Saturday, January 28, 2012

Open Season 3

Year 4, Day 28 - 1/28/12 - Movie #1,028

BEFORE: It's a bad sign when the IMDB credits don't even tell me which actor voices one of the main characters, Boog, in this direct-to-video sequel.  Fortunately some of the supporting actors carry over, not many though.

I have made great strides in cutting down the number of animated films on my list, however - in a few days there will be just a handful left.  Of course, that doesn't count last year's films like "Rio" and "Rango", which I don't have copies of just yet.  Or "Happy Feet 2" or "Cars 2" or "Hop", etc.

THE PLOT: Boog's friends rally to bring him home from a Russian traveling circus.

AFTER:  Ah, the circus.  Nothing says "Deus ex Machina" like the circus coming to town.  Especially when a Russian circus comes to visit one of our great national parks, as they so often do.  And especially when said circus features a performing bear that looks almost exactly like our main character, the forest bear (identical cousins?) so they can swap places.  Yes, it's another take on "The Prince and the Pauper", or more likely that episode of "The Brady Bunch" where Peter met a kid at school who looked almost exactly like him.  (And yet they never checked to see if he was a lost twin, curious...)

This right here is how you kill a franchise.  Recycle a standard novel/sit-com plot, pump up the slapstick (Rabbit fight!) and the hilarious misunderstandings, and then just have your characters bide their time for 75 minutes.  Oh, and don't bother hiring any of those famous actor-types to be in it, they'll only cut into the film's profitability, right?

Toss in a couple of threadbare messages about the value of friendship, or acceptance, or something.  Or mention that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence (but don't say it directly, please, we don't want to be preachy).  And, congratulations, your film franchise is dead.  Now you don't have to bother making another sequel!

Starring the voices of Crispin Glover, Steve Schirripa (both carrying over from last night), and...well, that's just about it.  I think someone dropped the ball when it came time to submit credits to the IMDB.  Shout out to Fred Stoller, who I forgot to mention last night.

RATING: 3 out of 10 gumballs

Friday, January 27, 2012

Open Season 2

Year 4, Day 27 - 1/27/12 - Movie #1,027

BEFORE: Just a few days left in the animal chain, and I can't help but feel I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel on the topic.  Tonight I'm still in the national parks system, checking out the wildlife.  I watched "Open Season" way back in the first month of the project - so I should probably re-read my review and a summary of what was probably a very intricate plot...

Dan Aykroyd from "Yogi Bear" links through "Spies Like Us" to Chevy Chase, who links through "Vacation" to Jane Krakowski (last seen in "Cirque du Freak"), who voices a doe (a deer, a female deer!) tonight.

THE PLOT: After falling head over hooves in love with Giselle, Elliot's road to the altar takes a slight detour when Mr. Weenie is kidnapped by a group of pampered pets determined to return him to his owners.

AFTER: Talk about getting excessively complicated - who knew that forest animals conducted elaborate wedding ceremonies, just like humans?

Actually there are two distinct animal societies here, the domestics and the wild ones.  And they don't seem to get along at first, except for a dachshund named Mr. Weenie who was once domesticated, but now lives among the wild ones in the forest.  His owners never stopped looking for him though (Awwww....) so they leave dog biscuits out in the forest, and he gets reunited with them.

His forest friends think he's been kidnapped, so they go on the now-traditional Long and Difficult Quest to find him and bring him back, leading to the conflict between the two animal groups, pets and game.  It all comes to a head in a weird setting - within the national park is a combination hotel and amusement park that caters to pets, complete with doggie-treat buffets and waterslides for animals.  As far as I know, there's nothing like that in the real world, so why feature it in a film?

It's a sticking point for me - why would people go to a national park and then stay at a hotel, rather than sleep in the RVs so prominently seen in the film?  Why go out into nature and then avoid it?  If people wanted to go to an amusement park, they wouldn't travel in a camper to a national park.  And why bring their adored pets with them to a place where they could get eaten by, say, a bear?  But since this is what the script needed, from a story standpoint it becomes a case of the tail wagging the dog. (sorry...)

Also, we do get to learn which actors have similar voices to the first film's stars, Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher.  Were they too busy to reprise their roles, or too expensive?  The conflict in the original "Open Season" was animals vs. hunters - which made a little more sense than forest creatures vs. cats + dogs.

So, a split decision on tonight's film - it's not as bad as "Yogi Bear", but neither is it as good as, say "Bee Movie".

Starring the voices of Joel McHale (subbing in for Kutcher, and last seen in "The Informant!"), Mike Epps (subbing for Lawrence), plus Billy Connolly (last seen in "Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties"), Crispin Glover (last heard in "9"), Steve Schirripa, Georgia Engel (last heard in "Open Season"), Diedrich Bader (last heard in "Bolt").

RATING: 5 out of 10 shock-collars.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Yogi Bear

Year 4, Day 26 - 1/26/12 - Movie #1,026

BEFORE: Another personal connection tonight, but a less positive one.  Last year the Academy had to make a ruling about how many animated features were eligible for Oscar nominations - by its guidelines, in any year with 15 or more eligible animated features, 5 films would receive nominations, instead of the usual 3.  The Academy ruled that there was not enough animation in this film for it to qualify, so only 14 films were considered eligible, and thus only 3 nominations in that category.  This may have prevented a film that I worked on from getting a nomination, so I'm predisposed to hate this film.

Oh, and Mark Hamill from "Queer Duck" was in a little film called "Star Wars" with Harrison Ford, who was in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" with Dan Aykroyd (last seen in "Neighbors") in a cameo role.  Aykroyd provides the voice of Yogi tonight.  And the bear thing - Bi-Polar Bear in last night's film - is another obvious link.

THE PLOT: A documentary filmmaker travels to Jellystone Park to shoot a project and soon crosses paths with Yogi Bear, his sidekick Boo-Boo, and Ranger Smith.

AFTER: The Academy should have ruled against this one not for its lack of animation, but for its lack of imagination - or any redeeming value, for that matter.

Ugh, I don't even know where to start with this one, or if it's even going to be worth pointing out its numerous faults.  I guess I'll start with the obvious - talking bears, which doesn't seem to alarm anyone, though all the other animals seem quite mute.  People even travel for miles to see the talking bears, and consider it an honor to have their picnic baskets stolen by them.  Which all seems rather weird.

And the talking bear is an inventor on a par with Wile E. Coyote - which is a contradiction in itself, how can an animal be so smart as to build all this complex stuff, which requires brains, but to have absolutely NONE of it do what it's supposed to do - so, are they smart, or not?  As a screenwriter, someone has to make some kind of decision.

I know, kids' film, kids' film, kids' film.  But BAD kids' film.  Even a kids' film has to make some kind of sense.  And entertain, at least on some level.  But every actor here looks like they'd rather be somewhere else, or in some other movie, except maybe the mayor, who's the only non-animated being on screen with any kind of energy.

I don't know what's worse, the lackluster performances or the "Hey, let's put on a SHOW!" mentality that's going to (somehow) balance the city budget and save a park.  And what's with that, anyway - why is a NATIONAL park subject to the whims of a city's budget?  Shouldn't they be getting federal funds somehow, or am I asking too much for requiring one lick of sense here?

Just because you can animate a bear character, and make it talk and fall down and water-ski, doesn't mean that you SHOULD.  You should only do so if doing so proves to be entertaining, which it's not.
And, like last night's film there are spoofs of/homages to famous (better) films, like "Superman", "2001: A Space Odyssey", even "Apocalypse Now" - but last night they were used for comic effect, here they seem just pointless.

Also starring Tom Cavanagh (who I want to like, really, but he's got to pick better material), T.J. Miller (last heard in "How to Train Your Dragon"), Anna Faris (last heard in "Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel"), Andrew Daly (last seen in "She's Out of My League"), Nate Corddry, and the voice of Justin Timberlake (last heard in "Shrek the Third").

RATING: 2 out of 10 pies in the face

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Queer Duck: The Movie

Year 4, Day 25 - 1/25/12 - Movie #1,025

BEFORE: Tim Curry carries over again, making for a voiceover trifecta.  Full disclosure: I know the director of this film in the real world, I will do my best to remain impartial.  But really, if I didn't, what's the harm?

THE PLOT: Queer Duck leaves his lover, Openly Gator, when he becomes enamored of and marries the Nora-Desmondesque Ms. Buzzard.

AFTER: I guess this also springs from a Showtime TV series, probably their bid to compete with "South Park" and "Drawn Together", this is in the same vein of irreverent animation.

This film may have also sprung from that news item a few years ago about gay penguins in some zoo, which sparked some controversy and shook up people's notions about animals and sexuality.  Or, maybe it's just trying to be funny.  There are lots of pot-shots at gay culture and general pop culture, so it somehow manages to celebrate and spoof the gay lifestyle at the same time.  Homophobes and born-again preachers who try to "pray away the gay" are easy targets, of course. 

In addition to the obvious "Sunset Boulevard" references, there are send-ups of "Beauty and the Beast", "Lady and the Tramp", Gilbert & Sullivan, "A Clockwork Orange", "The Graduate", and "A Christmas Carol".  I'm sure I'm probably missing a few.  Meanwhile there are "South Park"-like jabs at Liz Taylor, Michael Jackson, Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand (of course...), and Rosie O'Donnell.  The downside is that jabs at the King of Pop, as well as the show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" are now really dated, and this movie's just 5 years old!  That's the risk you take when you go topical.

Still, there's lots of clever stuff here - what else would you expect from a film with characters named Bi-Polar Bear and Oscar Wildcat?  Or an aging actress (literally, an old buzzard) who stars in a one-woman show titled "Still Not Dead"? 

Also starring the voices of Jim J. Bullock (last seen in "Switch"), Kevin Michael Richardson (last heard as the shaman in "The Wild Thornberrys Movie"), Billy West (last heard in "Cats & Dogs"), Jackie Hoffman, Maurice LaMarche, and Jeff Bennett (last heard as Ted in "Curious George 2"), with cameos from Mark Hamill (last heard in "Tom and Jerry in Shiver Me Whiskers"), Andy Dick (last heard in "The Lion King 2"), Estelle Harris (last heard in "Teacher's Pet"), Bruce Vilanch and Conan O'Brien.

RATING: 6 out of 10 thermometers

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey!

Year 4, Day 24 - 1/24/12 - Movie #1,024

BEFORE: Last night's film was about the relationship between a girl and her monkey - so let's run with that tonight, the relationship between human and monkey.  And Tim Curry carries over as well, voicing Mr. Thornberry last night, and a circus magician named Piccadilly (get it?) tonight.

THE PLOT: The film chronicles George's adventures as he befriends Kayla, a baby elephant, at a magic circus show and helps her travel across the country to be reunited with her family.

AFTER: Yes, it's another traveling quest film - with George, Ted (aka The Man With The Yellow Hat) and an elephant going cross-country.  Would it surprise anyone that the monkey seems to be the one with all the plans?  Ted's constantly distracted by his upcoming pitch to become head of the museum, so he kind of gets roped into the trip.

But there's a mix-up, and even though Ted's as honest as the day is long, it appears that he kidnapped, err, calf-napped the young elephant.  This is sort of a spin on "Dumbo", only the elephant juggles instead of flies, wants to be reunited with her brother and sister, not her mother, and the villain is not a cruel circus-master, but instead an over-zealous security expert.

Pretty standard stuff, from all I've seen this month, but monkeys are cute and mischievous, even when they can't talk.  And it's Ted who learns the most important lesson, which is to cut loose, have some fun and enjoy the trip.  Though his original pitch is ruined, he's able to pitch the lesson instead and succeed.  But, did he really learn to put loved ones first?  That girlfriend of his still seemed sort of neglected.

NITPICK POINT: Stuck in a train car, with no way to escape.  Am I to believe a man can't call for help, because his cell phone won't work anywhere between New York and St. Louis?

NITPICK POINT #2: California's a pretty big state.  This film seems to suggest that once you get there, finding an elephant is going to be simple.  Why, the animal park's just up the road!  Awful big coincidence, if you ask me.

NITPICK POINT #3: This film makes an interesting distinction between doing what's legal and doing what's right, which is a bit of a strange message to have in a kiddie film.  When Ted learns he's on the hook for stealing an elephant, rather than turn himself in and fix things, his reaction is more like "Screw it, I can't get into any more trouble than I'm already in, so let's break some more laws!"  Again, kids are watching.

Also starring the voices of Jeff Bennett (last heard in "The Jungle Book 2"), Jamie Kennedy (last seen in "Romeo + Juliet"), animation regulars Fred Tatasciore, Catherine Taber, Frank Welker, Carlos Alazraqui and Cree Summer, with cameos from Jerry Lewis (last seen in "The Patsy"), Matt Lauer and Clint Howard (last seen in "The Missing").

RATING: 4 out of 10 pie charts

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Wild Thornberrys Movie

Year 4, Day 23 - 1/23/12 - Movie #1,023

BEFORE: This is another animated feature based on a kids' cable show that I've never watched, like "Jimmy Neutron" and "Teacher's Pet".  But I am somewhat familiar with it, and the animation style, which is by the same company that did "Rugrats" (which I never cared for) and "Duckman" (which I did like, but for its humor, not the crudely-drawn animation).

It's about a family that travels around the world filming a nature documentary show, and the younger daughter has the ability to talk to animals, much like Mowgli.  And Mae Whitman, who voiced Shanti in "Jungle Book 2" has a voice role here as "Schoolgirl", which I'm sure must be a crucial role.

THE PLOT: On an African safari, Eliza Thornberry discovers that thanks to a shaman, she can now talk to animals. When Eliza discovers that poachers in Africa's Serengeti Desert plan to kill an elephant herd with an electrified fence, she and her chimpanzee friend Darwin must somehow find a way to stop them.

AFTER: This one came on just a bit too strong with the anti-poaching message.  Not that I'm in favor of animal poaching, or fur trapping, or anything like that.  But I'm already against it, and I don't need a heavy-handed PSA about it in animated form.  Still, maybe there are kids out there who aren't aware, so I'm going to let it slide.

There just wasn't a lot for me to grab on to with this one.  OK, so Eliza wants to save a cheetah cub, I can get behind that.  But the whole thing with her being sent to boarding school in London just seemed like an odd diversion, or some kind of time-killer until they could get her back to the action.

Plus, like in last night's film, there's an awful lot of people getting lost in the jungle, finding each other, then running off again.  You'd expect that documentary filmmakers would have better ways of navigating through the jungle, and communicating with each other so their children wouldn't be constantly getting lost.

The big action scene involves elephants congregating in a particular valley during an eclipse.  But not only is this unlikely (since there's no warning of an eclipse, and elephants walk slowly and would need to start out ahead of time) but never fully explained.  Eliza makes up some B.S. answer in the end, but for me the reasoning wasn't there.

The "magic" angle is an OK way to explain why one character can talk to animals, and vice versa - hey, it worked in "Dr. Doolittle", didn't it?  It's more attention to the topic than most movies have - in "Jungle Book 2", for example, Mowgli and the animals just converse with no explanation. 

NITPICK POINT: Again, a movie features an animal stowing away in a person's luggage - all the way from Africa to London.  Doesn't anyone x-ray bags?  Of course they do.  A monkey probably can't travel this way and get through airport security.  Plus there are all sorts of quarantine restrictions, for good reasons.  What if that monkey contaminated the whole boarding school?

I will give props for the soundtrack, though - with songs from Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel and the Pretenders, just as a start.  Didn't help the plot much, but I was impressed.

Starring the voices of Lacey Chabert (last heard in "Lion King 2"), Tim Curry (last heard in "Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties"), Lynn Redgrave (last seen in "Kinsey"), Tom Kane, Jodi Carlisle, Rupert Everett (last seen in "Stardust"), Marisa Tomei (last seen in "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"), with cameos from Alfre Woodard (last seen in "Crooklyn"), Brock Peters (last seen in "Soylent Green"), Brenda Blethyn (last seen in "A River Runs Through It"), Charles Shaughnessy and Flea.

RATING: 3 out of 10 talking squirrels