had been spared.

TIFF 2020: Wolfwalkers Review 1

TIFF 2020: Wolfwalkers Review

Animation has always held a special place in my heart and, despite my age, I always find myself sucked in when I see something hand drawn. As the industry moves further away from the medium, it is hard to find truly unique works of animation—that’s not to say they’re not out there, but for every Klaus, or Into the Spiderverse; there is amyriad of CGI, pop-culture reference-filled shlock that fills most screens these days.

This is why Kilkenny based Cartoon Saloon is such a rare breed. Known for such films as: The Secret of Kells, and Song of the Sea; they have a style all their own—drawing on myth and legend to craft works that are as engaging as they are stunning to look at. At TIFF 2020, their latest film: Wolfwalkers, delivered on past promise by offering up a stunning deep and heartfelt take on Celtic folklore, and is a truly special film that deserves your attention.

Wolfwalkers (2020) – Cartoon Saloon

Wolfwalkers takes places under the specter of British colonization in Ireland during 1650. With the city slowly expanding, moving into the surrounding forests, the people of the area are facing more wolf attacks. Hunter Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean) and daughter Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) are here from England to try to put an end to the wolves. Both are outsiders in a new land, and are just trying to find a place for themselves, despite the city they now live wanting nothing to do with the British or either of the Goodfellowe family.

As the whispers of “Wolfwalkers,” finding their way to the town; fear of the woods and wolves has reached a fever pitch, keeping Goodfellowe very busy with his duties. With her father distracted by his work, and ostracized by the local kids for not fitting in, Robyn finds herself exploring and eventually finds herself face to face with Mebh (Eva Whittaker), one of the mythical Wolfwalkers. Human while awake, and wolf when she sleeps, Mabh is very different from Robyn, yet the two find a bond as they explore the woods, and find more about each other’s culture.

Wolfwalkers (2020) – Cartoon Saloon

Wolfwalkers manages a blend of deep concepts, with levels of wonder and fun rarely seen in modern animation. Similar in tone to many of the films from Studio Ghibli, Cartoon Saloon has made a film that both adults and children can get sucked into, without the movie feeling like it is pandering to either audience. With authentic characters, a story filled with nuance and depth, and the passion of the studio imbued within every frame on screen, Wolfwalkers is something very unlike the modern animated films currently on offer.

Speaking of style, Wolfwalkers is one of the most stunning films I have seen in years. Cartoon Saloon have crafted a movie that feels like a tapestry come to life—with every character having a look all their own. From the menacing nature of the wolves, to the loving way the characters emote giving a sense of purpose, depth and care for one another. It is so easy to forget the time and effort that must have gone into each frame of animation. With the film balancing between intense moments of dread and tension, to childlike wonder with it all working, giving the audience the full range of emotion and depth rarely seen in modern children cinema.

Wolfwalkers (2020) – Cartoon Saloon

At 105 minutes, Wolfwalkers could have been a slog, especially for a kids’ movie, yet it never drags, with the spacing and overall flow of the film working perfectly to craft the story the studio was trying to tell. This is a film that washes over you from minute one, and does not let go until the credits roll. While I am a fan of the 90-minute movie, especially when targeting kids, something about this film works, with it feeling tight, exciting and overall engaging from beginning to end. Wolfwalkers is a stand out film from TIFF and easily one of the best animation films of this year. It manages a deep, complex fable, while offering enough wonder to keep even the youngest viewer excited, all wrapped in a visually breathtaking package. If you are a fan of animation, and want to experience something rarely seen in modern animation, seek out Wolfwalkers, you won’t be disappointed.

To Your Last Death Review 1

To Your Last Death Review

Let’s start from the beginning. Miriam is the last survivor of a death trap spree, found covered in blood and shrieking that her father is the killer. Think we yada yada’d over the best part? Well you’re wrong.

To Your Last Death is an animated horror flick that uses nonlinear story telling with purpose. Opening on our final girl, Miriam Dekalb (Dani Lennon), the film quickly dives into ‘same old’ territory with a “3 Days Earlier” title card. But there’s more to the flashback than the film lets on, a lead which is very well buried by the film’s opening actions.  Miriam heads up a non-profit that seeks peace, something in stark contrast to her father’s business of developing military weaponry. While Miriam struggles for funding, her father basks in funds so when he invites her and her siblings to his head office, she’s torn between hoping he’s offering up some cash or wishing for his imminent demise. To her surprise it’s both and neither. Cyrus Dekalb (Ray Wise) is dying, and he has one last desire for his four children: capital punishment.

To Your Last Death Review 2
To Your Last Death (2020)

What’s hidden between the surface of the story of deadly games is the layer of overseers managing the story. This isn’t gong to be played like a straight game of death because those with more power than plain old humans have bigger plans.

The influences on director Jason Axinn and writers Jim Cirile and Tanya C. Klein are impossible to miss. It’s Battle Royale that reads like if Succession landed in The Belko Experiment but then got bashed in the head by Paycheck and also Jigsaw is there. It’s a lot but the simple film makes it work.

It’s an aminated feature, using 2D design which makes it feel much ore like a comic book coming to life versus a cartoon. The closest comparison would be the animation style of Archer. Carl Frank (Dungeons &Dragons, Magic: The Gathering) created the key art and character designs. It really works here as a means of keeping what is complicated pretty simple. The blood looks silly sometimes in a way that makes it work when we’re just watching scene after scene of full-blown gore that happens to have a pretty complicated story layered on top of it. There are a few reminders that it’s oddly animated like the pair of floating exposed breasts on Miriam while she has a serious conversation that could either be lauded as “finally, a break in the L shaped linen trope from movies that magically covers women up” or slammed as “dude jams tits into a random scene.” But the gore is the star here which makes this more horror than any of the other genres it fits in with, and the animation style works to death. The stellar voice cast lifts this surreal cartoon into feeling like a feature. From those mentioned to the narration of William Shatner, the voice acting sells this one in a huge way.

To Your Last Death (2020)

There are a lot of moments that gave me pause, for instance abuse and sexual assault used as motivations for the female characters when they could have been motivated countless other ways. Also, the use of some gross tropes and language coming from evil characters maybe is in line with them being evil, but could have been left out.

Watching this movie is an absolute blast. First thoughts out of its Frightfest premier suggested it would be a riot, but I truly wasn’t prepared for how it made me shout out gen Z slang while watching. It slaps. It f***s. it’s fire. It uses its medium successfully to layer the surreal and the gory onto your office building death match in ways that wouldn’t have worked in live action. That is what makes this movie an excellent whole.

To Your Last Death hits Blu-ray October 6, 2020.

Scoob Review

Scoob Review

I’ve been waiting ages for a proper theatrically released animated Scooby-Doo film. And you know what? I didn’t quite get it, as theaters are shut down right now. But still, the sentiment remains!

The semi-recent live-action attempts didn’t really deliver in the same way that say, Zombie Island did before it; as director Raja Gosnell and writer James Gunn suffered from a tonal clash in an attempt to waffle between a more mature and lighthearted Scooby film. Scoob was WB’s chance to really get back in the saddle and move the franchise forward for kids and adults alike. But in the end, they just fell short of their mark with their overzealous and overreaching attempt to make this a “universe.”

Scoob Review 3
Will Forte and Frank Welker in Scoob! (2020)

Yes, Scoob is only in part a Scooby-Doo film. Its cardinal sin: there is no real “mystery,” as the main villain’s plan is detailed in full, by the villain himself, before the narrative is even halfway over. While a lot of folks are going to go in expecting it to be an origin story, in reality, that’s just the first 15 minutes or so. After that, Scoob and Shaggy break off from the team and join up with Blue Falcon (another iconic Hanna-Barbara name that didn’t have quite the same staying power as the gang)…for pretty much the rest of the movie.

As a result, Fred, Daphne and Velma don’t really have a lot to do as the story is propelled by a sarcastic Ken Jeong (Blue Falcon’s sidekick) and Falcon himself (a lesser successor to his father, the true Blue Falcon, played by Mark Wahlberg). It’s a shame, as the first act really sets up a heartwarming Scooby-Doo story. Velma is as powerful as ever in her Supreme Court Justice garb, they discover a criminal masquerading as a ghost, and the opening montage is a lovely homage to the original “Where are You?” series. By the time we get to Captain Caveman, we’ve lost all semblance of the titular title’s nostalgia, and Velma is distilled into a general-purpose “braniac.”

That said, Scoob is still a cute little romp that a lot of kids will eat up, and although there isn’t a “mystery,” the film goes in really weird directions that will keep you busy: despite its breakneck, jarring speed. Speaking of jarring, how about that animation style! Some characters look emotive and unique, yet strikingly familiar to their old school counterparts (hats off), while others are just pure nightmares dragged from the uncanny valley (I’m including an incredibly bizarre and dated cameo that I won’t spoil here in the latter category).

Scoob Review 2
Amanda Seyfried, Zac Efron, and Gina Rodriguez in Scoob! (2020)

The vocal performances have roughly the same vibe. Jason Isaacs soars above the rest as the bombastic antagonist (whose unpredictability leads to some of the funnier moments in the film), and Zac Efron delivers some of the film’s more memorable lines with gusto. Gina Rodriguez and Amanda Seyfried (Velma and Daphne respectively) don’t really get a chance to show their chops due to the material, and Will Forte feels just a bit off as Shaggy Rogers. Why WB didn’t get Matthew Lillard back, when he’s still a working actor and is killing it on shows like Halt and Catch Fire and Twin Peaks (and is still working on Scooby-Doo TV projects, mind), is beyond me.

WB ended up running with the whole “extended universe” thing way too early. Scooby-Doo is by far their most precious and long-lasting property, and viewers aren’t going to take kindly to them taking a backseat for much of the runtime. But there is potential, as someone out there cares about having all these characters together (a few of the credit sequence teases are top-notch stuff). With enough tenacity, we could see that Scooby-Doo story we’ve been longing for one day: the kindly blueprint has already been established.

Costume Quest TV Series Premieres on Amazon Prime on March 8th

Costume Quest TV Series Premieres on Amazon Prime on March 8th

The animated adaptation of Double Fine’s Costume Quest is set to launch on Amazon Prime on March 8th, roughly four years after it was originally announced.

Developed by Frederator Studios, Costume Quest is set in the town of Auburn Hollow, which has been assaulted by monsters for 100 years. Four kids team must use the power of their imagination along with some special costumes to fight back against the monsters on Halloween.

Costume Quest was originally created following Double Fine’s ‘Amnesia Fortnite’ competition, where small prototypes for potential games are developed. Originally released in 2010, Costume Quest was followed by a sequel in 2014. Frederator Studios originally announced its Costume Quest adaptation as an animated short in 2015, and revealed in 2017 that it would become a full-fledged series for Amazon.

This isn’t the first time that Frederator Studios has worked on a video-game adaptation, as the studio also produces Netflix’s Castlevania. In addition, Frederator Studios is responsible for TV shows such as The Fairly OddParents and Adventure Time, as well as webseries such as Bravest Warriors and Bee and Puppycat.

Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more by Preston Dosza like his review of Fallout 76, , Bringing Canada to the World of Civilization VI: Gathering Storm, and Preston’s Game of the Year 2018!

Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the First 15: FeMonster Hunter World Beta: the Insatiable NergiganteDissidia Final Fantasy NT,  Star Wars Battlefront IISonic Forces + Episode Shadow, and  Super Mario Odyssey!

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Coco (2017) Review: A Magical Odyssey of Death and Family

Coco (2017) Review: A Magical Odyssey of Death and Family

Coco is a Pixar movie. That means it has a formula. There’s a uniquely colourful world featuring an outcast who enters that world on an adventure in order to learn the value of family and believing in himself. We’ve been there before. Pixar has been there before. I guess they call it formula. The trick is how well the animation studio uses that formula in a new world, and the world of Coco is so gloriously imaginative and colourful and funny and creepy and weird that it’s easy to get lost in. It’s one of the best movies they’ve ever made for big screen, mouth-agape viewing. The thing is gorgeously mounted and so funny and fun that you barely realize you’re being set up to bawl your eyes out until it’s happening and you can’t control it. Not me of course. I don’t cry at movies, obviously. But I’m sure someone will.

Coco (2017) Review: A Magical Odyssey of Death and Family 8
Coco (2017) – image via Pixar Studios

This time, the plucky outsider who becomes a hero is Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) a young boy who feels a passion for music in his bones, but is cursed to live in a family that won’t let him even listen to the stuff due to a family tragedy a few generations back. Miguel is determined though. He studios the videos of an old mariachi movie star named Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) with hopes to win a local mariachi contest on the Day of the Dead—things go wrong though. Through a series of strange circumstances Miguel finds himself crossing over to the land of the dead, where he’s pursued relentlessly by his dead relatives who want to send him back. Miguel wants to find his hero de la Cruz, convinced that he might actually be part of his family. Along the way he hooks up with a slapstick silly skeleton named Hector who agrees to help Miguel if he can offer help on the other side. You see, those who live in the land of the dead only exist in the afterlife as long as their relatives remember them. Hector is about to be forgotten and needs Miguel to make sure his long lost daughter in land of the living does not forget him.

Coco (2017) Review: A Magical Odyssey of Death and Family 7
Coco (2017) – image via Pixar Studios

Whew! By the typically stripped down narrative specialists over at Pixar, that’s a lot of ground to cover just to set up the story. It introduces not just a fantastical world to the audience, but an entire culture, and does so with grace and respect. Co-directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina were careful to honour mythology of The Day of the Dead and as a result it’s already a massive hit down in Mexico. It works beautifully for those who don’t know the world as well. Playing on themes of memory and family and the way we can live forever through legacy. It’s not a conventional Eurocentric view of the afterlife, but one that registers deeply. The filmmakers also run wild with the neon spooky aesthetic of the Day of the Dead, creating the most beautiful and deranged afterlife since Beetlejuice. There are times when you’ll wish you could pause the movie in a theatre and study all of the beautiful design work that the animators layered in. Yet it all suits the story. It’s never style just for the sake of it. The filmmakers elegantly mix style and substance.

Coco (2017) Review: A Magical Odyssey of Death and Family 5
Coco (2017) – image via Pixar Studios

The voice cast of almost entirely Mexican actors is strong as well, varying from the goofily comedic to the heartbreakingly tragic (often within the same performance). Like all great Pixar flicks, the film plays as a pure comedic adventure for so long that you barely notice the tracks being laid for the eventual emotional payoff. The tale is so fun and imaginative with so many delightful characters, asides, and musical sequences (somehow the screenwriters even work in a hilarious Frida parody that suits the story beautifully) that when the final twists and messages snap into place, the waterworks flow like a faucet turned immediately to full blast. The final message is a gut punch of emotion that throws all the wacky fun and glorious imagery that comes before it into stark purpose in an instant. Pixar has gotten too good at this stuff.

Coco (2017) Review: A Magical Odyssey of Death and Family 1
Coco (2017) – image via Pixar Studios

Coco is a wonderful piece of storytelling that hits all the possible pleasure buttons with ease and grace. The only pitfall the filmmakers face is the fact that Pixar has done this trick so many times, audiences are beginning to take it for granted. Some will claim Coco is overly familiar and formulaic to the studio’s house style. They aren’t wrong, but anyone who dismisses it is being overly cynical. Sure Pixar has hit these beats before. So have others. Rarely does it work this well though. This is a special movie. One that will have something to move, wow, and amuse just about everyone. Isn’t it nice when Pixar commits to an original idea rather than sequels? It’s almost as if they should be focused on that rather than cranking out Cars movies until the end of time. Worth a thought anyway.

Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Phil’s take on Blade Runner 2049, Happy Death Day, and It! He also had a chance to sit down with Guillermo Del Toro. Check out his interview here!

Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the First 15: Star Wars Battlefront II, Sonic Forces + Episode Shadow, and  Super Mario Odyssey!

Don’t forget to tune in every Friday the Pixels & Ink Podcast to hear the latest news, previews, and in-depth game discussions!

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The Secret Life Of Pets (Movie) Review 1

The Secret Life Of Pets (Movie) Review

The Secret Lives Of Pets is one of those movies that are pretty much entirely summed up by the title. Ever wondered what would happen if pets were left alone by their owners? Wouldn’t that be friggin’ crazy?! You know, kind of like Toy Story only with cutie pie animals voiced by celebrities. If you saw the trailer, you get the movie. There isn’t much more to it. But on the plus side, it is a fun idea that is executed fairly well. After all, this is the latest production from Illumination Entertainment. They are the people who brought you the Minions, the most ubiquitous cartoon kiddie pleasers in recent memory. The folks at this studio sure aren’t Pixar, but they know exactly how to make unpretentious cartoon entertainment that never goes out of style. The type of thing that you used to watch on Saturday mornings and children now watch on Snapchat or whatever (It’s been a while since I was a kid).

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Inside Out (Movie) Review 2

Inside Out (Movie) Review

After a flurry of movies in the 2000s that somehow managed to be crowd pleasing works of animated entertainment and almost audaciously ambitious films, Pixar’s output has cooled as of late. A splat of sequels, prequels, and a token Disney Princess feature were all well made and quite profitable, but lacked the depth that defined Pixar as such a special dream factory. Thankfully, that streak is finally over. Inside Out doesn’t just feel like vintage Pixar, it has the potential to be remembered as one of the finest projects they’ve ever produced. It’s a wonderfully entertaining and colourful little high-concept comedy that packs a moral punch about how to deal with emotions that would take most adults a few decades of therapy to come to terms with.
insideoutheader1The film takes place within the mind of an eleven-year-old girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias). Her mind is represented as a control room run by a collection of emotions: Joy (Amy Pohler), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Sadness (Phllis Smith). A quick prologue establishes that Joy is the leader of the group and the first emotion that Riley ever experienced. Soon sadness joined her and as the girl grew, as did the number of emotions running her control switchboard. Her memories are collected in big balls defined by each emotion and Joy has been careful to ensure that all of the core emotions that define Riley’s personality have been influenced by her perky self. However, that all changes when Riley’s family moves to San Francisco, tearing her from her friends, hockey, and even pizza without broccoli. This creates a new core memory spoiled by Sadness and when Joy tries to stop it, the two conflicting emotions are sucked out of the control center and into the deepest recesses of Riley’s mind. Fear, Disgust, and Anger take over Riley during this difficult time as Joy and Sadness rush through the girl’s imagination, subconscious, and dream centre fighting their way back home.

Like all great Pixar movies, Inside Out works on two distinct levels. The first is as a colorful adventure comedy the likes of which the folks behind Herman’s Head could only dreamed to have made. The emotions might be stock characters limited to their namesake defining traits, but they are so cleverly designed with voice actors cast so perfectly to type that it’s hard to notice. Obviously getting someone like Lewis Black to play anger is so perfect that it practically takes care of itself, but the real coups are Amy Poehler (who approaches her relentlessly optimistic role with just the right shade of irony to keep her from ever becoming annoying) and Phillis Smith (who deadpans the role of sadness perfectly and movingly). The writers, filmmakers, and animators clearly had a ball designing various aspects of the human mind as giant sets, serving up some inspired gags (such as Riley’s hysterical dream boyfriend or the ingenious movie set vision of her dreams) as well as a few adventurous set pieces to keep the pace pumping. There are also some wonderful characters around the edges, especially the melancholically funny Bing-Bong (perfectly voiced by the great Richard Kind), Riley’s imaginary childhood friend who embodies the film’s theme of letting go of childhood in the quest for maturity.
insideoutinsert7Of course the other level that Inside Out works on is an emotional/intellectual level that’s even stronger. The central metaphor of emotions controlling behaviour is strong and one that the Pixar team tease out in wonderful ways both big and small (even seemingly throw away choices like the order to which the emotions enter Riley’s mind or the way her mother’s mind is controlled by Sadness and her father’s by Anger speak to deep truths that some viewers might not even notice until repeated viewings). However, the central moral that co-directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen (who previously made Up! together) is a real doosey. The film is ultimately about the importance of letting sadness govern our lives as much as happiness and how embracing both extremes fosters emotional maturity. That’s a pretty complex message to squeeze into a frothy bit of animated summer entertainment, yet the filmmakers do so in such simple and eloquent ways that make the message poignantly clear. As you can imagine, since the movie came from Docter who previously delivered the tearful conclusion to Monsters Inc. and the gut-wrenching opening to Up!, audiences of all ages will get a pretty intense case of the feelies by the time the credits role.

Inside Out is weep-worthy, devastating, and thought-provoking, yet somehow also cheerfully entertaining and wildly creative. You know, just like a Pixar movie. There was a period when the studio managed to perfect and repeat that formula in such wildly different permutations that it was almost easy to take them for granted. After a few years of more modest fair, Inside Out feels just that much more special. It’s rare that any movie would do so much so well, let alone something that also offers beautiful CG animation and a story both simple and complex enough to work for seemingly any audience. This is a truly special summer movie. One that will delight kids almost as much as a barrage of dinosaur attacks and give their parents reason to devolve into blubbering tearful messes before re-evaluating the way they carry their emotional baggage over the drive home. That’s not easy, even if Pete Docter and co. make it feel effortless.

The Boxtrolls Movie Review 1

The Boxtrolls Movie Review

Not all children’s entertainment should be bright and cuddly. Sure, that’s the Disney flavored tone that tends to dominate the genre, but it’s far from the best form of family entertainment nor is it necessarily what kids actually like. That’s certainly not the type of movie that The Boxtrolls is and it’s an infinitely better flick for it. The film comes from the stop-motion animation geniuses and Laika who previously delivered two similarly horrific children’s tales in Coraline and ParaNorman. But, The Boxtrolls’ tone comes from something else; a distinctly British school of kiddie entertainment. It’s based on Alan Snow’s novel Here Be Monsters, which springs from the type of darkly Gothic and morbidly funny family storytelling that’s best embodied by the works of Roald Dahl. These types of stories are naughty, yet moral. Kids still learn lessons, they just come from a world of lovable monsters and snarling adults rather than anything that could be labeled cute. The target audiences of ankle biters with brains will eat it up, and grown ass people who should know better will probably fall in love with the twisted little movie as well.
BoxtrollsThe story takes place in town of Cheesebridge, a timeless land mixing up medieval and industrial images. Cheesebridge is haunted by local monsters known as boxtrolls and everyone has been taught to fear them by the dastardly Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley). He spins tales about the horrid nightly activities, but in reality the boxtrolls are closer to Santa’s elves in their behavior, if not appearance (They are certainly trolls who wear boxes. That much is true.). In reality the boxtrolls roam the city at night fixing things, disposing of trash, and generally helping out in the shadows. Snatcher just wants them feared and destroyed as part of his selfish plot to join the aristocratic cheese-eating society known as the White Hats (don’t ask). For years, Snatcher’s plan has worked. However, the trolls brought up a baby boy for a decade (Issac Hepsted) who is now able to talk and wants to shed some light on his lovable monster buddies. When he makes friends with a little girl (Elle Fanning) whose father is the most powerful White Hat in town, it seems like he might be able to spread the truth. Unfortunately, these stories never quite go as planned, now do they?

The most enjoyable aspect of The Boxtrolls is just how gleefully co-directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi revel in the naughtiness of their material. There are no concessions to soften the horror influence for a family audience. Archibald Snatcher in particular is a downright nasty villain and looks the part with rotted teach and a horrifying complexion. When the audience gets a peak at his allergic reaction to cheese, the animators hold nothing back in his disgusting, monstrous contortions. It the type of material lesser studios would smooth out of a family film concerned that it might frighten children. The gents at Laika are wise enough to know that not only will kids find it hilarious, it will be their favorite part. Annable and Stacchi pile on their gothic imagery through a beautifully twisted production design as well as some of the smoothest and most beautiful stop motion animation ever projected on a big screen. It’s a gorgeous technical achievement that even boasts 3D that’s actually immersive and enjoyable. The film is a wonderfully hilarious Grimm-style fairy tale in filled with delightfully sardonic British humor and a moral about acceptance that doesn’t feel cloy for an instant.
BoxtrollsThat distinctly and darkly British humor caries over through a pitch perfect vocal cast from across the pond. Sir Ben Kingley steals the show as Snatcher, channeling his greatest performance as Don Logan in Sexy Beast into a PG kiddie monster to remember. The rest of the supporting cast is filled out by brilliant British comedians like Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, and Richard Ayoade, who give the movie a subversive wit to match all of the monster movie imagery. The result is a blast of pure, joyous entertainment. Animation buffs will marvel at Laika’s exquisite work, British comedy snobs will laugh themselves silly, horror fans will delight at how dark the filmmakers go, and children of all ages (even those who qualify as legal adults) will watch the movie with big dopey smiles on their face. Unless you’re uptight about what may-or-may not be appropriate subject matter for children, it’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone having a bad time with The Boxtrolls. This just might be Laika’s finest achievement to date and the company is quietly humming along with vintage Pixar quality consistency that deserves far more attention. They just might be the best animation company around these days and if you want to know just how impressive their work is, stay around for a mid-credits meta joke that hilariously showcases the insane amount of effort that went into every single second of The Boxtrolls. All of that effort went into crafting one charmingly sick joke and boy was it ever worth it.


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