Yes, Spirited Away may have officially turned twenty last year (and I even wrote about that), but today marks the twentieth anniversary of when the film was released in the United States. And much like the SNES is my favorite console so I wrote a thirtieth anniversary post for both its Japanese and US anniversaries, Spirited Away is my favorite film, so I’m writing a second twentieth anniversary post in honor of its US release.
Now with all that unnecessary explanation out of the way…
It was twenty years ago today – September 20th 2002 – that Hayao Miyazaki’s animated masterpiece, Spirited Away, was first released in US cinemas. A watershed moment in the history of animation and cinema, Spirited Away set a new benchmark for animation the world over. I honestly don’t think there’s been an animated film released since whose influence has been as far reaching.
Hayao Miyazaki’s name was still obscure in the US of A at the time Spirited Away was released stateside, with only three of his films having had official releases in the western world beforehand (My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke, if you were wondering). Though all three films received immense acclaim in America, they were still a bit under the radar, with both Totoro and Kiki being released straight to VHS, and Mononoke having such a quiet theatrical release, that calling it a ‘limited release’ would be underselling it.
Thankfully, Spirited Away had top names from Disney and Pixar backing it, which resulted in the film breaking barriers like never before, even winning an Academy Award in the process.
More important than any awards though, is the impact and influence Spirited Away continues to have in animation and cinema. Everything from live-action films, anime, the films of Tomm Moore, and even television shows like Gravity Falls have been influenced by it. It’s also no coincidence that Pixar’s films started becoming more artistically rich following Spirited Away’s release (there’s an argument to be made that Inside Out was basically an elaborate homage to Spirited Away. No wonder it’s the best Pixar movie).
Most important is how Spirited Away continues to touch the hearts and capture the imaginations of audiences the world over. Myself very much included.
With all due respect to Woody, I think it’s safe to say that Buzz Lightyear is the fan favorite Toy Story character. With his myriad of gadgets, lasers, the ability to fly (or fall with style), and combat skills with which he saves the galaxy, it’s absolutely no mystery why Buzz usurped Woody as Andy’s favorite toy. It really was only a matter of time before Buzz Lightyear got his own movie. After twenty-seven years since Toy Story first hit theaters, Pixar has finally given Buzz such a movie in the form of Lightyear, a sci-fi adventure that serves as the in-universe movie that inspired the toy.
It’s a very fun and creative idea for Pixar to make the Buzz Lightyear movie that made Andy from Toy Story such a fan in the first place. Although it has to be mentioned that the idea technically already happened with the Disney animated series Buzz Lightyear of Star Command in the early 2000s. But now the origin story can be told by Pixar themselves. And as the Disney+ series Monsters at Work proved, Pixar’s creations are best left in Pixar’s hands. Being Pixar’s own take on the in-universe Buzz Lightyear concept, Lightyear is the definitive origin story for the iconic Space Ranger.
Definitive though it may be, Lightyear – while ultimately a solid and entertaining science fiction film – may not be the kind of science fiction adventure you would expect from its namesake character.
The story begins with Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) and the Space Rangers of Star Command – lead by Commander Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) – investigating an alien planet. They find that the planet provides the air and resources to make it habitable, but its monstrous creatures and plant life prove too dangerous, and Star Command issues an emergency retreat from the planet. Buzz takes control of Star Command’s ship, but a miscalculation during the escape leads to the Space Rangers being marooned on the planet.
Star Command makes the best of the situation and builds a colony on the planet over the next year. Buzz – taking responsibility for the current situation – volunteers to be the test pilot to see if he can make hyperspace, as Star Command’s primary ship won’t be able to leave the planet without it. Buzz doesn’t quite reach hyperspace, but finds that when he returns from his four minute flight that four years have passed on the planet’s surface.
Though Hawthorne objects to Buzz making any more flights, the Space Ranger is too determined to call it quits. With his robotic cat Sox (Peter Sohn) testing new formulas for fuel (using the method of “Crystallic Fusion” mentioned in Toy Story), Buzz continues flight after flight after flight, with roughly four years passing by with each unsuccessful test.
While Buzz has barely aged a day, his test flights have added up to him being gone a total of sixty-two years. During that time, Commander Hawthorne has passed away. Feeling he let his best friend down, Buzz is now more determined than ever, and with Sox perfecting his formula for hyperspace fuel over the past sixty-two years, Buzz finally makes a successful jump to hyperspeed. But in doing so, an additional twenty-two years have passed. In that time, the Star Command colony has been occupied by the robotic forces of a being known as “Zurg.”
Thankfully, a small band of ragtag, would-be Space Rangers have slipped away from Zurg’s occupation. This includes Hawthorne’s granddaughter Izzy (Keke Palmer), who hopes to live up to her grandmother’s legacy; Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi), a good-hearted but clumsy oaf; and Darby Steel (Dale Soules), an elderly convict trying to work off her sentence. Though this team may not seem cut out to be Space Rangers, Buzz will have to rely on them – as well as Sox – if they are to bring down Zurg’s robots and deliver the hyperspace fuel to Star Command.
I don’t want to say too much else as to avoid any major spoilers. But I have to admit that the setup to the plot as described above actually takes up a fair bit of the film’s runtime. And I imagine that may not exactly be to everyone’s liking. The whole ordeal of Buzz’s test flights provides some interesting storytelling, and is reminiscent of the recent Top Gun Maverick, with a little bit of Intersteller worked in there for good measure. It’s entertaining in its own way, but it’s probably a far cry from what you would expect from the Buzz Lightyear movie that supposedly inspired an eight-year-old’s obsession with the character.
That may be the biggest issue with Lightyear, although it’s ultimately a good movie, it seems to be the wrong kind of science-fiction story. Some might say that’s my own expectations getting in the way. But given all the information the Toy Story movies gave us on the Buzz Lightyear character and his world, I’d say Toy Story itself had those expectations. Given all the dialogue and bits of insight the Toy Story series gave us on Buzz Lightyear’s in-universe character, I think most people would probably expect a fantasy-adventure set in space, akin to Star Wars. So the more grounded science-fiction approach of Lightyear comes off as a bit jarring, even disappointing.
Yes, I understand that this movie and its characters are supposed to be separate from their Toy Story equivalents, but as is the case with many adaptations, you still expect a level of faithfulness to the source material. And bizarrely, Pixar’s own adaptation of a character they created feels strangely unfaithful to the world we’ve been teased with for nearly thirty years.
Buzz Lightyear the toy thought himself to be the actual character he was based on, and believed his undying heroism could do no wrong. So it’s kind of weird to see the “actual character” of Buzz Lightyear be depicted as he is here; making continuous shortsighted mistakes, rarely trusting others, being haunted by the past… It’s a more human Buzz Lightyear, but he seems far removed from the person that the toy Buzz Lightyear believed himself to be.
Without spoiling too much, there’s also a twist involving the villainous Zurg that I really think will prove divisive to longtime Toy Story fans. Sure, it’s a twist that makes thematic sense with the movie at hand, but it all goes back to the movie’s deviation of what Toy Story told us about these characters. It feels like a twist that belongs in a different movie, because the story itself often feels like it belongs in a separate movie. Though I didn’t predict the twist itself, I did predict that there was going to be a twist with Zurg quite a while ago, because there’s always a twist with villains these days. While I usually prefer deeper, more complex villains, I can’t help but feel Evil Emperor Zurg could have just been Evil Emperor Zurg and nobody would have had a problem with it. But evil emperors can’t just be evil emperors anymore, it seems.
That kind of sums up the issues Lightyear runs into. It wants to be Buzz Lightyear’s origin story, but simultaneously feels like it has its own sci-fi story it wants to tell that doesn’t really feel like it should be Buzz Lightyear’s origin story. Pixar is renowned for the maturity they impart in their animated features, but I feel like Lightyear should have been the one time Pixar went into full Saturday Morning Cartoon mode (albeit with the trademark Pixar heart at its core). Lightyear oddly feels like a more serious, grownup sci-fi movie that just happens to star Buzz Lightyear.
If you can get passed the misplaced tone of the film, Lightyear does have a lot to offer. As you would expect from Pixar, the animation quality is top-notch. While I would argue the film needed some more lively color, it still is interesting to see Pixar tackle a more conventional sci-fi aesthetic. The bulky armors, hefty machinery and insectoid aliens all evoke a loving tribute to classic science fiction, all brought to life with the studio’s impeccable attention to detail.
The film is also excellently cast. While Tim Allen is perfect for the often-delusional Buzz Lightyear toy, Chris Evans seems to be the perfect fit for the heroic “real” Buzz Lightyear. Evans somehow manages to capture the same bravado of Tim Allen’s Buzz, but in a younger, more serious way. The supporting characters are also well cast, with particular praise going to Pixar animator Peter Sohn as Sox, who gives the robotic cat a similar “innocent robot” appeal to Baymax from Big Hero 6 or Ron from Ron’s Gone Wrong.
Another fun highlight of Lightyear is the film’s references to Toy Story, with Buzz quoting his toy-self on a number of occasions, and other little callbacks sprinkled throughout. The film is never overburdened with the references, but it’s an appreciated way to keep the DNA of the Toy Story series intact.
Lightyear is ultimately an entertaining and thoughtful science fiction movie, but I don’t think it ranks among Pixar’s best largely because it seems to be emulating the wrong kinds of science-fiction stories, given the legacy of its titular character. It may not be the Buzz Lightyear movie we expected, but Lightyear proves to be another solid entry in the Pixar canon, even if it doesn’t soar to infinity and beyond.
When Bob’s Burgers debuted on Fox in 2011, it was the latest in a long line of animated series that the network greenlit in hopes of finding another success that could be a mainstay for their animation block, alongside The Simpsons and *groan* Family Guy. While Bob’s Burgers initially had middling ratings and a lukewarm reception, it eventually grew into the critically acclaimed stalwart of Fox’s animation block, with many considering it the spiritual successor to King of the Hill. Like King of the Hill, Bob’s Burgers focuses on dry, character-based humor, as opposed to the increasing gimmicks of The Simpsons (which has long-since lost its luster) or the desperate shocks and humorless cutaways of Family Guy (which never had luster). The series has now been on the air for over eleven years and 200 episodes, more than earning the right to have its own feature film. After numerous delays, The Bob’s Burgers Movie is finally a reality, with the finished product being joyous fun, even if it feels more like an extended episode than a proper movie.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie sees the big screen debut of the Belcher family: father and restaurateur Bob (H. Jon Benjamin), his wife Linda (John Roberts), and their kids; awkward 13-year-old Tina (Dan Mintz), goofy 11-year-old Gene (Eugene Mirman), and spunky 9-year-old Louise (Kristen Schaal), who is always wearing her bunny eared cap. Joining them is dimwitted but goodhearted handyman (and regular customer) Teddy (Larry Murphy).
The story here is that Bob and Linda are turned down for a business loan and have only one week to make the month’s payment or face repossession of their restaurant equipment. Already a tough task, things are made more complicated when a sinkhole appears at the front of their restaurant, blocking access to customers. The city plans on filling in the sinkhole as soon as possible, until the skeleton of a missing carnival worker named Cotton Candy Dan is found in the hole, and it becomes a crime scene. Given the unique circumstances, Linda asks their eccentric landlord Calvin Fischoeder (Kevin Kline) and his brother Felix (Zack Galifianakis) if the Belchers can delay their month’s rent in order to make their loan payment. Calvin’s response is a resounding “maybe.”
Things get yet even more complicated when Calvin Fischoeder becomes the prime suspect in the murder of Cotton Candy Dan and is arrested. Desperate to save their business, Bob and Linda sell their burgers from a makeshift cart created by Teddy, despite not having a license to do so. Meanwhile, the Belcher kids try to clear Fischoeder’s name, so that he can help the family out by waving the month’s rent.
The plot is good, simple fun. But aside from the presence of a murder, it does feel like the same kind of plot you would see in an episode of the series. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, given the quality of Bob’s Burgers, but you can’t help but wish the film would have aimed a bit higher. The Simpson’s Movie (which is somehow fifteen years old) almost went out of its way to have a bigger scope and scale in story than its series, to justify its movie-ness. I can’t help but feel that Bob’s Burgers missed the opportunity to do the same. Though to be fair, I’d rather have a good extended episode than a disappointing movie. And between the Bob’s Burgers and Simpsons movies, Bob’s Burgers is the one that falls into the former category.
A few elements are present that make The Bob’s Burgers Movie feel more cinematic. The most immediate being the animation itself, which is more fluid and detailed than ever. The characters look more three-dimensional than in the series, with a heavier focus on lighting and shading throughout. This higher quality animation even adds to the film’s humor. The characters of Bob’s Burgers always looked like something of a cross between classic Simpsons and the Muppets, and to see such goofy and endearing characters move with the fluidity of an animated feature is in itself funny.
The “movie quality” is really brought out during the film’s musical numbers, which are much bigger than they are in the series. The songs themselves are also surprisingly good (the opening number “Sunnyside Up Summer” deserves mention for Best Original Song awards come next award season, for its infectious melody and lighthearted humor). These songs are so catchy, in fact, that you can’t help but wish there were more of them. I feel like it may have been another missed opportunity by not making The Bob’s Burgers Movie a full-fledged musical.
Still, it’s easy to recommend The Bob’s Burgers Movie to fans, and it may even convert audiences who haven’t seen the series (despite the film’s many callbacks to past episodes, it still serves as a perfectly accessible entry point for first time viewers). The movie has the same irreverent yet wholesome humor of the show, and it gives its characters some good development (particularly Louise, who seems to be the de facto main character of the film, as she tries to prove herself capable of growing up). The voice work is as funny and quirky as ever, and the film on the whole is a lot of fun.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie maybe could have been a little more “movie.” But a little more Bob’s Burgers is always a good thing.
I made my second trip to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on May 22nd, so it’s been a week ago now, but I still wanted to write about it. So sue me.
Unlike my first trip to the Academy Museum, where I tried to see as much as possible, this time I simply spent the day visiting the Hayao Miyazaki exhibit, since that’s sadly going to be leaving the museum in June. Goodness gracious, what a magical exhibit! Filled with so much artwork, sketches, character designs, even sculpted recreations of locations from Miyazaki’s films (the model of the house from My Neighbor Totoro even hides some Soot Sprites to find). They even have a little mock patch of grass that you can lay on to look up at some clouds (as characters in Miyazaki films often do)!
I’m really going to miss this exhibit when it goes. I mean I’m REALLY going to miss it. Like, the idea of going to the Academy Museum and that exhibit no longer being there makes me genuinely sad. Sure, there will still be other interesting exhibits. But sadly, the ‘magic’ will no longer be there.
I’ve often said Hayao Miyazaki is my favorite filmmaker, and that his films are my favorites. But really, that doesn’t even begin to do justice to what his films have meant to me. Now, I say this with all due respect to the many great filmmakers throughout history, but for me, none of them can even begin to compare to Miyazaki. I have a friend who claims that the original Star Wars (that is to say Episode IV – A New Hope) transcends all of their favorite films and is in a category all its own as a perfect film. And I guess for me, that’s what Miyazaki’s films are like (it’s also why I’m not satisfied with any of the reviews I’ve written for them and have thought about rewriting them in a way that differs from all my other reviews). Sure, not all of Miyazaki’s films are equals (though Howl’s Moving Castle is the only one that’s notably ‘weaker’ than the others), but his style, tone, voice and artistry are simply beyond anything else in movies. They really are magical.
In short, I’m really going to miss the Miyazaki exhibit, and so my entire second trip was spent revisiting it. I even went back into the exhibit around closing and had it practically to myself for a while. That was pretty darn cool.
Once again, they didn’t allow pictures within the exhibit itself (and boy, was it difficult to resist the urge to photograph everything). But I got some pictures of the outside of the exhibit again. This time with me in them!
What a magical experience it was to see this Hayao Miyazaki exhibit. Finally, a place here in the US for Studio Ghibli fans to appreciate (and maybe geek out) about the world’s greatest animation studio. From entering a woodland tunnel greeted by “The Path of the Wind” from My Neighbor Totoro, to seeing the Kodama from Princess Mononoke appear on the walls, to finally exiting via the tunnel from Spirited Away (complete with Stone Spirit guardian), I absorbed every last drop of that exhibit. The fact that I actually got to see original artwork and concept sketches from Miyazaki’s films firsthand… that’s something that will stick with me forever.
It’s going to be really sad to see the Miyazaki exhibit leave (though I don’t know why the museum can’t at least keep the merchandise in the gift shop), though I can’t blame Studio Ghibli if they want their stuff back in their native Japan. But what a delight it’s been to be able to experience it.
Also, a big shout out to the little girl waiting in line for the exhibit who freaked out with enthusiasm at the sight of Totoro and Ponyo. What a cool kid! Warms my heart to know that kids these days have that kind of adoration for Miyazaki’s films.
Thanks for the Miyazaki memories, Academy Museum! It was a magical experience.
When Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released in 1988, it was a defining moment in animation history. Not only did the film meld live-action and animated characters so seamlessly it still hasn’t been matched since, but it also created renewed interest in animation itself. This renewed interest led to Disney’s ‘Renaissance’ era, in addition to inspiring other studios to throw their hat in the animation ring. Roger Rabbit’s meshing together of beloved animated characters has also had a reverberating effect, with films such as Wreck-It Ralph, its sequel and Space Jam: A New Legacy all trying something similar in more recent years. This influence even found its way into weekday and Saturday morning cartoons (remember those?), with Disney in particular creating a slew of animated programs in the late 80s and early 90s that repurposed their animated characters from yesteryear.
Goof Troop reimagined Goofy as a single father and Peg-Leg Pete as his nosey neighbor. TaleSpin featured characters from The Jungle Book in a period piece setting and focused on aviation. DuckTales – the most famous of the lot – saw Scrooge McDuck and his nephews on Indiana Jones-like adventures, much like Scrooge’s old comic books. And Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers saw the titular Chipmunks as detectives who, along with some new friends, would solve cases that were “too small” for the police to handle.
In this day and age where nostalgia (particularly for the 80s and 90s) has a strong influence on pop culture, it makes sense that we’re seeing these shows get resurrected in one way or another. DuckTales saw a successful reboot series that ran from 2017 to 2021, and now Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers has been given its own feature film on Disney+. Though it’s probably not the Rescue Rangers movie you would expect.
Rather than go for a straight feature film adaptation, this 2022 Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a satirical, meta live-action and animated hybrid movie that features many beloved characters from animation history… kind of like Roger Rabbit. So we’ve basically come full circle. The results are mostly enjoyable, even if the film ultimately can’t compete with the film that inspired it (or should I say ‘the film that inspired the show that inspired it?’).
Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers chronicles how Disney’s chipmunk duo first met in early 80s (strangely ignoring the characters’ history in Disney shorts decades before then). Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) became close friends and struggled in Hollywood until getting their big break with the aforementioned series. With Rescue Rangersa big success, Chip and Dale were finally living their dream. But Dale, tired of being looked at as the goofy sidekick, tried to branch out and get a show of his own, a Bond spoof called Double-O-Dale. But Dale’s conflicting roles lead to the cancellation of Rescue Rangers, and Double-O-Dale wasn’t even picked up as a series. The Rescue Rangers cancellation caused a riff between the chipmunks, with Chip leaving Hollywood behind to sell insurance. Dale, meanwhile, continues to milk his former glory, making appearances at fan conventions. He even went so far as to get “CGI surgery” in order to stay relevant in the changing world of animation.
Fast-forward to the present, and both Chip and Dale get separate calls from their former Rescue Rangers costar, Monterey Jack (Eric Bana). Monty needs Chip and Dale’s help, as his cheese addiction has landed him in hot water with a crime boss named ‘Sweet Pete.’ If Monty can’t pay back his debt, Pete will have Monty ‘bootlegged’ (a process that alters a character to avoid copyright laws, so they can be shipped overseas and make bootlegged versions of Hollywood movies). Chip and Dale promise to pay Monty’s debt, only for Monty to end up kidnapped that same night. The police, led by the claymation Captain Putty (J.K. Simmons), are looking into it, but have their hands tied with a series of other toon disappearances. So Chip and Dale begrudgingly set aside their differences to start an investigation of their own to find their missing friend with the help of human officer Ellie Steckler (KiKi Layne). All the while, Dale hopes the team-up leads to an eventual Rescue Rangers reboot.
The setup is a lot of fun. Using a real show from yesteryear as the backdrop for a Roger Rabbit-style comedy is a really entertaining idea. And the movie is clearly having a ball with all the characters, cameos and references it can cram in. One benefit this film has is that animation has changed a lot since Roger Rabbit hit theaters, so there’s a lot more types of humor and visual styles they can squeeze in.
Not only do we have toons interacting with humans, but the toons themselves (whether existing characters or ones made up for the film) come in a range of styles, from anime to stop-motion to Michael Bay’s Transformers to the 80s incarnation of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Sweet Pete’s gang even consists of “uncanny valley” CG characters like Bob the Viking Dwarf (Seth Rogen), who is based on the Polar Express/Beowulf era of motion-capture (complete with dead eyes and lifeless movements), and a polar bear based on the old Coca-Cola commercials. Perhaps best of all is that one of the minor characters in the film is none other than ‘Ugly Sonic‘ (Tim Robinson). That is to say, the original character design for Sonic the Hedgehog for the 2020 film that haunted that initial trailer, before internet backlash delayed the film for the redesign of the character. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is full of visual surprises and variety that helps keep the film’s concept fresh throughout.
With that said, there is a bit of an asterisk to all this, since most of the characters are done with CG, even when they’re supposed to be traditionally animated or stop-motion characters. The most glaring examples being Chip, Monty and fellow Rescue Rangers characters Gadget (Tress MacNeille) and Zipper (Dennis Haysbert), who are obviously created with a cel-shaded CG meant to mimic the look of traditional animation. This not only feels like a shortcut was taken, but it also kind of deflates the whole joke that Dale had cosmetic surgery to become a CG character when the supposedly hand-drawn characters around him are also CG.
That’s not to say anything against CG, of course. All forms of animation can create things of beauty and wonder. But given the premise of the movie, it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity that it didn’t go all out and capture the different characters with their appropriate medium (there are a few delightful exceptions, such as a quick cameo from Roger Rabbit himself. Because of course he’s in this movie).
While Rescue Rangers is often very funny – sometimes outright hilarious – it does admittedly have a few jokes that it doesn’t know when to let them go. Most notably are the constant remarks about reboots, which after a while may become as insistent as the reboots they’re commenting on. The humor can even feel a little bit smarmy at times, which is a trap the more earnest Who Framed Roger Rabbit never once fell into.
Something else I have mixed feelings about is the film’s villain, Sweet Pete. I guess this is something of a spoiler (though the trailers already blatantly revealed it, and the reveal happens somewhat early in the film), but Sweet Pete is revealed to be a fat, balding, middle-aged Peter Pan (Will Arnett). On one hand, the idea of a middle-aged Peter Pan and Arnett’s voice work are funny. But on the other hand, the idea of “evil Peter Pan” is becoming almost as cliche as the evil Superman trope. Plus, Sweet Pete’s motive is that he became bitter once he got older and Hollywood forgot him, which seems kind of weird since the Disney version of Peter Pan is still a decently popular character who shows up here and there (this origin story is made even weirder with how Peter Pan is inexplicably the only toon in the movie who has aged). It seems like Disney could have used a more genuinely forgotten character to go with the backstory, like McLeach from the Rescuers Down Under, or Gurgi from The Black Cauldron. But now I’m overthinking things.
None of these complaints are dealbreakers, however. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a fun and funny movie that should be doubly entertaining for fans of animation and the people who grew up during the time when shows like the original DuckTales and Rescue Rangers were still airing. It’s a film filled with visual delights and fun callbacks and references for fans. The smart-alecky attitude of the film holds back some of the humor, and no, it’s certainly no Roger Rabbit. But Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is certainly one of the better Roger Rabbit imitators. And it may be the only time we ever get to see Ugly Sonic in a movie.
The Bad Guys is the latest film from Dreamworks Animation, based on a series of children’s graphic novels by Australian author Aaron Blabey. While Dreamworks Animation has a tendency to greenlight seemingly any idea that enters their doorway just to see what sticks, the good thing is that every now and again one does stick. The Bad Guys is thankfully one of those ones that sticks! Though the story is nothing groundbreaking for animated features, its terrific animation and art direction, and zany sense of humor elevate it.
The Bad Guys tells the story of a group of, well, bad guys: Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell), Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina), Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson) and Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos), a band of thieves who continue to pull off big heists and elude the authorities.
When new governor Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz) insults the Bad Guys on the local news, Wolf decides to pull their biggest heist to cement their legacy. A local philanthropist, a guinea pig named Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade), is going to be awarded the Golden Dolphin for his countless charitable deeds. So Wolf and the gang plan to sneak into the gala and steal the Dolphin as their biggest score to date.
During the heist, Wolf inadvertently saves an old woman from falling down some stairs (he was trying to grab her purse), with the woman’s praises thereafter warming Wolf’s heart. Distracted, Wolf accidently blows the operation, and the Bad Guys are finally caught. But Wolf manages to charm his way out of jail time by appealing to Professor Marmalade’s good nature, with Governor Foxington agreeing to let Marmalade train the Bad Guys to become “the Good Guys.” Wolf explains to the gang that it’s all part of the ultimate con, to pretend to go good as a cover as to remain bad and steal the Dolphin, much to the delight of the rest of the group (except Snake, the “baddest” of the bunch, who is hesitant with the idea). But remembering how good he felt when helping the old woman, Wolf begins to wonder if a life of bad is the life he actually wants.
Although the story has its charms, it does kind of feel like we’ve gone through a time machine back to the early 2010s, when the idea of “bad guys going good” was pretty common in animated features. Despicable Me, Wreck-It Ralph and Dreamworks’ own Megamind were all variations on the premise (Wreck-It Ralph being the one that’s stood tall against the test of time). Heck, you could even argue that Shrek kind of had a similar setup all the way back in 2001. Point being, The Bad Guys’s plot isn’t exactly sailing uncharted waters, but it makes up for a lack of originality in its story in other areas.
First and foremost is the animation. Rather than going the traditional route of CG animation or Dreamworks’ usual character designs, The Bad Guys merges CG characters with hand-drawn sensibilities (a trait also recently seen in Pixar’s Turning Red) and seems to be drawing from a wide range of influences. There’s obviously a very cartoony, Looney Tunes vibe, but also with a dash of Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball or Dr. Slump. It’s a terrific film to look at, with a fluidity and zaniness to the character’s movements that evokes the best slapstick animation. I especially like the human police chief Misty Luggins (Alex Borstein), who kind of looks like Wreck-It Ralph, and stomps and punches around the place as she pursues the Bad Guys.
Another highlight is the film’s sense of humor. Not only does The Bad Guys boast some great cartoonish antics and gags, but also some fun spoofs on gangster and heist films. Nothing too upfront (thankfully), but there’s some fun homages that are subtle enough to make them cleverer than if they did the Shrek approach of obvious parody (Tarantino’s filmography and the Oceans films seem like favorite targets for the film). What’s impressive is that The Bad Guys never feels like a kids’ movie trying to win over the older crowd. It simply delivers the humor inherent in its story and characters, which should appeal to audiences of any age. It feels natural and works seamlessly.
There are admittedly some pacing issues in the film’s middle act, with some major aspects of the plot kind of rushing by in order for the film to make another twist or turn in the story. In all honesty, these twists are mostly fun, though the biggest ones are probably also the most obvious. It would be nice if the film had a slightly longer running time, so that these twists didn’t come at the expense of what was previously being built up. But it’s ultimately a small price to pay for how entertaining The Bad Guys otherwise is.
The Bad Guys is the kind of movie that I think any audience will have fun with. It’s exciting, funny, action-packed, well-acted and visually inspired. It may not be among the deeper animated films of recent memory, and it doesn’t pack the emotional wallop of, say, a Pixar movie. But not every animated film has to. Sometimes a fun, entertaining movie is more than enough. And The Bad Guys delivers just that.
Turning Red is a Pixar movie quite unlike any other that has come before it. The feature film debut for director Domee Shi (who previously directed the 2018 short “Bao”), Turning Red takes the emotional core of Pixar films, and combines it with a coming-of-age story about puberty, culture clash, and a love letter to the early 2000s. The end result at once feels like a personal story on Shi’s part, as well as Pixar’s funniest and weirdest film to date.
Uniquely set during 2002, Turning Red tells the story of Meilin “Mei” Lee (Rosalie Chiang), a thirteen-year-old Chinese girl living in Toronto, Canada. Mei is obsessed with the boy band 4Town, an obsession she shares with her friends, Miriam (Ava Morse), Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) and Abby (Hyein Park). But Mei is rarely able to see her friends anymore, as she helps her strict mother, Ming (Sandra Oh), in running the family temple. That is when she isn’t working hard to get straight As to keep her mother happy. The fact that Ming disapproves of Mei’s friends and musical interests makes things all the more difficult, to say nothing of Mei’s growing interest in boys.
Ming discovers that Mei has developed a crush on an older boy, leading to a particularly embarrassing situation for Mei. This proves too much for her to handle, and the next morning, Mei awakes to find she has transformed into a giant red panda! Calming her emotions transforms her back into her human self (now sporting red hair), but whenever Mei gets too excited, she transforms back into the red panda.
It turns out that Mei’s family has a spiritual connection to red pandas, and every female member of her family goes through the transformation when they reach a certain age. There is a ritual that can be performed to seal away the red panda spirit, but it can only be done during a Red Moon, the next of which is still a month away. In the meantime, Mei will have to try to keep her emotions in check if she doesn’t want to unleash the panda and cause a ruckus. But that’s much easier said than done when going through puberty and always trying to be perfect for an overbearing mother. To further complicate things, 4Town will be having a concert in Toronto a week before the ritual!
The plot may sound silly, but it’s in the best way possible. Turning Red has a lot of fun not just in the scenario of Mei’s transformation, but also in its setting. I think this is the first Pixar film to directly mention its time period (The Incredibles was vaguely set in the 1960s, while some others were in the non-specific present day of their release). And boy, does Turning Red love to flaunt its love of the early 2000s! Not only is its depiction of boy band culture equal parts homage and spoof, but Mei also carries a Tamagotchi, we get glimpses of VHS tapes and DVDs, and we even get to hear a snippet of The Cha Cha Slide by DJ Casper. Suffice to say Turning Red has a lot of fun reveling in its nostalgia for the time. It’s so 2002 that the only things missing are references to Playstation 2 and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man.
Something else you’ve probably deduced from the plot synopsis is that Mei’s transformation occurring the same time she’s hitting puberty is certainly no coincidence. In fact, the first time Mei transforms into the panda she hides from her parents, who mistakenly believe Mei has just had her first period. The film is wonderfully honest and unapologetic with such subjects. It’s as much about Mei’s body changing in a natural way as it is about her changing in a supernatural way. And it works so effortlessly you wonder why past children’s films have been so skittish to tackle such subjects (it should be noted that Turning Red never actually uses words such as “period” while still making the subject overt which, as Seinfeld taught us, makes things all the funnier).
It’s also fun to see a Pixar movie focus on a clash of cultures. Mei is fully respectful to her Chinese heritage and traditions, but her love of boy bands and the youth culture of Toronto baffles her mother, creating a bigger rift between the two.
I’ve heard some people say these elements “don’t feel like a Pixar movie.” But that’s exactly what I love about Turning Red. It feels so different from anything else Pixar has made while (crucially) still retaining the heart and emotion the studio’s storytelling is known for. If anything, the differences Turning Red makes to Pixar’s norms is the greatest testament to the quality of Pixar movies that we’ve seen in quite some time. Turning Red is proud to be a Pixar film, but it’s also rebellious and unafraid to do its own thing within the Pixar canon.
This is seen in the animation itself. Turning Red retains the top-notch computer animation of Pixar but fuses it with anime influences and additional hand-drawn effects to make it look unique among its Pixar peers. Pixar’s characters have never been more exaggerated or expressive than they are in Turning Red, which leads to some great visual comedy. The character designs themselves are simple, but fun and memorable. The whole movie just pops with color. It’s a constant visual delight.
Turning Red is the most fun and original Pixar movie in quite some time. Domee Shi seems to have infused the film with her own personal experiences and humor, which gives the film a unique tone and overall feel among Pixar features. This is, after all, the only Pixar film in which The Simpsons is referenced, and in which the characters say words like “crap.” Where it falls in the echelon of Pixar greats is beside the point, because Turning Red is so busy doing its own thing that it’s basically in its own, separate category.
I was gutted when Disney announced Turning Red would be the third Pixar film in a row to be skipping theaters and heading straight to Disney+. I would have loved to have seen it on the big screen. On the plus side, being on Disney’s streaming service will make repeat viewings that much easier. And this is the kind of movie you’ll want to watch over and over again.
Turning Red is sweet, emotional, hilarious (I’ve never laughed harder at a Pixar movie), sometimes surreal and always charming. It’s Pixar’s best film of the last few years. It’s so much fun.
Goodness gracious, what’s with November and making us feel old?! Xbox and GameCube turned twenty, the Wii turned 15, the Super Nintendo turned 31 just yesterday, and now, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast turns the big 3-0! Beauty and the Beast was released thirty years ago today, on November 22nd 1991.
Beauty and the Beast was the second proper film of the “Disney Renaissance” era, after The Little Mermaid (The Rescuers Down Under doesn’t count). The Little Mermaid may have kickstarted the Broadway musical-style of Disney film, but Beauty and the Beast took it to new heights, and ensured it was here to stay (well, there was that period in the 2000s when Disney left the musical behind, and perhaps not coincidentally it was considered another dark age for the studio).
Although the earliest Disney films were (and are) praised by film buffs and historians, Beauty and the Beast was really the first “prestige” animated film in that it broke a number of barriers for the medium’s recognition. Notably, it became the first animated film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, in addition to four other nominations. Though there are a few caveats to these in that three of those nominations were for Best Song (a credit to the film’s stellar song work, but it shows that the Academy refuses to nominate animated films in other categories). The fact that only two additional animated features have been nominated for Best Picture since, and the creation of the Best Animated Feature Oscar ten years later is more damning evidence that the Academy was never going to give animation a fair chance. And suffice to say, Beauty and the Beast didn’t actually win Best Picture. But at the time, this was a huge deal, and those caveats apply to the Academy Awards, not the film itself. Because Beauty and the Beast really is a great movie.
Beauty and the Beast appropriately became the first Disney film to have a Broadway musical adaptation, which ran until 2007. The film also saw a tenth anniversary release in select theaters in 2001, which even incorporated a previously deleted scene/song. It was then given a modestly successful 3D re-release in 2012 during Disney’s brief “re-release our classics in 3D” phase of the early 2010s. Perhaps we should look back at that time more fondly, since a few years later, Disney would begin full-on remaking all their animated classics into live-action movies, with Beauty and the Beast receiving this treatment in 2017. To be fair, it was one of Disney’s better live-action remakes, only really suffering by having the wildly miscast Emma Watson (who was autotuned to high heaven) in the leading role of Belle. The rest of it wasn’t so bad though.
While some of Beauty and the Beast’s standing as one of the best animated films has been muted somewhat with the rise of Pixar and more awareness to Studio Ghibli, it doesn’t take away from what a delightful film Beauty and the Beast still is. The story and characters are still among Disney’s best, and the same can be said of the film’s animation and those ever-so catchy songs. Simply put, Beauty and the Beast remains one of Disney Animation’s greatest achievements (I personally would consider it Disney’s best animated feature up until Frozen’s release in 2013). It’s a true Disney classic!
The Adventures of Tintin is based on the Belgian comic strips of the same name by Hergé, which have had a strong influence on pop culture adventures in the decades since their initial publication. In 1981, director Steven Spielberg became a fan of Tintin after a critic compared his film Raiders of the Lost Ark to the famed comic stip. Hergé himself – who disliked the Tintin adaptations during his lifetime – believed Spielberg was the only director that could do Tintin justice. It’s fitting then, that when The Adventures of Tintin finally received a major feature film in 2011, it was directed by none other than Steven Spielberg himself. To add a cherry on top, Peter Jackson also had a prominent role with the film as a producer. Suffice to say, Tintin was getting some pretty special treatment.
Tintin would end up being the first animated film directed by Spielberg, as it utilized motion capture technology (though there’s an argument to be made as to how much a motion capture film counts as being animated). Tintin ended up garnering critical acclaim, earning favorable comparisons to Spielberg’s Indiana Jones series.
The film begins when Tintin (Jamie Bell), a young journalist, spots a model ship – the Unicorn – at a market. No sooner does Tintin purchase the ship that he is approached by two separate individuals who want to buy it off him. The first man is in a hurry and warns Tintin to “get out while he still can” before Tintin refuses the offer. The second man, Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig) is more calm and collected, offering Tintin whatever he wants in exchange for the model of the Unicorn, but Tintin still refuses.
Now more curious than ever about the ship, Tintin takes the model home, only for it to be broken by his rambunctious dog Snowy, with an important piece getting lost in the commotion. Tintin’s apartment is later robbed, and the model ship stolen. Thankfully, the thieves couldn’t find the broken piece, which Snowy manages to uncover. This piece contains a small scroll, which promises to reveal the location of the real life Unicorn, and its unfathomable treasures, if the other pieces of the scroll are found.
This leads to a wild series of events for Tintin and Snowy, which sees them taking to land, sea and air in (and avoiding) almost every vehicle imaginable. They go to exotic lands, get into fistfights, and importantly, team up with a washed up sea captain named Haddock (Andy Serkis), who is a slave to the bottle. All the while trying to stay one step ahead of Sakharine and his men, who seek the fortune of the Unicorn for themselves, and are willing to do anything to get it.
The film is a lot of fun, and is one of those action-adventure movies that rarely gives the audience a moment to catch their breath. The Adventures of Tintin is one of those “BANG ZOOM!” rollercoaster type adventures that you rarely see much of anymore (perhaps even less so in the decade since Tintin’s release). I don’t think many would argue against the idea that The Adventures of Tintin is a more worthy successor to the 80s Indiana Jones trilogy than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ever was.
While the action and entertainment value may be consistently satisfying, the animation may be more of a mixed bag for some audiences. Although motion capture may work for visual effects characters in live-action movies, it hasn’t faired so well when using it as the basis for an entire animated film. Live-action films capture reality, animated films capture its essence by making their own reality. By trying to make animation look more real, motion capture films just end up looking artificial.
Thankfully, by the time Tintin rolled around, filmmakers seemed to have learned a bit since the days of the expressionless faces of The Polar Express. The characters here are heavily stylized (Sakharine kind of looks like an exaggerated version of Spielberg himself). They look like Hergés characters but with realistic skin and textures. The stylization certainly helps Tintin be less unintentionally creepy than previous motion capture films, although the ten years since the film’s release have revealed its visuals aren’t necessarily timeless, either. Some of the character’s movements can look stiff and awkward. Definitely an improvement over past efforts in motion capture, but even Tintin might look a little off to some viewers.
Still, I guess it plays all the more to the film’s benefit that The Adventures of Tintin is as fast paced and action packed as it is. You’ll be so swept away by the big set pieces that you likely won’t be thinking too deeply about the visuals while you’re watching the film, and can appreciate the overall look of it at face value.
Adding to the film’s entertainment value is its sense of humor. While Tintin may be aiming to look realistic, it embraces its animated side when it comes to comedy. Snowy being more competent and crafty than the humans, Captain Haddock often stumbling into a solution by sheer accident, things like that. And we even have a duo of bumbling police officers in Thomson and Thompson (Nick Frost and Simon Pegg).
As the icing on the cake, The Adventures of Tintin features a great musical score courtesy of John Williams (this is a Spielberg film, after all). The music really sets the fun tone of the film right out of the gate.
On a more sour note, this film was initially to be the first in a planned trilogy of Tintin movies (the second would have swapped the director and producer roles for Spielberg and Peter Jackson, while a third film would have featured both filmmakers in both roles). But the Tintin sequels seem unlikely by this point. Spielberg and Jackson still bring them up from time to time, but it’s been ten years now. I guess I shouldn’t get my hopes up.
Still, the Tintin movie we did get is a whole lot of fun. The kind of movie you can easily rewatch again and again for the sheer joy of it. It was a visual spectacle upon release in 2011, perhaps less so now. But its sense of excitement and adventure is undeniable.
The Addams Family is back again, in a follow-up to their 2019 animated reboot. The 2019 movie was an uneven affair, but it provided some fun moments for younger audiences. I feel like The Addams Family 2 can be described in pretty much the same way. It’s a cute, uneventful yet inoffensive animated film that may provide some entertainment for its target audience, though the older crowd definitely shouldn’t expect to be equally entertained, as they would be with the better animated offerings of today.
The story here is that the Addams parents, Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (Charlize Theron), feel that their children Wednesday (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Pugsly (Javon Walton) are drifting apart from them. So to grow closer as a family, they decide to have an Addams Family road trip, with Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll) and butler Lurch (Conrad Vernon) in tow. So it’s a similar setup to the recent The Mitchells vs. the Machines, though unfortunately it can’t hope to reach those heights.
An additional dilemma occurs, however, when a lawyer (Wallace Shawn) shows up at the Addamses’ door just as they’re about to leave, and informs Gomez and Morticia that Wednesday may not be their biological daughter, as she may have been switched with another baby at birth. Morticia and Gomez write off the lawyer’s claims at first, but grow suspicious once Uncle Fester reveals that, on the night of Wednesday’s birth, he accidentally scared the babies in the hospital when visiting his niece, so he juggled all the babies to calm them down. He thinks he put all the babies back in the proper place. Okay, that’s funny. That’s the kind of humor I expect from the Addams Family.
Sadly, that humor becomes less frequent as the movie goes on. Besides having the lawyer on their tail (he needs a DNA test, but Morticia and Gomez are determined to avoid him), the movie has a number of sub-plots: due to one of Wednesday’s science experiments, Uncle Fester is developing squid-like properties; Grandmama Addams (Bette Midler) stays at home to housesit and throw wild parties; Pugsley turns to Uncle Fester for advice on how to attract girls; and Cousin Itt (whose gibberish voice is provided by an electronically sped-up Snoop Dogg) shows up during the trip to… show up, really.
A persistent issue with these Addams Family movies (even going back to the live-action adaptations from the 90s) is that they feel the need to add so much story and plot, but play out more like a disconnected series of jokes. The Addams Family is at its best when it’s just the simple idea of this weird, creepy family interacting with “normal” people. Just lean into that and embrace those jokes, instead of trying to tie them together with so much plot. The family road trip was all the story this movie needed, did we really have to add the bigger issue of Wednesday’s parentage on top of that (and is it just me, or is Wednesday the Addams who always gets the spotlight)? If The Addams Family 2 were simply about the individual moments of the family’s road trip, and the hijinks therein, this may have been a really fun comedy.
Instead it’s only a so-so movie. The Addams Family 2, like its predecessor, seems to be aimed at introducing these characters to younger audiences, and that’s fine. A plus to that is it means, at its worst, the movie is simply unmemorable, as opposed to something offensively bad. Still, given the heights animated family films continue to reach in recent times, you can’t help but wish for more. I’m not expecting an animated classic here, but I think an animated Addams Family movie could produce a legitimately good comedy if given the effort. Sadly, I’m still waiting.
The Addams Family 2 has fun animation and a strong voice cast, which also includes Bill Hader as an eccentric scientist (particular praise goes to Isaac, Theron, and Moretz). But the writing falls a bit flat, and only a few of the jokes really land. You can’t help but feel these Addams Family movies are missed opportunities.
Still, it could be worse. It’s merely The Addams Family 2. Not The Addams Family: Let There be Carnage.