Sunday, 26 August 2012

ParaNorman (A Review)

An homage to the horror genre, and more!
I'm not sure why, but two things I enjoy seem to be currently in style when talking about animated features. First of all, stop-motion animation is making a huge comeback even in a CG heavy environment, with Pirates! Band of Misfits leading the way earlier this year (by the way, check out my review for that, it's pretty cool, if I do say so myself.) The second, and perhaps more surprising, is that these animated movies are touching on a genre admittedly not seen all that much in western animation: horror. I'm not surprised horror is so rare in animated movies in this part of the globe. In North America animation is still mostly sold as family flicks. In other words, some mindless entertainment to stick the young ones infront of so that they'll shut up for an hour and a half. Horror is just asking for children crying, screaming and generally the opposite of good times for parents looking for a moment's peace. One can definitely say parents are too sensitive in protecting their children from "scary" entertainment designed for a younger generation, and kids in fact enjoy being scared more then they let on. I would totally agree with that. That said, ParaNorman is not for children. Not the young, young ones anyway. And it's not because of the "scary-jump-out-and-spook-you moments," or for any disturbing visuals, but because of the morbid themes, the mature tone, and some admittedly very dark plot points. And it's in these very points that I think ParaNorman is not only successful as a film, but it is also breaking some new ground for animated movies.

They're like the Scooby-Gang! Except...not at all...
The movie surrounds Norman, a kid who has the power to see and talk to ghosts. Right out of the gate Norman has this power, and it also seems he's been dealing with it for a while judging by how casually he talks to the spirits, how apathetic he is with dealing with living people, and how inpatient his father is when talking about this issue. Norman just so happens to live in a Salem-like town, known for it's touristy portrayal of witch hunts. However, once a real witch's curses comes to pass and brings zombies to life, it's up to Norman and a small rag-tag group (mostly made out of people who made fun of him before) to stop the curse and restore peace to the town...and that's when the twists happen. I wouldn't dare ruin the second and third act of this film, but suffice to say they do a lot with the standard "zombies attack a small town" formula that hasn't been done before and that I genuinely didn't see coming.

The stop-motion is excellent. This is Laika's second stop-motion children's horror movie (after the wonderfully twisted Coraline) and I gotta say, they're really making a wonderful niche for themselves. And what's even more wonderful is the fact that even though this is another stop-motion film with spooky elements, this film has a distinctive art style all on it's own, really letting the two films stand out from each other. Everything is so detailed in each shot, and with some creative melding of some 2D elements as well as some 3D effects makes this lovingly crafted film a great feast for the eyes. The detail of facial animations alone is astounding and is made possible with the advancements in 3D printing technology, which is just plain cool.

Yup. Toilet paper hands. It's much more scarier then you might think.
Now here's the thing about this movie: it's not very funny. I mean, there are jokes, and gags, some slap-stick and a couple of tongue in cheek references to old horror shlock, but that's not the highlight of this movie. They were able to get some chuckles out of me, but if you're expecting to roll on the floor with laughter during this film, you best look elsewhere. Comedy is not the main focus of this movie. Instead, the film chooses to better focus its attention on two things: it's tone, and it's themes. Tone wise, it's all rather grim. And when you're dealing with death as one of your major plot points, that's no real surprise. The subject matter is probably why some of these jokes don't quite hit their mark. However, when things change from comedy to drama, that's where the script shines. And I don't just mean all the end of the world drama, but even more personal moments where Norman's parents are full on arguing over what to do about Norman, and how Norman's own father treats him like a freak of nature. That stuff hurts, and it's wonderfully brought to life in this film. And the themes this film bring to the table are all wonderfully brought to life in the drama this piece provides. Themes like hatred, bigotry, mob mentality and acceptance are heavy issues that I feel could have been butchered if not for the pacing of this film and it's allowance to give time to let these themes resonate with the audience.

I suppose if I was to complain about one thing, it would be the voice acting. Lots of the side characters were decent (McLovin' himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse was an interesting choice for the school bully character,) but some other characters were a bit lacking in intensity when delivering on some of these dramatic moments. Sadly, Norman's voice actor, (teen actor Kodi Smit-McPhee) is the biggest offender. He delivers appropriately timid reads neer the beginning of the film when his character is a misunderstood loner, but as the film progresses and the drama ramps up, Smit-McPhee (and some of the other other actors) aren't quite able to deliver the intensity needed for those dramatic moments. Close, but not quite.

The film starts out on a gradual burn, but give it time and I think you'll be rewarded with some amazing animation, some dark plot twists and one of the most compelling third acts to grace a film in a long time. It's the kind of animated film I'm glad exists, as it's much more focused on delivering a strong message than anything else. And most importantly for an animated feature dealing with such grim issues, it takes itself seriously. Writer/director Chris Butler seemed to be very passionate on both his love for old horror films and the themes in this film, and it really shows. While we have more animated homages to horror filmes approaching this year, such as Tim Burton's  Frankenweenie and Genndy Tartakovsky's Hotel Transylvania, judging by the previews they both seem to be much more lighthearted affairs then ParaNorman. It's a risky move to make and animated "kids" movie with such heavy issues and story points, and in that regard this film should be applauded and encouraged! So do this film a favor and go check it out as soon as you can!


- Moo

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

5 Things I Liked (And Didn't Like) About "The Legend of Korra" Season 1

Back in April I gave my first impressions of The Legend of Korra, a sequel series to one of my favorite TV shows, Avatar: The Last Airbender. And if you recall, I totally gushed over the first two episodes. And now season 1 has finished, and not only that! At Comicon recently they annouced that next season (or "book," as they call them) will be called Spirits (COOL!!) and that the show has been renewed up to season 4. That's excellent news!

Time to look back on what happened with these guys...
With that said, now would be a good time to look back and see if the show met up with all of my lofty expectations I had for season 1. And did it? Well...kinda... It's odd. I'm met with a blend of emotions after the season finale, some good, some bad, and some...just odd.  So what better, and balanced, way to show my appreciation/disappointment for this wonderful/frustrating show than with 5 things I liked/didn't like about the first season of The Legend of Korra (in no particular order.)

But before we get started, let me say that on the whole The Legend of Korra is an amazing show, probably the best cartoon out right now. However, that doesn't make it imune to geeks like me nit-picking things apart. So with that in mind: haters, think before you leave comments. These are just my personal opinions, feel free to take em or leave em. Also, since I am reviewing the season as a whole there will be SPOILERS. So many SPOILERS that if you don't want SPOILERS then you shouldn't read this SPOILER filled blog full of SPOILERS. I hope I've made myself clear, and you have been warned... (SPOILERS!!) Also warning, this is gonna get really ranty. So grab yourself a drink, cause we're gonna be here a while...

I liked... the Art Direction and the Animation.

Even Meelo knows good art when he sees it! ...I think...
Let's get the obvious out of the way first. This is one pretty, pretty show. I said it before, but the animation and artistry in this show has been pushed to new levels of awesomeness. Even further than The Last Airbender did, and that was a show that was already praised for it's beauty in animation and backgrounds. And even though we don't get to see as much environmental variety in The Legend of Korra, what we do have is some amazingly crafted sets that go into an astounding amount of detail. There was even a deeper integration of 3D elements, which normally I find jarring in 2D shows, but how it was used here was inspirational. Much like the original series it was used for important vehicles such as blimps and tanks, but here it was also used for other major elements, such as the giant monument to Avatar Aang. I can think of one subtle moment when the 3D background was being panned in the episode "The Revelation." Because of how the 3D background was rotated, it looked like the characters were walking in an arc, rather than straight left to right. Subtle, but very clever! And likewise it goes without saying the animation was top notch. From the wonderfully choreographed fights, to little bits of character acting like Bolin proclaiming "I love you," the animation  was skillfully crafted and full of energy.

I didn't like...the Lost Opportunity to be a Vigilantly Badass

I thought the first episode, "Welcome to Republic City" was a perfect way to kick off the season. It was a great jumping on point for new comers, it set up our new cast of characters, and probably most importantly, set up our new setting for this whole season, Republic City, and the problems within: homelessness, class warfare, organized crime, corrupt officials, and the anti-bending revolution. Korra only tackled two of these problems in season 1, corruption and the anti-bending movement, the later being the primary focus of the season. And while it is the most interesting conflict to deal with, I saw two problems when jumping right into fighting Amon and his revolution: 1) we hear of all this supposed awful things the bending triads do to non-benders, but we never really got to see any of it aside from some slight bullying in the first episode (weak sauce) and 2) we don't get to see Korra take on this universe's equivalent of the mob, which would have been awesome.

Remember Zolt! Yeah! This guy! Wouldn't blame ya. He had, like, two lines.
Both these problems could have been easily solved by two simple words: turf war. They mentioned it briefly in the third episode, "The Revolution," that there were three criminal groups and it was implied they were going to fight it out soon for territory in Republic City...that would have been awesome to see!! Imagine how cool it would be to see Korra (and maybe Mako and Bolin too) take on not one, but THREE criminal factions as they fought each other! Even if Korra was successful, there would undoubtably be major damage to the city, and maybe even injured unsuspecting bystanders. This would give so much more ammunition for Amon and his anti-bending revolution, making his grand rally against Republic City not only more believable, but much more interesting. Hell, remember Lightning Bolt Zolt? The guy who had his bending taken away almost as quickly as he was introduced? Something tells me he could have been a great sub-villain, as an antagonist to both Korra and Amon. But nope. Third episode, and the mob's already out of the picture. But who knows, maybe we'll get some Korra vs organized crime in season 2, but without Amon to profit from the fallout, it almost doesn't seem worth it. In my opinion it was a huge wasted opportunity.

I liked... the Mature Tone of the Show

This is the darkest timeline...
Whenever there is a sequel of any sort, there is always going to be comparisons to the original. Especially for TV shows. Something tells me Aang vs Korra is going to be as frequently debated as Kirk vs Picard. But at the end of the day, you have to admit, Korra is not like Aang, and Aang is not like Korra. Aang is fun and funny and free spirited and a goofy trickster and yadda yadda yadda. While Korra is strong and independent, and fierce and stubborn and...well...more mature. Not just in age but in personality as well. And while the conflicts that plagued Aang were deep (remember the airbender genocide? Yeah...not a fun topic...) the show always delt with things in a lighter mood through the optimistic eyes of a younger generation. But much like the audience that watched the original, the Avatar has aged. Having the protagonist now a teenager was a brilliant move. It made the decisions, the way the characters acted, and the problems facing the character more mature, and even pretty dark. And yet they still had that bit of oddball humour the franchise is known for, so it still felt like we were watching a show in the same universe. So yes. The darker tone: me likey....however...

I didn't like...That There Were No Time for Side Missions

In this picture: Bolin finding out he won't get his own story arc
Much like my other criticism of the show, this here's another pacing problem. While I did like the drama that came from rushing head first into the conflict of the anti-bending revolution, what we lost were those character-centric episodes that all good ensemble shows need. Episodes that don't further the overarching story in any huge or meaningful way, but take time to develop the characters and let them breathe for a moment. There were many of these scattered throughout The Last Airbender: "The Cave of Two Lovers," "Tales of Ba Sing Se" and "The Beach" come to mind. And those also happen to be some of my favorite episodes! The closest thing we get in The Legend of Korra is "The Spirit of Competition" with the whole Korra/Bolin/Mako/Asami love trapezoid thing happening. But where are episodes built around side characters? Much like "Sokka's Master," where's Bolin's solo episode? How about an episode centered around the airbending children? Or totally centered around Lin? Hell, I think a Mako centered episode might have been the most needed: a chance to dive more into his tragic backstory and show how he and his brother got to where they are. That would have been awesome! True, we probably will have more time for that in the coming seasons, but having a greater connection to the characters through these types of episodes would have really helped in upping the drama in Amon's "Endgame." With those extra episodes thrown in we wouldn't have been able to defeat Amon by the end of the first season, but it would definitely have helped flesh out these characters, of which I definitely want to see more of. Hey that's a good segway to...

I like... These Awesome New Characters

If you're going to have an entirely new cast of characters for your sequel series, you better be damn sure they're good, interesting characters. And for the most part in The Legend of Korra, they are. Let me put it this way: the characters I liked, I really liked. They did a great job writing Korra as the main protagonist. Her personality was likeable, and yet not overbearing. The problems she faced seemed real and relatable like her frustration in not learning airbending in "A Leaf in the Wind" or her personal fear of Amon in "The Voice in the Night." These are real problems of overcoming fears and struggling to learn a new talent that I'm sure many, many people can relate to. Tenzin might be my favorite supporting character as a stark, serious counter to his father's playful teachings and his exhaustion at building a family of ruckus flying children is incredibly entertaining. And that only gets more interesting when you throw the show's biggest badass, Lin Beifong, into the mix, explaining exactly what her issue is with Tenzin. It makes watching these character's interactions so interesting and amusing. When written properly, there's nothing better...but on the other hand...

I didn't like... the "Perfect" Characters

Little known fact: Asami started out as a model for L'Oréal 
Ok, this might be my biggest gripe with the show, and I'm referring mostly to Asami Sato. Oh my God, what a poorly written character this is. Some characters got dull overtime, like Mako, and some characters were never really given anything of value to do, like Bolin, but with Asami I was always waiting and wanting for her to be interesting...and she never was. Looking online I can see that a lot of fans aren't big on her because they ruin the oh-so-perfect and juicy relationship opportunities of Korra and Mako, but that's preteen fanfic bullshit that I don't give a rat's ass about. What I do hate Asami for is being "perfect." Seriously folks. She's perfect. Name one negative flaw about her personality. You can't. There is none. And that is more boring then watching paint dry. You need characters with flaws, otherwise your characters seem unrealistic. And no, writers, having bad things happen to your character doesn't make up for their lack of flaws. You can kill off her mother, have her father betray her, take away her family fortune, and have her boyfriend cheat on her all you want. If the character is not interesting, then I have to try really, really hard to care even the tiniest of bits for her. Hell, just make Asami a double agent for The Equalists! If that whole confrontation with her father was staged and it was all a ploy to get to the Avatar, suddenly her character has depth. And what if Asami felt remorse for her actions, and admitted that she really did develop strong feelings for Mako, all of a sudden this character becomes abundantly more interesting because of her flaws. But alas, the Mary-Sue character of Asami isn't the only one at fault here...we also have General Fan Servis...I mean...Iroh...

...I mean, Iroh...whatever...
Much like Asami, this is a character who is unreasonably perfect and is unquestionably awesome at everything right away, but unlike Asami  I can let that slide since he did only appear in a handfull of episodes at the end of the season, and arguably didn't have time to develop his character properly. What I can't forgive is his impressive lack of a personality. I think we're supposed to automatically connect to him because he's named after a fan favorite character (and one of my favorite characters ever written, Uncle Iroh) and he bares a striking resemblance to Zuko (as well as sharing the voice actor Dante Basco.) But he's not supposed to be either of these characters, nor do I want him to be, and yet the writers do nothing to give him a personality of his own other than "he's a good guy." The fact they're serving me this dull half-assed character who is dripping with fan servis and expecting me to love him automatically is almost insulting. The only thing stopping me from writing this guy right off, again, is the slim chance that we might expand upon his character and actually make him interesting in season 2. But first impressions do count for a lot, and my frist impression of this guy is that he's frighteningly boring.

I liked... The Sounds

I mentioned before the return of voice actor Dante Basco to voice the new General Iroh, and aside from his distractingly familiar voice being miscast in this role, I can safely say that all other voice acting within this show is top notch. Even my other hated character, Asami, has a wonderful voice actor in the roll! Janet Varney as Korra, J.K. Simmons as Tenzin: everyone was justly casted! But special mention should go out to Bolin's voice actor, P.J. Byrne. His free flowing ramblings as Bolin added so much personality and like-ability to the character, it's hard to imagine anyone else in the roll. It felt very natural.
Quality voice acting is quality
And Track Team returned. Oh, how I have so much love for Track Team: the duo who worked on the sound effects and music for the original series. They're back, and have upped the quality of the music this time around, probably with a higher budget I imagine. I wish Nickelodeon would just dump a wheelbarrow of money on Track Team's front lawn and just have them come up with amazing sounds. Not much else to say here, but I love em.

I didn't like... Plastic Surgery

Really....really?! Ok, this one is clearly me picking nits here, but plastic surgery? I know technology has progressed in the show, and I like that. I like having the race cars, the radios, the newspapers, the telephones, even the giant robotic suits of armour I'm willing to let slide. But giving the character of Yakone plastic surgery didn't feel right. Yes, I know cosmetic surgery did exist in the 1920s (which this show draws most of it's time periode from,) but I'm more upset with the lazy writing. The big reveal on Amon's identity hinged on the character of Yakone, and this was a lazy way to get him where they needed him to make that big reveal make sense. Hell, if you took this detail completely away, nothing would have been lost. He's moving to the end of the world anyway! Who's going to notice him? Again, this obviously wasn't a deal breaker, but it did strike me as a bit irritating. 

I liked... Similar Yet Different

I mentioned this in my first impressions of The Legend of Korra, and I stand by it. The best way to write a sequel is to make it similar yet different, and that's exactly what Legend of Korra did. It wasn't a rehash of the plot of the original series, yet a lot of the themes were the same. The show did get darker in tone, but the sense of humour and adventure remained the same. The setting became more modern and technologically advanced, but the awesome ancient art of elemental martial arts remained. You get the picture. It's a natural evolution that a franchise needs to take, and that really helps broaden this universe, making it seem epic and grand. Personally, I can't wait to see more of it...even though...

I disliked... That Everything Was Resolved

The season finale "Endgame" was indeed epic in scale, but as for resolving all the problems that faced Korra during the course of the season? I wouldn't say it was successfully in it's execution, or very satisfying. Believe me, I was all for Korra to kick some serious ass in the season finale. I gasped with horror as Amon took away Korra's bending. I cheered with glee when she finally unleashed a fury of airbending! And I reveled in the moment when Amon was exposed as a fraud infront of all of his followers!

"Sensational!" I said to myself , "I certainly can't wait to see what Amon will do in season 2! He - ...oh...his brother just killed himself and took Amon with him...well, that was shocking! And unexpected! And dark! Bravo show! You have dashed my expectations once again! Now surely season 2 will deal with the fallout of Korra not being able to use her... oh... Aang popped out of nowhere and handed back all your powers? And you can also go into the Avatar state? Like it's no biggy? Oh...well...ok, then season 2 will deal with all the other benders who had their powers taken away! I can't wait to see what Lin would be like without... magically all of a sudden can restore other people's powers too? ...ok...well, at least there's that unresolved romantic tension between Korra and Mako - AH GODDAMN IT!!"
...damn those hormones...

You see where I'm coming from? Everything turned from hopeless to perfect in 5 minutes. Again: lazy writing. If this was the end of the series, maybe it would be acceptable...maybe. But by this time they already knew they had a second season! Why the rush and give Korra the power to restore bending and resolve everything in such a rushed fashion? A power she never had to work for or earn by the way, unlike that satisfying moment where she finally could airbend. And if the show ended just a bit sooner, with Aang appearing to Korra, I would have gone ga-ga over the finale. I never thought I'd be saying this, but they needed a cliff hanger. They're important! They build hype, and give you a promise of things to come.  But as it stands now, my excitement has decreased in watching the second season

Sup. Avatars here. Here to lazily wrap up season 1.
That's not to say I won't watch the second season! Hell no! I'll be there with bells on! And I'm sure with a season called "Spirits" we're bound to get some awesome, awesome episodes with spirit world shenanigans. And hopefully it'll be even better then this season, which apart from my rantings, was very awesome. Personally I'm hoping for Ko, the face stealer to make another appearance...OH! And more Commander Bumi. Make it happen, Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, and all will be forgiven.  

Here's looking forward to season 2!

- Moo

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

My Life at VFS...coming soon...

I'm going to level with you readers: I started this blog for three selfish reasons. 1) I needed an outlet to keep me writing while I wasn't working on a specific script or story, 2) I wanted to properly articular my constant babblings about animation and animated features and 3) I wanted somewhere to post news on my own works as student artist and fledgling animation. As of yet, I've only done 1 and it's about time my OCD kicked in and started on 3 as well.

Random doodles abound!
I am now officially done term 1 of my 6 term classic animation program at Vancouver Film School, and now that term one is complete, I'm in the process of putting together all the random do-dads and projects I did up till now and archiving them away. So I figured this would be the perfect time to give my impressions of the first sixth of my animation schoolin' and document my process towards (hopefully) honing my skills in the art of animation.

So stay tooned friends! My animated adventures have only just begun...

- Moo

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Brave (A Review)

If yew had the chance to change yewr fate, woudjya?
I feel kinda bad for Pixar. It's tough to be on top. With an amazing run of movies, a couple of which have cemented their place in cinema history, the expectations of them are insanely high. I think that's why everyone was a little bit taken aback last summer when Cars 2 rolled out. It was the first Pixar movie most people could look at and say, "y'know, that wasn't very good." Especially when you consider the amazing slew of movies that came just before that (Toy Story 3, Up, and Wall-E.) With that in mind, people want everything from Brave. They want it to be the end all, be all, Pixar film. Back to form. Back on top! And now that it's here I can proudly report to you all that Brave is...good. Yes, it's good. Brave is a good movie. Is it another instant classic that will once again be some of the best storytelling Hollywood has to offer? No. But it's good. I understand being simply "good" to some people is a disappointment, but read on and you'll see there's plenty to love in this feature, as well as some choices that, in my opinion, don't quite pay off. Not to mention a huge bait and switch by Pixar that may prove to be the film's undoing.

First of all, let's start with the best part of Brave, the visuals. Holy hell, to say this movie is a feast for the eyes is an understatement. It's a 10 course meal and an after dinner mint for your eyes. After this movie your eyes will never go hungry again. Taken place in medieval Scotland, Pixar once again pushes it's rendering techniques to a whole new level, showing some amazing vistas of the Scottish highlands. Graphic nerds will go ga-ga over some of the beautiful details in the textures, as well as the amazing physics on the gorgeously untamed red curls of Merida (our main character.) And the animation is once again top notch. Every character moves in such unique ways. Every little nuance in the movements is perfectly planned out, giving memorable quirks and an abundance of personality to this cast of characters.

The royal family: I love em all!
Speaking of the characters, I love them. Every character in the movie, I loved. There was something about their chemistry, and the way they all were presented that just gave every character an enjoyable performance (with only some reservations about a witch character, who at points seems like she was in the wrong movie.) Merida's family took front and center: the loving yet overbearing mother Queen Elinor (played by Emma Thompson,) the rambunctious yet kind hearted father King Fergus (played by Billy Connolly,) and three minuscule, mischief-making, mute triplets who provided a bulk of the movie's visual and slap-slick humour. Speaking of humour special mention should go out to the three feuding clan leaders and their respective hopeful suitor's for the hand of Princess Merida. While not overall that important to the story, the clans of Dingwall, MacGuffin and MacIntosh (I see what you did there Pixar) definitely gave the best laughs of the movie. 

But I've yet to mention specifically about our main character, Merida (played by Kelly MacDonald.) True, she's a pretty big cliche in the respect that she's a princess longing for more, and desires freedom from her royal duties, but Pixar does its best to give her such a twist in her personality to make her more then just a "girls can kick ass too" character. She's a bit of a goof. She loves a good laugh. She can be undignified, yet charming. And all these characteristics are strengthened even more when she interacts with the other characters, such as her father. On the ball, Merida and her family feel and act like real people. It's skillfully acted in both the voices and in the animation, and they're able to get some great emotion from the performances. Something tells me if these characters were inserted into a more interesting plot, this would be a grade A movie. And yet...

This gorgeous promotional art doesn't accurately portray the plot...but it looks nice!
Ok, now we come down to the elephant in the room: the plot. Or rather, the misleading plot. While I won't spoil anything in this review, I will say that the trailers don't showcase an event that happens at the beginning of the 2nd act of the movie, and this huge event is what brings about the rest of the movie's plot. Most of the times I like being surprised by not knowing the true nature of a movie's plot, but in this case the plot transformed what I believed was to be an epic adventure on a grand scale to a very small story about the importance of family...and that's kinda lame. It's a shame too, because we're already in such an aforementioned beautiful and epic setting that it just screams for a larger scale story. It's like expecting Lord of the Rings, and instead getting a movie where hobbits never leave The Shire and have breakfast, or something. The potential to do a story on a grander scale is there, it's just never really taken advantage of and that's a shame. I mean, it is possible to have a film about the importance of family and still make it epic. Hell, Pixar already did it. It was called The Incredibles. And it was awesome.

Sadly, this picture more accurately portrays the plot
So for a moment let's ignore that the adventurous character of Merida is not used to her fullest potential. And let's ignore the fact that this is not the sprawling epic that Pixar advertised to us. Removed from our expectations, does this film's plot still hold up as a good movie? The answer is a resounding...kinda. And again, this is hard to explain without exposing the movie's massive twist, but I'll do my best. Long story short, the plot we get feels very safe. Critics have said that this is Pixar's take on a Disney princess story, which isn't 100% true. While Merida does show a lot of the same characteristics and desires as a standard Disney princess has (all be it with a very Pixar-ish way of portraying the character,) this film is not a lot of things Disney princess movies are. It's not a musical, it's not based on a well known fairytale, and most of all it's not a love story (thank God.) It can, however, be perfectly compared to another Disney animated movie that is not a princess tale at all...but again even saying the name of this movie would spoil Brave's secret plot twist. Sooo...ugh! Damn it Pixar! See how hard it is to talk about your movie?!

Ok, fine! Last thing I'll say about the movie's plot, and hopefully you'll get what I'm saying. The movie shares less to do with The Little Mermaid and more to do with Freaky Friday. That's right, the live action teen comedy where the mother and daughter switch bodies and come to better understand each other through this magical happenstance. The focus in Brave is clearly the relationship between daughter and mother. And honestly, that's not a bad idea, and I like having the focus on two female leads for a change, but they just don't make it terribly exciting. Hell, one of the major climaxes of the film is Merida giving a speech while her mother watches on. What doesn't help the matter is the fact that we don't really have a true villain in this film. Most of the conflict arises from a series of character's misunderstandings, which doesn't do the best job of ramping up the drama. True, there is an antagonistic element in the feared "demon bear" Mordu (who is skillfully designed to be a wonderfully terrifying beast,) but he's much more of a force of nature then a true villain for our mother/daughter duo, and in that respect only poses a physical challenge rather then providing a true conflict for our characters to overcome. 

Badass archery. It's so in right now.
The first thing I said once I got out of the theatre seeing Brave was "that was different," and it really is, but not really in a positive way. There are elements from Disney films, and tropes from Pixar's past, but they both come together to make a film that doesn't feel like either studio's work. It's a weird Frankenstein of a film that doesn't hit the highs it was aiming for, but it's still a commendable effort. And honestly, if it wasn't for the amazing execution that comes with a Pixar movie in terms of acting, animation, and visual fidelity, this could have been easily a straight up bad movie. But lucky for us, it's not. It's just good. And that's alright. Maybe it's time to realize that the folks at Pixar aren't the invincible Gods we make them out to be, sitting on Mount Olympus manufacturing animated films into pure gold. We should face the fact that not every Pixar film will be gold. Some like Brave will be silver, and some will be "Cars 2" bronze (especially with the prequel, Monster University, coming up as their next feature. Honestly, one can only get so excited over the prospect of a prequel.) Maybe then we won't be so disappointed when a just plain ol' good movie like Brave comes out. Either way, Brave, while not what is expected, could have been much worse in less capable hands, and still rightfully deserves paying a trip to visit the highlands and these wonderfully enduring characters.


- Moo

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Tron: Uprising (First Impressions)

Welcome back to The Grid.
Ahhh, Tron! Is there anything quite as geeky as Tron? Well...ok maybe ReBoot, but apart from that, the 1982 film Tron is perhaps the pinnacle of geeky genre movies. There's lots of reasons for this. It was a great pioneer for computer graphics. It's a complex metaphor set in a personified version of a computer's mainframe. It makes reference to primitive arcade games, yet makes them cyberpunk and badass. But probably the reason most nerds connect with the franchise, and indeed why I seem to enjoy it as well, is because even though it's a property owned by perhaps the most powerful company in the world (no, not Apple, I'm talking about Disney) it still feels very much like the underdog franchise. It was panned by critics and sold bellow what was expected, but we don't care! We still like it, and no one can tell us otherwise. There's this beer from Nova Scotia called Alexander Keith's whose slogan is "those who like it, like it a lot." And that's Tron in a nutshell. It's a cult film in every sense of the word. And yet somehow, someway, one of those cult members worked their way up the ladder at Disney and proclaimed, "hey you guys! Remember Tron? Yeah, Tron! Let's do another one of those!" And boom! In 2010 we finally got a sequel in the form of Tron Legacy...and of course it got panned by critics and sold bellow expected. Whoops! C'est la vie! Ah whatever, I liked that one too. And apparently so did enough people because it must have sold at least enough tickets to spawn an animated series. Yes, the metaphorical light-cycle keeps on cyclin' as we have more Tron goodies from the house of mouse in the form of a 10 part miniseries, Tron: Uprising. Could this franchise finally be getting the love and attention it deserves? Is this a sign of good things to happen on The Grid? hell would I know! I don't work at Disney. But they are throwing us niche Tron fans a bone here, so the least we can do is watch the series and be grateful there's any new Tron at all. So I watched the first episode and hoped for the best.

Very cool design work here.
The first thing I need to point out about Tron: Uprising is how it looks, which is amazing. The world of Tron has always been, and will always be, it's own distinctive style and Uprising continues that tradition. The darkest of darks mixed with the whitest of whites with streaks of blue and red light is a simple, yet striking art style that you simply can't see anywhere else other than in the Tron universe. But aside from the general aesthetics that come with Tron, there's something unique of this series that deserves to be pointed out. Much like how the 1982 and 2010 were unique in it's styles, bringing about another level of graphic fidelity for live action film, I feel that's what Tron: Uprising is doing in the world of televised animation. While the backgrounds (and the soundtrack for that matter) is definitely rooted more in 2010 film, the design of the characters are something you don't see in the standard animated series. Designed by Robert Valley, the characters all have a distinct face, most being very tall and slender with sharp shadows. Immediately it stands apart from every other action show on TV. The whole package together is so striking and unique. The closest thing I can compare it to is Aeon Fluxx, and even that isn't totally accurate.

Quick! While it's still, soak up that design folks! Soak it up!!
How the show is animated is a bit of a anomaly as well. I read in an interview that this series is a mix of 2D and 3D animation. What was animated with what, I could only make an educated guess (pretty sure the faces are 2D while the bodies and vehicles are 3D) but what's important is, again, it's a style I haven't seen before. Does it work as well as the design? ...eeeh....kinda. In big action scenes, things look amazing. The fights and the chases all look smooth and the style really gets to shine. And also when things are perfectly still you can really soak up the design (I mean, just look at these screen shots!) But where things begin to break down is in the subtel acting. You know, dialog heavy scenes with very little movement. For some reason when the characters have to act in these scenes they seem a bit clunky, or stiff, or they move not quite right. It didn't totally pull me out of the experience, but it is something worth mentioning, and maybe it's something that will improve as the series progresses.

Oh yeah. Dat Tron...
But everyone already knew that Tron looks awesome, that was never the issue. What the critics did bash it for was its focus of flash over substance. In other words, it looks pretty but the plot sucks. While I don't think the films deserved quite the criticism they got (I thought Legacy wasn't a perfect film, but I did enjoy the plot more than most reviewers did) I do somewhat see their point. Does Uprising continue this tradition as well? Well, with only part one out of ten released so far it's hard to say for sure. The miniseries will take place between Tron and Tron Legacy. As shown in the pilot, Beck's Beginning, it will follow a young mechanic program named Beck (played by Elijah Wood) who has taken it upon himself to disguise himself as the fallen hero Tron and start a rebellion against the dictatorial forces of Clu (Tron Legacy's antagonist) under the command of General Tesler (a new antagonist for the series) as they attempt to control all of The Grid. So far it looks like a basic hero's journey of a young dude fighting back against an evil force, gets trained by an old vet and eventually realizes his potential. Knowing what the status quo will be, since I've seen Tron Legacy, I feel like not much will come as a surprise to me in the forthcoming episodes, but who knows! Maybe there'll be a couple of twists coming up that I won't see coming. All in due time, I suppose. But if you're a Tron fan, you'll have lots to love here. Having the main character be a mechanic is a perfect way to showcase all these wicked light-based vehicles, and even the original actor of Tron, Bruce Boxleitner, makes a return to the character.

What I love is the seriousness and dryness in which the plot is delivered. It's taking itself very seriously, and while there's nothing unsafe for children to watch, the tone of the show is much more mature then the standard animated action show you'd see on TV today. Which, if you ask me, is a wonderful jump forward in terms of western mainstream animated content. It's one step closer to having animated shows be seen as more then just kid's stuff, which is definitely commendable.

Geometric shapes never looked so ominous.
So the question remains, should I recommend this series to anyone? Well, I'm once again thinking of that beer slogan, "those who like it, like it a lot." If you liked the tone and the plot from the previous films, then I have a feeling you'll like this too. If you didn' least you got a lot of pretty colours to look at, right? And if you've never seen anything to do with Tron before? I think Uprising is a pretty good jumping on point. At the end of the day, it really is something different and, in some ways, new. And when something is trying something new and interesting, the least you could do is keep an eye on it, because who knows! That might be the innovator for years to come. So good luck Tron: Uprising! I look forward to returning to The Grid and seeing where this will all lead.


- Moo

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Pirates! Band of Misfits (A Review)

Yup...they're pirates alright!
Aardman Animations: where to begin? When you think of quality stop motion animation, you think of these fine British blokes. Their Wallace & Gromit series is a critical and commercial smash, and their fabulous film Chicken Run might possibly be one of my favorite movies of all in that regard The Pirates! Band of Misfits (aside from also having an irritating exclamation point in the middle of it's title) has a lot to live up to. Does it reach that benchmark set by it's predecessors? Short answer, no. Long answer, no but only cause what came before it was really, really good. Longer answer: well just read the rest of the review, pal.

The film follows a pirate captain cleverly Pirate Captain (played by Hugh Grant) and his titular band of misfit pirates. The Pirate Captain, who's much too cheery to be a cut-through on the high seas, attempts to win the coveted pirate of the year competition after years and years of sucking at being a pirate. The twist here (and it really is a huge plot point that wasn't even hinted at in the trailers, so turn away now if'n ye care not for spoilers) is that they meet up with a young, lovesick Charles Darwin (surprisingly played by David Tennant, who I think should do more voice work in the future.) Darwin wants to use The Pirate Captain's pet dodo bird to win a fancy science competition and woo the pirate hating Queen Victoria (Imedla Staunton.) The plot sounds a little convoluted is. But we'll get back to that in a bit.

Right now let's start with the good: this film looks awesome. It's classic Aardman character design, with their classic insane amount of detail in each scene. The animation is charming and impressive, especially in a chase scene (something Aardman studios seem to excel at from past features) midway in the film that starts at the top of a mansion and ends up on the city streets and mostly takes place in a bathtub. That sequence alone is worth the price of admission if you ask me. It's not only very creative, but masterfully animated.

However, noticeable modern shortcuts do rear their heads, both in animation and in music. There's a notable amount of added CG elements, mostly with water and other special effects which, as a stop motion purist, I cry foul. But what can you do? Aardman has successfully dipped their toe in the CG waters with fully CG flicks like Flushed Away and Arthur Christmas, so it's not like their CG division is going anywhere. And yes, animating this much spot-motion water would be really, really really, really hard/impossible. But you can't deny that even though it takes an insane amount of work compared to the compter generated route, practical effect will always be more interesting to watch and have more character then digitally added ones. Especially on a stop-motion feature like this where the GC doesn't quite match the clay art-style. But maybe I'm just being a little bit too curmudgeonly old fashioned, so I'll just move along from this issue.

Yes, water's pretty impossible to animate in stop-motion. You win this round movie.
What personally irks me a bit more is this film's liberal use of modern music. It's one thing to have present day speech and current jokes in a period setting, but for some reason if there's more then one modern rock song in a movie that takes place in a classical setting it just pulls me out of the experience. And I'm sorry, just sticking in the Flight of the Conchords song "I'm Not Crying" during a sad montage might work if you didn't know the song existed beforehand, but if you do, it just feels a little lazy.

It's Victoria Day Weekend here in Canada! Celebrate by killing a pirate!
None of these points are deal breakers for me though. I'm definitely picking at nits here, so let's dip right into the thick of this movie and talk about the characters. Hugh Grant: he's awesome. He steals the show as The Pirate Captain, bringing a loveable, ridiculous buffoonery to our central protagonist. That's both good and bad. On the good we have this awesome and loveable character fully ready for hilarity and goofy pirate gags, and on the bad he totally outshines any and all other characters in the film. The only other characters that can hope to compete is the over the top madness of Queen Victoria with her inexplicable rage-filled pirate prejudice, and possibly Charles Darwin's monkey butler (who happens to have some of the best gags of the film.) Darwin himself is decent and serves the plot well, so there's really not much to complain about there. What I do have to complain about is every other side character. The other pirates competing for pirate of the year? Bland and forgettable. One gag ponies who serve as obstacles with faces for our main protagonist. The Pirate Captain's crew? Bland and forgettable. While they all have their own visual quirks (a guy with gout, an albino, and my personal favorite, a woman in a fake beard) none of them really have any stand out personality defining character moments except for The Pirate Captain's second in command (played by Martin Freeman) with his bromance with the captain. Other then that, the titular band of misfits didn't really do anything interesting or all.

Speaking of not interesting, let's talk about their pet dodo bird. Sweet Jimmy Crickets, this bird was dull, and that's kind of a big problem. Actually, this unlikely character is the perfect example of this movie's shortcomings. Let's for a moment compare the bird from Pirates! Band of Misfits (named Polly, by the way) to Kevin, the bird from Pixar's Up.
The fight of the feathered MacGuffins!!
Both are flightless birds who serves as the main MacGuffin that both the bad guys and the good guys want to get their grubby little paws on. The deference is I cared about the outcome of Kevin when I didn't give two shits about Polly. Why? Because the acting with Kevin was so likeable. She was a character with her own personality and we, as an audience, fell in love with Kevin just as the characters did. On the other hand, we're told that Polly is the beloved mascot of the pirate ship and they all adore her. But being told we're supposed to love someone isn't enough to rouse an emotional response. Polly shows no real character, no real motivations, and is really just a dumb clueless bird. Which could be funny if it was played up or if most of the plot didn't revolve around her. But they didn't play it up, and the plot does revolve around her. When Polly is in peril, I really just don't care about her. And there in lies the major problem I have with the plot.

A band of misfits they are! But don't get attached, the movie's not about them.
As the plot goes on, we're rushed from one location to another and the main goals of the characters also change quite frequently from scene to scene. It all gets a little unfocused. Thematically, we're supposed to remember the overarching goal of The Pirate Captain winning the pirate of the year competition is what's driving all this action, but sadly the goal of keeping the Pirate Captain's ego afloat doesn't make much of an intriguing investment for an audience member. So emotionally we're supposed to remember deep down it's the Pirate Captain's connection with his beloved crew that is the important motivation for driving the action, but that also is hard when his crew (including the dull dodo) hasn't really made any connection to us, the audience. As a result, by the time we reach the story's climax there doesn't seem like there's very much as stake, which is the last thing you want to be thinking during the third act of one's movie.

Truth be told, I hate to harp on this movie. And despite my ramblings, it may surprise you that I did enjoy this film quite a bit. There were so many good jokes (and good clean jokes at that, which is so much harder to write,) the visual humour was spot on, and the gags all hit their targets. I just feel with a little more heart and soul between the characters (especially from the captain's crew, and not just his bland second in command) this movie could have been up there with Wallace & Gromit levels of awesomeness.

Hugh Grant as The Pirate Captain: hopefully we'll see him again.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits is a misleading title, as it deals very little with the titular band of misfits. In fact, in the UK the title is The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, and while that title is certainly odder (are arguably less marketable) than the US version, it does more accurately convey what we're going to see on the big screen. Actually, in a weird way this movie kind of feels like a sequel to a hypothetical better movie. There's so many characters that they don't spend time developing, other characters the movie assumes we already are invested in, and there's numerous mentions of bigger (possibly better) adventures this crew has been on. Aardman has gone on record staying they would like to continue this series, which would explain the odd placement of punctuation in the film's title. And frankly, I would kind of like a sequel! It would give us an even better chance to get acquainted with these characters who, I felt, didn't quite live up to their potential the first time. I think these characters would benefit even more from the episodical nature of a TV show more, but hay! Stop-motion takes a while, and a TV show would probably work their animators to death (or at least work them until their social lives were ruined.) So I say huzzah to this film! She may not be perfect, or be as memorable as her older stop-motion siblings, but this little misfit is still good enough to see with your family for a round of hardy laughs.


- Moo

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Legend of Korra (First Impressions)

The legend continues...

I have to admit, once upon a time I totally dismissed Avatar: The Last Airbender before I even watched a whole episode. But really, can you blame me? An American cartoon borrowing crazy heavily from anime during a point when crappy faux anime was clogging up Saturday mornings may have caused me to already have doubts. Then you tell me it was done by Nickelodeon, a cartoon company best known for jokes involving slime, goo, or some other gross-out humour, and you may get why my expectations were so low for this show. So you can imagine how my expectations were thoroughly dashed once my friend actually forced me to watch the first couple episodes. Quite simply, I fell in love.  The adventures of Avatar Aang and his quest to learn all the elements to defeat an evil dictator was epic, fun and skillfully crafted to create many memorable characters and moments. The animation, the voice work, the music, the backgrounds, the humour, the choreography: all of the elements came together (pun intended) to make one of the biggest breaths of fresh air in a long time for action cartoons. And one of the best things about the series? It ended. Unlike many other western cartoons (and western television in general, actually) it didn't continue until it was unprofitable and stale. There was a set beginning, middle and end, and it all was so skillfully planned and paced. But of course since the show got so popular, Nickelodeon couldn't let go of such a hot property. So how in the world do you follow such a great show?

...with a horrible live-action movie by M. Night Shyamalan, of course!

Curse you Shyamalamadingdong!!
But ignoring that mess (and I believe that's just what Avatar: The Last Airbender creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko did) it was only a matter of time before we revisited this amazing world. And luckily that's just what we get in this sequel series, The Legend of Korra (now dropping the "Avatar" title. Thanks for nothing, James Cameron.) Taking place 70 years after the original show, The Legend of Korra feels like a wonderful jumping on point for newcomers, but for veteran fans of the show it feels just like like coming home to family. 

Korra: Badass in training
Thus far I've only seen the first two episodes: Welcome to Republic City and A Leif in the Wind. What I've noticed most about these two episodes is that it does something all good sequels should do; it should seem familiar, yet different. And familiarity shouldn't be limited to characters and setting, but in theme and tone as well. While there are many references to old character and plot points for fans, the series wisely chose to focus on the new characters such as Korra and the airbender Tenzin (Aang's son, who now has a quirky, energetic and ever growing family.) Actually, so far only one character from the original show is even present. And honestly, that's all that's needed because these new characters are so likeable and have so many ties with the old cast of characters (both actually and thematically) that they are instantly a cast I'm invested in.

Pro bending: another new addition to the world of Avatar
What I'm mostly happy to say is that this series still has the same feel of the old series, just slightly older and more mature and also (mostly) taking place in a completely new setting. There's still excellent character moments, wonderfully choreographed fights and even some oddball slapstick humour, but it's not just a rehash of the same plot with different characters. While the original series had Avatar Aang traveling all over the globe, the issues that Korra faces in this new series are much more centralized on one big city. Instead of fighting wars against nations, Korra has to fight crime and corruption. It's something new that the series hasn't tackled, and I can only imagine how things will progress. Even some of the world's style has evolved with the flow of time between shows. Having an apparent industrial revolution talking place in the past 70 years brings about a slew of new stylistic choices to the show such as having technology like radios and cars. Again, familiar because it's in the same world we know and love, but different with the progression of the world's technology.

The start of this series, in my opinion, couldn't have gone better artistically. Much like the show's tone, the art direction has only grown and matured over time, bringing to this series an even greater amount of detail in the art and animation. Quality voice actors have been thoughtfully brought in and casted (something I can't say for every Nickelodeon production.) And the music is still top notch, even having some sort of "Chinese jazz" being played in some of the city's segments. Very cool stuff indeed.

H'oh yeah. This is one good lookin' show
All in all, these two episodes left me wanting more and thinking about what's to come, which is exactly what good episodic storytelling should do. If you're an Avatar: The Last Airbender fan, I don't need to tell you to watch this. Heck, chances are you already have. But if you're new to the series, or in need of some refreshing and creative action/adventure animation, you'd be pretty hard pressed to find a show better than this one. It's a great jumping on point for new watchers, and hopefully it'll hook them enough to also go back and watch the wonder that is the original series as well. Welcome back Avatar! I greatly look forward to the adventures to come!

Highly recommended!

- Moo

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Lorax (A Review)

A feature of The Lorax, finally at last!
They're adapting a favorit book from my past!
To say I'm a fan of Seuss would be true,
I'm a master of fish counting, of both red and blue
(If you got that reference, you're a Seuss fan too!)

So I saw the flick, and it was a bad show
But to my surprise, only I thought so.
I puzzled and puzzled till my puzzler was sore.
This movie, I saw, was a total bore.

They padded the feature, yet shortened the best part!
And compared to the book, there was very little heart.
The message was muddled, the songs were a pain.
So much pointless cuteness, it damaged my brain,
To the point where I thought that I turned insane!
Yet, the audience liked it. This I cannot explain.

They liked the whole movie. They liked it a lot,
Despite the lame characters, and it's week plot,
They liked the villain, ripped straight from Captain Planet.
They even liked the obnoxiously fat bear, goddamn it!

Am I the only one who sees this as wrong?
Who's annoyed by the forcibly hip Once-ler song?
And also, The Lorax doesn't speak for the trees,
But trips to your iHop in new SUVs.

This movie was bad, but what to do now?
I must stop more tickets from selling...but how?
I have some issues with this film, it's true,
So allow me to rant in the following review

So much like the movie, I'll drop the rhyming scheme,
To better explain and show you what I mean...

Speaks for the trees, and new SUVs!
First of all, I'm not going to go into great length about the horrifically hypocritical marketing they've tied in with this film. Yes, ads have the Lorax, the spokes creature of all things environmental, advertising disposable diapers and SUVs, but I won't go into detail about that here. Instead, I'm focusing this review on the quality of the movie itself. But let me just say that if this movie does indeed speak for the trees, then they definitely need to hire a new translator.

Now for those not in the know, The Lorax is one of Dr. Seuss' less popular books, mostly because the book deals with a rather loud pro-environmental message and it does end on a bit of a downer. With those two things combined one would think a movie adaptation of The Lorax would be a bit of a hard sell, but hey! This is Hollywood! They'll adapt anything, and honestly that's not always a bad thing. Hell, when Disney adapted an amusement park ride we ended up with one hell of a nice Pirates movie. But there is a right and a wrong way to adapt things, and sadly Seuss' properties have never really transitioned all that well to feature films, with movies ranging from piss poor (Cat in the Hat) to "meh" (Horton Hears a Who, which was adapted to the big screen by the same guy who wrote The Lorax's script, Ken Daurio.)  The Lorax isn't the worst Dr. Seuss adaptation out there, but sadly it does get a bit more wrong then it does right.

One of the interesting aspects of the book is the fact that it's narrated by the story's antagonist, The Once-ler, to a blank slate of a young child, representing the reader. But since the movie needs to be lengthened to make it a respectable feature length, the obvious choice was not to expand on The Once-ler's story, but of the kid's side. So the kid is now given the name Ted (played by Zac Efron,) and his own conflicts outside of the original story. I have nothing wrong with this choice, making the actual "Lorax" story more of a story within a story. But as a result, the film creates a lot of really cool ideas with very little overall thought on how that changes the message and theme of the original.

Ted's town is designed well...maybe too well...
So about half of the movie is about young Ted, as he lives in his town of plastic and rubber, completely devoid of any actual plant life. And while it's cool to see the design of the town, and it is indeed a very cool design, I still have to ask "why should anyone care about trees?" Because honestly, this town looks bitchin' without real trees. Everyone seems to not only survive, but thrive without them in this town. The movie shows all the citizens having fun: downhill skiing, barbecuing, enjoying forgettable song and dance numbers (seriously, I'm having trouble remembering anything about the opening number.) The only downside is people in this town need to buy their fresh air "Spaceballs" style from a rich air tycoon named O'Hare (who of course is a villain who is laughably short, has a Napoleon complex, and whose major character trait is an unreasonably unquenchable greed. What? Were you expecting some sort of originality? Too bad!) And really, this air transaction is hardly viewed as a nuisance, and even further from being an actual problem. No one is having issues paying for air. There isn't an air shortage. So again, why should we care that this town has no trees?

Hey baby! I'd like to plant my roots into you anyday!
Because young Ted has the hots for his neighbour, that's why! And his neighbour Audrey (Taylor Swift)  seems to have a thing for truffula trees. But not for any environmentally conscious reasons, God no! She just...likes them...cause they look nice...and pretty...and they look good in murals. Again, the reason for needing trees is mighty paper thin. But nevertheless, wanting to score some sort of PG-rated action from this clichéd "girl next door" crush, Ted goes off to look for any news on how to get a truffula tree. Which leads him to the wasteland out of town and the old Once-ler (played with surprisingly enjoyable "shut-in" quirkiness by Ed Helms) who begins to tell him the tragic story of him and the gardian of the trees, The Lorax. Which finally leads us to the events in the book...sort of...

In the flash back, the Once-ler is somewhat changed as well. First of all giving him a face (guess it was too hard to leave him in the shadows for the whole movie,) then making him a "cool" guitar-slinging teen for the older demographic, then finally adding a one-demential overbaring mother. It mostly felt like filler to me, but then we actually got to the valley where the Once-ler first lays eyes on the tuffula trees and oh man! Speaking of filler, let's talk about the cute animals!

The fat bear eats more cuz he's fat! LOLOLOLOLOLO!!
Cuteness is a powerful tool. It can melt hearts, make you laugh, and create memorable moments. What I noticed most people mention when they say they've enjoyed this movie was "it was cute." And I won't deny the cuteness of the animals; I'm not made of stone. But there was no substance to the cuteness. It was cute for the sake of being cute, and that's it. I don't mind a little of that, but this movie, oh man, it was a cuteness overload to the point of being obnoxious. Every shot in the Once-ler's story had to have some sort of animal gag in it. Weather it be the cute squawking birds, the harmonizing fish, or the fat bear....ohhhh, how I loathed that fat bear. After two Kung-Fu Panda movies I thought animated features would be sick of fat jokes; how wrong I was. But maybe I should've seen this coming. This movie is done by the same folks that did Despicable Me: a movie (and upcoming sequel) whose whole advertising campaign consisted of frickin' adorable high-pitched yellow things being adorable. And did anyone else notice the fishes in The Lorax having the exact same squeaky voices as Despicable Me's minons? Just sayin'.

You may have noticed my review of The Lorax so far has been rather sparse on any mention of the actual Lorax (who was fittingly voiced by Danny DeVito.) That's because while the book mostly involved a constant back and forth debate between the eager corporate Once-ler and the nagging, tree-hugging Lorax, the movie mostly involves Lorax just bugging the Once-ler. Bugging, and pestering and trying an oddly cruel scheme to rid the Once-ler from the valley.  Yet the Lorax never really gives him a solid reason for not chopping down the trees. He warns that cutting down trees is bad, and he should stop doing it, but doesn't give him reasons. That's what made the book compelling! The book didn't talk down at its kid-centered audience, or try to distract them with lame animal gags; it addressed the issues of deforestation in a straight forward and creative way, letting both sides have a back and forth discourse until the situation got out of hand. Most of the events of the book (the expanding of the Once-ler's shop and the individual goodbyes to all the wildlife) happens within the course of a 3 minute song (called "How Bad Can I Be? ...very subtle movie...) I guess instead of bringing up intelligent points about deforestation and the economy, we needed more forced visual gags with the cute forest critters. The whole result seems oddly paced: padded and stretched at the beginning and end, and then rushed in the middle to get most of the book's events over in 3 minutes.

The Lorax: photoed here being mildly displeased.
I know that feeling, bro.
If you think I'm being overly critical of this movie, it's probably because I know that there is a right way to adapt The Lorax. In fact, that version was already made in 1972. It was produced by Looney Tunes veteran Friz Freleng and Dr. Seuss himself, and as a result it just felt more...well..."Seussy." The cartoon kept a lot of elements that the 2012 version seemed to scoff at, such as fun rhyming schemes and Seuss' trademark nonsensical logic. For example, the only time I heard the Lorax call the bears "barbaloots" in the 2012 version was shamefully under his breath, almost as if it was a swear. And while there was some rhyming in the 2012 version, most every time they tried to fit in a rhyming scheme the "hip" characters would shrug it off, as if this juvenile nursery rhyme stuff was beneath them.

The 1972 version: with 98% more rhymes and 20% more wah-wah guitars.
The 1972 cartoon, however, embraced the elements that made Seuss great, and to top it all off it only ran under 30 minutes, and hell, even that felt stretched with songs and such (not stretched nearly to the extent of the 2012 version.) But at least the 1972 version was faithful, keeping all the major plot points that needed to be hit. Again, I have nothing wrong with lengthening the story, giving the Ted character and his plastic town its own arc and even ending the film with a more lighthearted note, but their execution of these ideas were sloppy. Much like the Once-ler getting caught up in expanding his business that he fails to consider the consequences, it felt like the writers were in such a rush to make this movie longer that they didn't stop to think about the pacing or more importantly the impact of the film's message.

I hate to be such a downer on a movie that is actually trying to get a worthwhile message to children, and from what I'm understanding kids are getting some degree of environmental education from this film. But from where I stand, the message in this film feels neutered and only a fraction of what it could have been. Which is a shame, because when the film finally slows down from it's A.D.D. pacing and takes in a quite moment, the animation takes over for some very powerful scenes. Moments like when Ted first ventures out into the deforested wasteland, or the first and last truffula trees being chopped down. The film is great at wringing out every ounce of emotion in these parts. But those are only fleeting moments in an otherwise mucky film. This movie could have been a truly powerful force of nature, but instead it's just a very week, very soft reminder that trees are good because...well, because the film said so, that's why.

And then I thought a thought I didn't think before,
Maybe this movie sucks, because I know more.
I've seen the original and what it can do
Making my view on this film all wonky and askew.

This film has made millions, what else can I say?
The people have spoken, they're willing to pay.
I'm fine with their choices, I'll speak what I please
About this week movie that "speaks for the trees."

So what if the masses are in love with this flick,
I'm happy ranting and raving and being a dick.


- Moo