Saturday, January 26, 2013

Happy Feet Two

Year 5, Day 26 - 1/26/13 - Movie #1,327

BEFORE:  This is another film that was cut from my World Tour last year - I didn't feel the need to represent Antarctica (pet peeve of mine: people who miss the first "C" and pronounce it "Antartica").  I was virtually going AROUND the world, not once around with a detour down to the bottom.  Let's give it up for penguins, who somehow survive down at the ass end of the planet, in extreme cold conditions, and never complain about it.  At least, I never hear them.

The spotlight this weekend falls on Hank Azaria, who voiced Carlos the Chick last night in "Hop", and appears here as a new addition to the "Happy Feet" cast of characters.

THE PLOT:  Mumble's son, Erik, is struggling to realize his talents in the Emperor Penguin world. Meanwhile, the penguins discover a new threat their home -- one that will take everyone working together to save them.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Surf's Up" (Movie #6), "Rio" (Movie #1,293)

AFTER:  I'm not calling this a follow-up to "Happy Feet", which it obviously is, because I watched that film in 2008, before beginning this project. 

There are three plotlines running through this one, but somehow they all work together well, and they don't interrupt each other.  Converging them together at the end felt a little forced, but what else can you do?  There's the young penguin trying to find his voice, or dance step or whatever, there's the plight of the penguin clan trapped in a cavern, and there's the side-plot of two krill who want to break off from the swarm and evolve.

There's a nice progression from the first film, in which all the penguins sang (how else are they going to tell each other apart?) but one wanted to dance.  Dancing apparently caught on, because in the opening number here, they all sing AND dance.  Except for the little one who apparently can't do either.  This leads him to seek out guidance from a strange new penguin with a rare ability, which makes him a superstar in the community.

It's almost like a cult that's built up around Sven, the new bird.  I'm surprised they didn't go for the cheap pun and call it "Fly-entology".  Maybe they just didn't think of it.  God knows they used every single pun possible based on the word "krill".

There's an implication of climate change here, with the penguin's territory affected by the movement of a giant ice shelf, but addressing the subject directly might have ruffled a few conservative feathers.  If they make a third film, they should probably confront this issue head on if they can.  They cover that ground in the "Ice Age" films, but those take place eons ago.   

The music was fine, I have to approve of the restraint in using the song "Papa Oom Mow Mow" and not the similar but more annoying song "Bird is the Word".  Also in the use of Queen's "Under Pressure" while resisting the temptation to mix in "Ice Ice Baby".  It would have made logical sense, but would have cheapened it.

Also starring the voices of Elijah Wood (last seen in "Internal Affairs"), Pink, Robin Williams (last seen in "The Final Cut"), Brad Pitt (last seen in "Moneyball"), Matt Damon (last seen in "All the Pretty Horses"), Hugo Weaving (last seen in "Captain America: The First Avenger"), Sofia Vergara, Common, Anthony LaPaglia (last seen in "August in New York"), John Goodman (last heard in "Paranorman").

RATING: 6 out of 10 roast chickens

Friday, January 25, 2013


Year 5, Day 25 - 1/25/13 - Movie #1,326

BEFORE:  And now back to my regularly-scheduled insipid kiddie animation flicks.  I've almost got the category wiped out.  I know Easter's not for another month or so, but I'm following the thread, and I'll probably be following a different one when Easter is really here.  It's frickin' cold in New York, can you blame me for thinking about a spring holiday?

Linking's back on - Gerard Depardieu from "Life of Pi" was also in "The Man in the Iron Mask" with Hugh Laurie (last heard in "Stuart Little 3" - damn, why didn't I catch that connection and watch the two films back-to-back?)

THE PLOT:  E.B., the Easter Bunny's teenage son, heads to Hollywood, determined to become a drummer in a rock 'n' roll band. In LA, he's taken in by Fred after the out-of-work slacker hits E.B. with his car.

AFTER:  This film opens on Easter Island, which as we all know is the place where Easter bunnies live and work, kind of like their version of Santa's workshop at the North Pole.  So connecting from "Life of Pi", at least we start in an exotic locale.  Plus last night's film was about religion (I think...) and Easter is a religious thing, or so I'm told.

But Really?  We didn't have enough backstory on the Easter Bunny, so let's just transfer everything over from Santa Claus, including a sleigh pulled by baby chicks?  Seems a bit of a stretch.  And why do all these characters - Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny - come to kids in the middle of the night?  Is there something hinky about all of this, or is it just me?  Maybe I should have sat on this one and waited for "Rise of the Guardians" for some more insight.

Speaking of which, I know my animation category is going to start filling up again.  I missed out on seeing the nominees "Brave", "Frankenweenie" and "Wreck-It Ralph", so I'm just going to have to play catch-up again later on.  Same with "The Lorax", "Madagascar 3", "Ice Age: Continental Drift"  - Heck, I'm still waiting on "Rango" from the year before, it hasn't aired yet. 

But back to the bunny, who's another of those mess-making houseguests, like The Cat in the Hat or the Chipmunks - only he's wrecking a very fancy mansion, where our hero Fred is staying.  Once Fred gets over the initial shock of encountering a talking bunny, he proposes a life-swap, where E.B. becomes the drummer/slacker he wants to be, and Fred gets to deliver Easter baskets. 

NITPICK POINT: Why would a slacker suddenly be inspired to work as the Easter Bunny, when he's never wanted to work that hard at anything ever before?  His connection to Easter as a concept seemed a little forced, it's not enough for him to completely change overnight when given the opportunity.

NITPICK POINT #2: How did Fred's (adopted) sister get the lead role in the Easter play?  She had said that she got the part due to her strong voice, but then she's horribly off-key?  So how was she cast?  And more to the point, why do I even care?

Ready now, sing along (to the tune of "I Want Candy"):

I saw a film that's kind of lame    (Boom boom boom, chick boom)
Hollywood mediocrity's really to blame  (Boom boom boom, chick boom)
Fred's a guy who meets the Easter Bunny  (Boom boom boom, chick boom)
Too bad they forgot to make the jokes funny.   (Boom boom boom, chick boom)

Also starring James Marsden (last heard in "Cats & Dogs: the Revenge of Kitty Galore"), Gary Cole (last seen in "One Hour Photo"), Elizabeth Perkins (last seen in "Cats & Dogs"), Kaley Cuoco, and the voices of Russell Brand (last seen in "Get Him to the Greek"), Hank Azaria (last heard in "Anastasia"), and cameos from Chelsea Handler, David Hasselhoff (last seen in "Dear God").

RATING: 3 out of 10 jellybeans

Life of Pi

Year 5, Day 24 - 1/24/13 - Movie #1,325

BEFORE: Well, I said at the start of this year that the only true way for me to catch up would be to see more films in the theater.  With the Oscar race on, my boss and co-worker are on a quest to see as many of the Best Picture nominees as they can, and I figure I'd like to see more than just one, so I joined them.  Given a choice of this film or "Zero Dark Thirty", I felt this one was more in line with my chain.  I may be the first person to draw a connection between "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked" and "Life of Pi".

You see it too, right?  Humans and CGI animals, marooned after an accident at sea, forced to work together to get back to society.  Hollywood's always riffing off the same themes - like with "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon", and "Red Planet" and "Mission to Mars".  OK, maybe those pairs were a little closer than these two.  And maybe there's no real connection here, I won't know until I see the film.

And yes, this is my second film today.  The problem with adding in an extra film is that my schedule would have to shift, and then the month won't end where I want it to.  But since I'll be away for two weeks in April (on a cruise where, hopefully, lifeboats won't be needed) adding an extra film to the January line-up won't matter by then. 

I don't know if I'll be able to work any other Oscar-nominated films into my chain.  I'm doing romance again in February, I'd work in "Silver Linings Playbook", but it looks too much like "The Blind Side", so I don't know if I want to see it.  Then I'm going to cover politics, so "Lincoln" could fit in nicely.  But "Argo"?  "Django Unchained"?  They might have to wait.

THE PLOT:  A young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor ... a fearsome Bengal tiger.

AFTER:  I'm not sure what this could possibly be a follow-up to - "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Madagascar"?  Let's just call this its own thing...

This is a story told in flashback, which in itself presents a problem.  A fatal flaw in the framing, since if we know from the start that the narrator survives the experience, a great deal of the danger and suspense is thus dissipated.  But it's the HOW that's important.  Also, the only thing worse than a main character who IS a writer is a main character telling his story TO a writer.  Either way, you just know that it's going to end with the writer saying, "Hey, this story would make a great book, which might someday become a movie..."

I was reminded of two things - one was that old children's puzzle about getting across a river in a boat while trying to transport a fox, a chicken and a bag of grain.  And you can't leave the fox alone with the chicken, or the chicken with the grain, and you can't fit more than two items in the boat with you.  Because life often presents you with challenges such as these, so you'd best be ready and figure them out in advance.  The other is a Fox show from a few years ago, called "Man vs. Beast".  They made an Olympic athlete run a footrace against a zebra, and they put the (then) champion of hot dog eating, Takeru Kobayashi, up against a very hungry bear.  No contest, the bear won hands down, being nature's perfect eating machine - and then the bear looked over at Kobayashi and roared, as if to say, "Now, do I get to eat him as well?  He is, after all, filled with hot dogs!"

After all, bears are vicious animals, and in the end not as cute as they appear (have you seen the internet pictures of the German bears that have lost their fur?  They're quite ugly - go ahead, take a look, I'll wait...see what I mean?)  Which brings me back to tigers, similar killing/eating machines.  And not something you'd want to share a lifeboat with, or any confined space, for that matter.

So Pi relates his story about sharing a lifeboat with a tiger named Richard Parker (long story) and a few other animals temporarily (think about it...) as an explanation of how he met God.  Which is a bit strange, because I didn't see God, and I was keeping an eye out for him.  Pi is a born Hindu who also practiced Christianity and flirted with Islam as well.  Plus, he's a vegetarian.  In order to share a boat with a tiger, they had to come to an understanding, to the extent that one can come to an understanding with a tiger.  Also, a quick course in nautical survival techniques came in handy.

I've lived most of my life with cats, including the best one ever, who was an indoor cat from day one.  But right now we share space with two former strays, and they never completely lose that last bit of wild.  One can turn bitey at random times, so I can never completely let down my guard.  So I feel there are some things the movie gets right about sharing space with animals.  The two cats are separated in the house, for the same reason you can't put the fox in the boat with the chicken.

But animals can be trained, even cats to some extent.  But they think in very basic terms, and they don't have morals about right and wrong, not like we do anyway.  And killing is something that is done out of necessity, and they don't feel the kind of remorse that we do.  It becomes a simple truth that doesn't get complicated by metaphor or the grand meaning of it all.

There's a feeling here that this story is all just a metaphor, but for what?  Aren't we all just Hindu teens adrift in the lifeboat of faith on the sea of uncertainty, trying to feed the hungry tiger?   Aren't we?  Well, no, I don't think so.   But it's annoying to be so close to understanding something and then falling short.  I'm open to the possibility that, as with "The Cat in the Hat", the giant cat is nothing but a delusion in the mind of a troubled child, created for the purpose of keeping the dreamer alert and alive.  But you be the judge. 

There's a last-minute storytelling switch that suggests that NOTHING we've seen may have really happened (No duh, it's a movie...) and that something very different did, which is like pulling the narrative rug out from under our feet.  But the point made at the end is that Pi's story is so fantastic, and people needed his story to make sense and be more understandable - so why doesn't the movie take its own advice?   (So...the tiger is God?  The tiger is Death?  The tiger is Pi?  Throw me a bone, here!)

Some people who endure traumatic events wonder why they survived, and others didn't.  In their search for meaning, they often talk about "God's plan".  They didn't die, there must be a reason, so clearly God has a plan for them, and I think that the logic here is a bit faulty.  Remove God from the equation, and the person might feel instead like they were lucky or have cheated death, so concurrently they're living in the bonus round, and can go on to do whatever they want, make the most of what time they have left.  I'm not saying one's right and the other's wrong.

But if God is everywhere, then why do people go on pilgrimages, or go to church for that matter?  What gives humans the right to determine which creatures are pets and which ones are food?  And for our pets, what gives us the right to determine when they're too old or sick to continue living?  I'm left with a lot of questions and few answers, but at least I appreciate the movie sparking some debate.  Now I'm going to check the message boards to find out what this film really "means".

Since I work at a job which is adjacent to the world of advertising, I'm sure people from ad agencies call all the time and say, "We need a realistic-looking tiger who talks to sell gum," or "We want a cel-animated tiger who breakdances to sell pickles."  It's kind of refreshing to know there was probably a conversation making this film where someone wanted a CGI tiger who just looked and acted like a tiger, and in fact would be the most tiger-ey tiger possible.

Starring Irrfan Khan (last seen in "New York, I Love You"), Rafe Spall (last seen in "Anonymous"), Suraj Sharma, with a cameo from Gerard Depardieu.

RATING: 7 out of 10 lifejackets

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

Year 5, Day 24 - 1/24/13 - Movie #1,324

BEFORE: The connection here is, in theory, that both the Cat in the Hat and the Chipmunks are notorious home-wreckers.  The most memorable bits of the first Chipmunks film involved the little CGI critters tearing up Dave's living room, or making a mess in the kitchen. 

I've taken some heat for scheduling this one, since I work in an animation studio where films like this are generally regarded as crap among my co-workers, who can't believe I'm not watching the best of Japanese anime instead.  Not my scene, guys and gals. Plus, there is a big-picture plan here - more on that tomorrow.

This is a good time to mention this blog will shut down for 2 weeks in April, for our first proper vacation in years.  We've gone on little road trips from time to time, but this year we've booked a cruise, so I'll just have to fall behind in the count and make it up later in the year.

Linking from "The Cat in the Hat", Mike Myers was also in "View From the Top" with Christina Applegate (last heard in "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore"), who voices one of the girl chipmunks.

THE PLOT:  Playing around while aboard a cruise ship, the Chipmunks and Chipettes accidentally go overboard and end up marooned in a tropical paradise.

FOLLOW-UP TO:  "Alvin and the Chipmunks" (Movie #113) and "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" (Movie #816)

AFTER:  Ah, it's a tough life being a filmmaker, or an actor for that matter.  But if you put in the time and make it past the first few years of a series, or the first couple films in a franchise, you probably deserve a vacation, even if it's a working vacation.  Clearly somebody here felt that they were owed a tropical cruise, plus an extended stay in Hawaii, to make this film.  Happy Days, The Brady Bunch, they all put in their time and then got to do some episodes in Hawaii.

But unfortunately it's all about diminishing returns here.  While it's nice to see Jason Lee come back, after being largely absent from the 2nd film (I think his character was in a body-cast - lucky!), this seems like just an excuse to get the Chipmunks and Chipettes to sing some new-ish tunes like "Born This Way", "Party Rock" and "Firework" (along with some oldies like the Go-Go's "Vacation", Destiny Child's "Survivor" and the dreaded "Kumbaya") 

Even though this is mostly crap (everything the filmmakers needed to know about being marooned, they seem to have learned from "Gilligan's Island"), there's a nice tie-in with last night's lessons, such as they were.  Alvin, the free-wheeling chipmunk, learns to take on responsibility, and Simon, the conservative, learns to cut loose and show some emotion, even if it's due to a spider bite.  Spider bites have been known to bring out people's alter egos, right?  Nope, didn't think so.

The real crime is spending $75 million to make a film that's essentially a giant Carnival Cruise commercial for the first half.  Think of all the charities that could have been helped with that money - you could maybe wipe out a disease or something.  Proof that our priorities are way out of whack in this country.  Given the choice between a third Chipmunk movie and eliminating, say, malaria, I'd hope that most people would make the sensible choice.  But we citizens aren't really given that choice, are we?

Movie shout-out references tonight to "Cast Away" and "Titanic", as is to be expected, but also "Casablanca", "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "The Lord of the Rings", and even "Captain Corelli's Mandolin"!

Starring Jason Lee (last seen in "Cop Out"), David Cross (last heard in "Kung Fu Panda 2"), Jenny Slate, and the voices of Justin Long (last seen in "Youth in Revolt"), Amy Poehler (last heard in "Hoodwinked Too!"), Anna Faris (last seen in "Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel"), Jesse McCartney, Matthew Gray Gubler, Alan Tudyk.

RATING: 3 out of 10  deckchairs

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat

Year 5, Day 23 - 1/23/13 - Movie #1,323

BEFORE:  I've got pretty low expectations for this one.  But I've got it on my list because I was looking for a film to put on a DVD with "The Lorax", even though no premium channel has run it yet, I want to be ready.

Linking from "Stuart Little 3", Geena Davis was also in "Beetlejuice" with Alec Baldwin (last seen in "Running With Scissors")

THE PLOT:  Sally and Conrad are two bored kids whose life is turned up-side-down when a talking cat comes to visit them.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Horton Hears a Who" (Movie #361), "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" (Movie #360)

AFTER:  Well, I often say that you can learn more about filmmaking from watching a bad movie than a good one.  If that's true, I learned a lot tonight.  To say this film is a confusing mess would be an understatement, as well as an insult to confusing messes.

I don't necessarily think a film needs to stick exactly to the plot of a book, but this one veered so wide - the original children's classic by Dr. Seuss had two kids stuck inside on a rainy day, visited by a magic cat who teaches them how to have fun.  Here we have two latch-key kids with a terrible babysitter on a SUNNY day, and their one task is to not destroy the house while their mother is at work.  Along comes the titular Cat (from where, exactly?) and proceeds to do just that.

Supposedly he's there to teach the two kids separate lessons - the little girl is hyper-organized and bossy to her friends, and needs to learn how to have fun, and the older boy is destructive and needs to learn how to behave.  Yes, in the same household we've got OCD and ADHD - how is that possible?

And who better to teach them than a giant Cat who's a mix of Mary Poppins, Beetlejuice and the Ghost of Christmas Jokes-That-Don't-Land?  The humor is all stream-of-consciousness, like Robin Williams on a talk show, but slower and not funny.  Played as part Jewish, part effeminate and all annoying, Mike Myers (last heard in "Shrek Forever After") might have been shooting for a character like the Genie in "Aladdin", but he missed. 

He's there to teach the kids how to have fun.  No, wait, he's there to teach them a lesson.  He tries to destroy the house, he wants to put the house back together.  He wants to cause trouble, he wants to help the kids get out of trouble.  There's no internal logic or consistency, and no clear quest or direction.  Find the dog, get home, stop Mom's boyfriend, don't wake the babysitter up.  Can we please pick a goal and stick with it? 

What's worse is the parts that are an attempt at a veiled commentary on modern life - kids are too organized, single moms have to work, hipsters with petitions are annoying.  (OK, I'll give you that last one...)  But there are no clear suggestions on how to make things better, either, in this candy-colored, overly-stylized, art-decorated look at suburban America.

Last night's film was animated, but perhaps it should have been live-action (with some CGI). This one was live-action, but by all rights should have been animated.  It might have been a little easier to swallow, visually that is, and the impossible can seem more feasible with animation.  Having cartoony things take place in a live-action world makes everything seem out of place somehow.

This wraps up the children's lit portion, but there are still a few more animated films before I get back to more grown-up fare.

Also starring Dakota Fanning (last seen in "Man On Fire"), Kelly Preston (last seen in "For Love of the Game"), Spencer Breslin, Amy Hill, with cameos from Sean Hayes (last heard in "Igor"), Clint Howard (last seen in "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian") and Paris Hilton (last seen in "Zoolander").

RATING: 1 out of 10 cupcakes

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild

Year 5, Day 22 - 1/22/13 - Movie #1,322

BEFORE:  When it comes to organizing my watch list, I find I usually have to work in broad strokes, separating out by category - comedy, romance, classics - and as I chip away at the (now-)smaller categories like animation, there's another category that keeps growing bigger and bigger, which is the "action" category.  This beast contains the sub-categories of sports films, war films, crime/heist films, and spy films.  (Right or wrong, superhero films are lumped in with sci-fi, that's just how I roll...)  So even though I'm ankle-deep in kiddie films now, in just a few short months, this place is going to be crawling with thieves, killers and then secret agents. 

Within each category I've got these little blocks of three or four films that I think work off a common theme, and I'm able to move these blocks around for the best effect, or to accommodate new arrivals to the list.  This, plus a combination of intuition and coincidence, explains why the last few films have not only been based on children's lit, but have all been based around forest critters.  Moles and rats and toads, bears and rabbits and piglets, the Big Bad Wolf and a twitchy squirrel, and, gnomes.  OK, work with me here, people.

Linking from "Hoodwinked Too!", who can forget that Brad Garrett also had a crucial role as "Plumber" in "Stuart Little 2"?  I sure can't.  That links him to at least three members of tonight's cast, who reprise their roles in this animated installment of that franchise.

THE PLOT:  The Little Family spend their vacation near Lake Garland. Meanwhile, in the forest a beast is threatening the animals to give her food every night.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Stuart Little" (Movie #110) and "Stuart Little 2" (Movie #1,004)

AFTER:  I didn't expect much, considering this was a (cheaply?) animated video sequel to a live-action franchise.  But the story was strong, if it were a little longer I could see this being made in live-action/CGI like the previous two films.  So why was it animated (done in CG, but made to look like cel animation)?  One possible reason - Jonathan Lipnicki would have been 15, too old to reprise his role as Stuart's brother.  They could have replaced him with another actor, but finding a kid with a similar voice was probably a whole lot easier.  Nathan Lane and Steve Zahn were also absent, which could have been due to schedule problems, or budget problems.  But they got the main cast members back, all of the Little family. 

They were pretty clever in making the first two films - if you look at the original plot line of the book, you can see how they split it up between the two movies, the boat race in the first film, and the interaction with the bird in the second.  So where to go for a third film?  They kind of played out the Central Park thing, so the whole family goes camping upstate.  Wait, they stay in a house, so it's not really camping out.  It's living in a summer house while Stuart and his father + brother do scouting activites. 

See, it's not that hard to make a well-structured screenplay.  You just need a strong lead character with a clear motivation (Stuart wants to prove to his parents he's capable) and an interesting setting (the forest).  Add a strong villain (The Beast) and some conflict, plus some foil characters and a training montage, and give the hero a chance to prove himself - you're halfway home already.  Comparatively speaking, "Hoodwinked Too!" now looks like a real mess.  Who's the main character?  Is it Red Riding Hood, Grandma or the Wolf?  What's their motivation, who's the villain, and what's the plan to take them down?  It felt half-written, as if the characters were making it all up as they went along.

So this little direct-to-video sequel about the mouse that could, could end up as the sleeper hit of the week for me. 

Starring the voices of Michael J. Fox (last seen in "Casuaties of War"), Geena Davis (last seen in "Cutthroat Island"), Hugh Laurie (last seen in "Stuart Little 2"), Wayne Brady, Virginia Madsen (last seen in "The Number 23"), Peter MacNicol (last seen in "Housesitter").

RATING: 5 out of 10 neckerchiefs

Monday, January 21, 2013

Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil

Year 5, Day 21 - 1/21/13 - Movie #1,321

BEFORE:  I'm already getting tired of mindless kiddie movies - I hope they start to get a little more clever before my brain turns to mush.  I can feel it going...and I've got another week's worth of animated films left.

Several connections from "Winnie the Pooh" are probably possible, but the easiest to make is to point out that John Cleese was also in "Yellowbeard" with Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, who both voice characters in tonight's film.

THE PLOT:  Red Riding Hood is training in the group of Sister Hoods, when she and the Wolf are called to examine the sudden mysterious disappearance of Hansel and Gretel.

FOLLOW-UP TO:  "Tangled" (Movie #1,034), "Puss in Boots" (Movie #1,031)

AFTER:  Hmm, I could have sworn that "Hoodwinked" was somewhere in my countdown, but apparently not.  Sad that the project has reached a stage where I'm no longer sure what I've covered and what I haven't.  I must have watched this film's predecessor sometime prior to 2009, but I know I've seen it.

The first "Hoodwinked!" film riffed off of the Red Riding Hood story, but told the story in the style of a modern police procedural.  As each character (Red, Granny, the Big Bad Wolf) told their side of the story, new information came to light, adding a new twist to the story, and changing all that had come before. 

They dispensed with that format for the sequel in favor of a more linear narrative, but unfortunately it strays much too far from the original fairy tale.  I guess they've done the whole "bring a basket of goodies to Grandma's house" already, so they shouldn't repeat themselves, but this is way off the reservation, mixing in a post-modern riff on the Hansel & Gretel story, with a couple of major twists.

You can kind of see the reasoning, it's so transparent - Dreamworks made a gajillion dollars with the "Shrek" franchise, so why not mash up a bunch of fairy tales in a similar fashion, add some riffs on modern pop culture and some jokes for the parents, and try to get some of that sweet coin?  They even riffed on some of the same stories as the "Shrek" spin-off "Puss in Boots", which also featured Hansel & Gretel and the characters from Jack & the Beanstalk.

The most ridiculous elements of this film include a baked "goodie" that can make its eater powerful and indestructible, whose recipe is protected by the Sisters of the Hood, which is an organization of women who are both baking experts and extreme ninja-like fighters.  It's a long way to go for a few plot points.

NITPICK POINT:  Although the recipe is intentionally missing one secret ingredient, somehow a character who has never tasted the finished product before is able to determine what is missing.  This should be impossible, even in a fairy tale.  Even more unlikely, the people who did not know what the secret ingredient was somehow had the foresight to stock it in their pantry.  How did that happen?

Also starring the voices of Hayden Panettiere (last heard in "A Bug's Life"), Glenn Close (last seen in "The Big Chill"), Patrick Warburton (last heard in "Bee Movie"), Joan Cusack (last heard in "Mars Needs Moms"), Bill Hader (last seen in "Paul"), Amy Poehler (last seen in "Baby Mama"), David Ogden Stiers, with cameos from Martin Short (last seen in "Father of the Bride Part II"), Brad Garrett (last heard in "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian"), Andy Dick (last seen in "Permanent Midnight"), David Allan Grier and Wayne Newton.

RATING: 4 out of 10 fake beards

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Winnie the Pooh (2011)

Year 5, Day 20 - 1/20/13 - Movie #1,320

BEFORE: It turns out there are a lot of Winnie the Pooh films, more than I'd thought - but I'm not going to track them all down, just going to watch the most recent one and move on.  Jim Cummings carries over as the voice of Pooh and Tigger.

THE PLOT:  Eeyore has lost his tail, and Winnie the Pooh and his friends hold a contest to get him a new one.

AFTER:  Like last night's film, this one does go back to the original Pooh stories for inspiration, in this case two stories from "Winnie the Pooh" and one from "House at Pooh Corner".  They include the story about Eeyore losing his tail, and an adaptation of the Heffalump story.  The problem is, Disney also adapted the Heffalump story for 2005's "Pooh's Heffalump Movie", so here they had to change the name of the non-appearing mythical beast to a Backson (mis-interpreted from a note from Christopher Robin, in which he said he'd be "back soon".)

So it's proof that they keep re-packaging the same Pooh stories, again and again.  As a kid I remember seeing the introduction of the Tigger character in, like, 3 different movies.  (Or maybe I saw the same movie three times by accident, who knows)   No, I'm right - the 1977 film "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" incorporated elements from three previous "featurettes", including 1974's "Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too".  Yes, just three years after that story was told, it was told again.  What a rip-off.

And last night's film used a framing device to tell its three stories in flashback.  Here all three stories are muddled together, so there's no clear narrative.  As a result, the search for Eeyore's tail ends up getting sidetracked by the search for Christopher Robin, and then both get put on hold when the characters have to defend against the Backson.  Who's in charge here?

The reason Disney is able to get away with this is that every decade there's a whole new audience for their films, so they can just re-release and re-package the old material again and again.  But what a cruel trick on parents, who have to accompany said kids to the theater.  They may feel like films they saw as kids are just being repurposed for the next generation.  They may also feel ripped off, if they pay full-price for a film that runs just slightly over an hour.  (They really should pro-rate these things.)

I'm reminded of the character of Spider-Man, and not just because he's been re-booted several times in the last few years, both in print and in film.  They redefined his super-powers in the comic book a few years ago (a storyline called "The Other"), to match the cool new movie where webbing came from his body (ick) instead of from mechanical web-shooters.  So they made it look like Spider-Man died, but instead he went into a cocoon of sorts, emerging with new powers.  The problem was, a similar storyline ("Changes") had played out in the comic books two years prior to that, in which Spider-Man was mutated into a giant-spider, and appeared to die, but emerged from an inner cocoon, with the new power of webbing that came from his wrists.  The end result was the feeling that no one was really in charge of the storyline, and they were just telling the same stories again and again, in slightly different forms.

In addition, I thought there were too many times that the fourth wall was broken.  Too many times where Pooh is revealed to be walking on a sentence of words, or able to communicate with the narrator.  In one glaring bit of "Deus ex machina", the actual words from the book fall into the Backson pit, and our heroes are able to build a ladder from the words and escape from the pit.  Really?  You couldn't think of any other way to get them out of a hole in the ground?  Maybe they could get a clue and remember that Owl possesses the power of flight?

Yes, I'm at a bit of a loss here because I'm not a kid, and I don't have a kid handy, so I have to view the film as an adult, and judge it as an adult.  The best animated films are able to entertain the entire audience, however, and not just clueless children.  If they really wanted to make this film appeal to adults, they would have cast more famous actors - why not Sam Elliott as Eeyore, and Steve Buscemi as Rabbit? 

Also starring the voices of John Cleese (last seen in "The Great Muppet Caper"), Craig Ferguson (last heard in "How to Train Your Dragon"), and Tom Kenny (last heard in "The Ant Bully").

RATING: 3 out of 10 empty honey pots