Tag Archives: Dreamworks

Megamind Review

Dreamworks Animation has an odd track record, to say the least. For every Shrek, there’s a Shark Tale. For every Kung Fu Panda, a Turbo. Suffice to say, Dreamworks seems to greenlight any idea that passes through their studio to see what works. Sometimes Dreamworks’ better movies find the success they deserve, and sometimes they don’t. Sadly, Megamind falls into the latter category, as it was a fun and humorous reverse-super hero romp that seems largely forgotten, due in no small part to bad timing.

Megamind had some good writing and a decent amount of originality at its disposal, but it was released in 2010, a pretty strong year for animated films that saw the likes of Toy Story 3 and Dreamworks’ own How to Train Your Dragon hit theaters. Perhaps most notably of all, 2010 was also the year that saw the release of Despicable Me, a film that shared a similar concept to Mega Mind. And seeing as Despicable Me will soon see the release of its third entry, and even had a spinoff film that grossed over a billion dollars worldwide, it’s safe to say which of these villain-turned-hero movies won the war.

Perhaps another aspect that held Megamind back from reaching its potential success was its setup. While Despicable Me starred a cartoonish parody of a James Bond-style villain, Megamind focuses on a more comic book-styled super villain. Seeing as the superhero genre was oversaturated even back in 2010, the idea of a super hero parody didn’t exactly stand out (even the “proper” super hero films often find the time to parody themselves by this point).

Suffice to say, Megamind came and went, and that’s a bit of a shame. Because while it may not be an animated classic by any means, Megamind does provide a good time, and manages to sprinkle in a surprising amount of character development along the way.

The titular Megamind (Will Ferrell) is an alien from a far off planet. In a spoof on Superman’s origin story, Megamind was sent to Earth during his planet’s destruction, while a family on a neighboring planet (also in the destruction process) has the same idea. The two alien babies’ space pods collide on their way to Earth. While one baby lands into a loving, privileged family and grows up to become Metro Man (Brad Pitt), Metro City’s super powered savior, the other baby ends up being raised by inmates, and eventually becomes the evil genius Megamind.

Over the years, Megamind and Metro Man have had countless battles, with the villain often kidnapping news reporter Roxanne Richie (Tina Fey) or threatening the city, and Metro Man always stopping him. One day, Megamind seems to accomplish the impossible, and seemingly kills Metro Man during one of his attempted rescues of Roxanne.

With Metro Man out of the picture, Mega Mind takes control of the city, though he doesn’t really know what to do with it. Megamind was only ever thrown into the role of villain out of circumstance, and never knew what to do if he got what he thought he wanted. Without a hero to fight, Megamind loses his purpose in life, and begins to have an identity crises.

During his downward spiral, Megamind, along with his aptly-named henchman, Minion (David Cross), concoct a plan to create a new hero for Metro City. Using some of Metro Man’s DNA, the duo plan to use Roxie’s cameraman Hal Stewart (Jonah Hill) as their subject. But the plan backfires when Hal turns out to be a selfish, irresponsible jerk, using his powers to become the new villain of the city, leaving Megamind with a huge dilemma on his shoulders.

It’s a fun and simple setup. Placing the super villain in the central role of a super hero parody may not sound entirely original, but the film does a great job at delivering comedy out of its premise, as well as making Megamind a surprisingly sympathetic character.

The film has a lot of fun playing up super hero tropes, while also having some good fun with Megamind’s alien ways (one of the film’s best running gags is Megamind’s constant mispronunciations). But it also does a great job at giving its titular blue villain a pretty heartfelt story arch. Though the other characters aren’t nearly as well fleshed-out, they still prove memorable in their own right (Hal is probably a more properly hatable villain than most of those found in the recent Marvel films).

Megamind also boasts some great visuals, with the caricatured character designs holding up a bit better than the Dreamworks features that try a more realistic approach. Metro City is also impressively realized, boasting a scope and set pieces that rival those found in live-action super hero films.

Admittedly, their aren’t a whole lot of major complaints to be had with the film. Primarily, it’s a bit on the predictable side, and as stated, even a parody of the super hero genre doesn’t change things from being another entry in such an exhausted genre, and the film lacks enough newness to elevate it beyond that.

One character complaint to be had is with Metro Man himself. The film does a great job at making him a showman who enjoys his place in the spotlight and schmoozing the crowds. But – without spoiling any specifics – the film later robs him of the more heroic attributes he does have after certain story revelations. Under certain circumstances it might work, but the film fails to make a compelling reason for us to still care about the character, despite an attempt at explaining his actions.

On the whole, Megamind is a very fun movie, and certainly better than its reputation suggests. It treads a lot of familiar ground, but its sharp writing and well-developed main character put it on the better end of the Dreamworks Animation scale.

 

7.0

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Kung Fu Panda 3 Review

Kung Fu Panda 3

Though the Shrek series was Dreamworks Animation’s most financially successful franchise, and the ongoing How to Train Your Dragon probably has the strongest fan devotion, I have always felt the Kung Fu Panda series was my favorite to come out of Dreamworks. So I’m happy to say that Kung Fu Panda 3 keeps the series undefeated in delivering good movies.

In an early scene of Kung Fu Panda 3, master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) teaches Po (Jack Black) the important elements of a dramatic entrance and a dramatic exit.

The original 2008 Kung Fu Panda was indeed a strong entrance for Po and the gang. It’s true that, much like the original How to Train Your Dragon, it was a bit formulaic (unlikely hero follows his dreams, learns to believe in himself, and saves the day), but Kung Fu Panda followed that rulebook with more personality than most (and I feel that, unlike How to Train Your Dragon, it holds up just as well with repeated viewings). It was made into something special by the fact that the film could have easily been a one-trick pony. After all, this was still in the years when the majority of Dreamworks features were sarcastic and cynical, and with a title like Kung Fu Panda, it was easy to imagine a one-joke parody being stretched for an hour and a half.

Instead, Dreamworks managed to produced an honest-to-goodness hero’s journey. So predictable though it may have been, it was undeniably charming, fun and good-natured.

The series started off on a strong note, and only got better with its sequels (another area I feel it triumphs Shrek and Dragons). Kung Fu Panda 2 added stronger narrative and character depth, and took what was simply an animated film with talking animals, and gave a sense of world-building and mythology to its world. Kung Fu Panda 3 continues this trend, and equals the series’ second installment in many ways. If Kung Fu Panda 3 serves as the last chapter in the series (which it may very well be), then it is a fittingly dramatic exit.

The story brings the series full circle, with much of its plot centered on the now-passed turtle Master Oogway, who was responsible for sending Po on his life’s journey in the first film. It turns out that centuries ago, Oogway’s dearest friend, a large yak called Kai (J.K. Simmons), discovered the power of Chi, and it gave him a lust for power that ultimately drove him mad, leading Oogway to banish his friend to the spirit realm.

Kung Fu Panda 3Fast-forward five-hundred years, and Kai has spent his afterlife capturing the Chi of other deceased kung fu masters, in the process making himself stronger and turning the fallen masters into zombies made of jade (or, as Po comes to call them, “Jombies”). Kai has finally become powerful enough to defeat Master Oogway, and manages to steal his former friend’s Chi, giving him enough power to open a path back to the mortal world, where he plans on destroying Oogway’s legacy (which, in Kung Fu Panda lore, means kung fu itself).

Meanwhile, a curveball is thrown at Po, as Master Shifu plans on retiring as the teacher of the Furious Five, and passing the mantle down to Po, who isn’t exactly up for the task. Further complications arise when Po’s biological father Li Shan (Bryan Cranston) finds his long-lost son and invites him to come to a secret panda village. This causes tension with Po’s adoptive (goose) father, Mr. Ping (James Hong), but the pandas may just hold the secret to Chi and in defeating Kai.

Like its predecessors, Kung Fu Panda 3 is simply a lot of fun. Po is as likable as ever, Kai continues the series’ tradition of badass villains (he’s also the funniest antagonist, due in no small part to J.K. Simmons’ vocals), and the action scenes are some of the best in recent years, another trend for the series.

If Kung Fu Panda 3 has any real drawbacks, they are the same ones that have always been present in series. Namely, the Furious Five – Tigress, Monkey, Crane, Mantis and Viper (Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, David Cross, Seth Rogen and Lucy Liu, respectively) – still don’t seem like important enough characters. They’re given a star voice cast, but they’re so underutilized you wonder why they needed the names. Throughout the series, Tigress has been the only one to show any kind of development, and even then it’s not much.

The only fault that is exclusively Kung Fu Panda 3’s is that the story can feel a little sidetracked in the comedic moments. As a whole, the film is just as enjoyable as Kung Fu Panda 2, though it may not be quite as well structured, since the comedy bits can sometimes feel a bit lengthy, leading to some story elements feeling introduced and/or resolved too quickly.

This might be especially true for Kai’s backstory. Though he is given an understandable motivation of feeling betrayed by his friend, the film’s backstory for the character tells the audience how he was once a selfless figure – carrying an injured Oogway for days to find help – without giving enough reason as to why he would suddenly become hellbent on obtaining power in the first place.

Kung Fu Panda 3With that said, these complaints are ultimately minor. As stated, Kung Fu Panda 3 is a good time through and through. The cute characters and humor will keep children entertained, while the story, beautiful animation, great voicework, and legitimately awesome fighting sequence can easily hold adult interest. Not to mention the terrific score by Hans Zimmer.

In many ways, Kung Fu Panda 3 works as a fitting final chapter for the series, but does so without feeling like a forced finale like so many others before it, leaving open the possibility for future installments. If this is the end of the series, then Kung Fu Panda has gone out on a high note, and can claim to be one of cinema’s few consistent trilogies. But if there were some kind of guarantee that the series’ quality could continue in future installments, I’m certainly not opposed to a Kung Fu Panda 4. Or at the very least a spinoff.

 

8.0

Home Review

Home

Dreamworks’ 2015 animated feature, Home, is a much better movie than it may look like at first glance. While that’s intended as a compliment, that first glance speaks so lowly of the movie that the end result, while a decent entertainment for children, ultimately still isn’t very much.

The story centers on an alien race called the Boov – short, purple creatures with pudgy tentacles for legs – and their “friendly invasion” of the planet Earth. The Boov extract all the humans of Earth from their homes and places of origin, and relocate them to incredibly cramped neighborhoods with tiny houses, while the Boov enjoy the rest of the planet as their new home, as the cowardly creatures continue to run from another alien race called the Gorg, who are seemingly always in pursuit of the Boov.

One such Boov is named Oh (Jim Parsons), who is clumsy, accident prone, and less of a conformist than the rest of his species. After Oh accidentally sends out a party invitation to every alien species in the galaxy, including the Gorg, he becomes a fugitive to his fellow Boov. His only hope is a young human girl named Tip (Rihanna), who managed to avoid the mass-abduction and is searching for her mom.

HomeHonestly, the story does have its charming moments, and some of the later scenes seem genuinely heartfelt. The animation is also lively and colorful, with the film’s best visuals being how Oh changes colors depending on how he’s feeling. Very young children will probably have some good fun watching Home, but it has a lot holding it back to make it not quite so appealing to older children or their parents.

For many, Oh might come off as flat-out annoying. He does possess some fun attributes and has moments of humor, but Jim Parson’s vocals and the film’s writing make his act grow old fast (he speaks like the captions on those cat memes on the internet, which wears thin after a short while).

Another problem comes with the movie’s soundtrack. I guess having Rihanna voice Tip (which makes the character sound considerably older than she should) also meant she had to do a number of songs on the soundtrack as well, which repeatedly play in the background, drowning out dialogue and usually not meshing very well with the scenes they play in. It’s hard to get invested in an emotional sequence when pop music is blaring in the background.

Then there’s the plot itself, which feels incredibly safe and predictable, especially when one considers how sophisticated animated films have become in the last couple of decades. And the character development, when present at all, is quickly flooded over by hyperactive one-liners that aren’t all that funny. Not to mention that aforementioned soundtrack gets in the way of things far too often, and moments that could have given the film more emotional weight are instead simple montages to make way for more Rihanna.

At the very least, Home is a harmless and inoffensive animated endeavor. But anyone other than the youngest tykes may prefer one of the countless superior animated offerings out there.

 

4.5

The Penguins of Madagascar Review

Penguins of Madagascar

It seems to be a popular trend these days for animated movies to not only get a host of sequels, but also spinoffs starring their comedic sidekicks. Minions found wild success after branching off from Despicable Me, and even Pixar got into the game my focusing Cars 2 on sidekick Mater (producing Pixar’s sole stinker in the process). Dreamworks has been no stranger to this trend, creating the likes of 2011’s Puss in Boots, which spun off from Shrek. In 2014, Dreamworks released The Penguins of Madagascar which, as its name implies, takes the quartet of penguin characters from the Madagascar series and makes them the stars. The Madagascar series has always been more successful than good, so a spinoff from the series after three primary installments probably doesn’t bode well. You’d be justified in going into The Penguins of Madagascar with skepticism. It simply isn’t very good.

The story follows the four penguins Skipper, Private, Rico and Kowalski. On Private’s tenth birthday, the rest of the penguins decide to sneak into Fort Knox. Not to steal gold, but the discontinued cheesy snack that resides solely in the back room vending machine. But they end up kidnapped by an octopus named Dave, who frequently disguises as a human scientist.

It turns out that Dave is jealous of penguins for being cute. As an octopus, he was always outshined by the penguins of whatever zoo or aquarium he found himself in. These four penguins just so happen to be the first batch who unintentionally victimized him. So Dave plans on kidnapping all the penguins from every zoo he inhabited, and use a serum he created to turn them into hideous monsters so people will resent them. It’s up to the four penguins, along with a band of arctic animals called the North Wind to put a stop to Dave’s plot.

Dave is voiced by John Malkovich, and is probably the highlight of the movie because of it. The character’s motivation is a humorous twist on the tragic villain backstory, and it’s clear that John Malkovich had a lot of fun with the character. Tom McGrath, Christopher Knights and Chris Miller return as the voices of Skipper, Private and Kowalski, while Rico’s voice mainly consists of grunts. Benedict Cumberbatch voices the wolf leader of the North Wind, humorously named Classified.

While the voice work is fun and the animation lively, what ultimately makes Penguins of Madagascar forgettable is its utter disinterest in slowing down. You might not expect a movie titled The Penguins of Madagascar to not give two cents about character development, but it’s actually surprising just how non-existent the character development is in the movie. Aside from Dave, none of the characters seem to have any real motive or reason for doing anything, and are just thrown into every slapstick situation on the fly. The personalities are cardboard and the characters only seem to exist to deliver jokes.

The story, or whatever there is of one, is constantly moving way too fast. It never gives the audience any breathing room, and it ends up feeling exhausting rather quickly. Even by the standards of the Madagascar series, it feels cartoonish.

Penguins of MadgascarYoung children might have a fun time with The Penguins of Madagascar due to the animal characters and fun animation, and there are even some fun jokes here and there (one of the more original running gags involves Dave barking a command at his henchmen, which inadvertently name drops a celebrity. “Nicholas! Cage them!” for example).

When all is said and done though, The Penguins of Madagascar is lacking in the areas that count for keeping the interest of older audiences. The story is weak, the pace is too fast, and there’s nothing to the characters. The nice animation and funny moments just can’t keep up.

 

3.5

Mr. Peabody and Sherman Review

Mr. Peabody and Sherman

Mr. Peabody and Sherman is the 2014 revival of the similarly-named cartoon series from the 1950s that was a part of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. When resurrecting a property from decades past and modernizing it, the results can often get messy. Thankfully, Mr. Peabody and Sherman does a good job at bringing these characters up to date. It’s also a pretty entertaining movie in its own right, if maybe not a groundbreaking one.

Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) is the world’s smartest dog. In fact, he’d be a super genius even by human standards. The only thing Mr. Peabody loves as much as his never-ending pursuit of knowledge is his adopted human son Sherman (Max Charles). In order to give his son a heads start on his education, Mr. Peabody invented a time machine called the WABAC (pronounced “Way back”) so that he and Sherman can experience historical events firsthand.

Mr. Peabody and ShermanAfter Sherman gets into a fight at school with a girl named Penny (Ariel Winter), child services come to question if Mr. Peabody, a dog, is a fit parent for Sherman. To ease the situation, Mr. Peabody invites Penny, her family, and the child service agent over for dinner and win them over. Sherman, who has developed a crush on Penny, tries to impress her with a trip through the WABAC. Being a couple of kids, they inadvertently cause a ruckus throughout history, and they need Mr. Peabody’s help to set things right, which leads the trio on an adventure through ancient Egypt, Renaissance Florence and even the Trojan War.

It’s actually a bit surprising how much fun the movie ends up being. The animation is appropriately cartoonish and silly (if maybe not noteworthy), and the movie boasts a good deal of comedy going for it (including a few surprising adult jokes). The plot does hit a few rough moments towards the end, when the time traveling concept becomes a bit convoluted, but it still provides good fun throughout.

Mr. Peabody and ShermanAnother bonus is that not only does Mr. Peabody and Sherman bring the titular characters up to date, it probably makes them more likable than they were before. In the original, admittedly-dated cartoon, Peabody treated Sherman more like a pet or – at best – a lab assistant. But the movie does a decent job and giving the duo a father/son relationship, though Peabody humorously has trouble showing affection (preferring to say “I have a deep admiration for you” in place of “I love you” to his son).

Of course, this brings up one of the movie’s problems. It seems every time the characters are given an emotional moment, it ends abruptly in order to zip to the next energetic action scene. It might have worked to the movie’s benefit to give fewer, but lengthier, emotional moments instead of sprinkling them through the film, only to write them off so quickly.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman may not be an animated classic by any stretch, but it is refreshing to see a modernization of a retro cartoon that actually works. The end result is a hyperactive ride that – aside from some dips in the plot and emotion – delivers a fun and humorous animated romp.

 

6.5

The Croods Review

The Croods

The Croods is a more appealing movie than its bland title might suggest. But it also won’t be ranked alongside Dreamworks’ best work. It’s ambitious in scale and filled with colorful character designs, but it’s also restrained when it comes to narrative. The Croods is a solid entry in the Dreamworks canon, but one that won’t exactly win over those who claim they prefer style over substance.

The film stars a family of cavemen, the titular Croods. At the head of the family is the patriarch, Grug (Nicholas Cage), who dedicates himself to his family’s survival in the hostile prehistoric environment. He’s well-meaning enough, but a bit paranoid of the world, which leads him to often butt heads with his rebellious daughter Eep (Emma Stone), who wants nothing more than to go out and see the world. The rest of the family gets considerably less screen time, but they include the mother Ugga, the brother Thunk, and baby sister Sandy, as well as Grug’s mother-in-law Gran. They’re a fun lot of characters when they need to be, though they do feel a bit archetypal.

The CroodsEvery day is the same in the Crood household (cavehold?), they wake up, scavenge for food, and avoid being eaten by sabertoothed cats and other such creatures, only to return to the cave to hide until the next morning. But their world is turned upside down when Eep meets a guy named Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who informs her that the end of the world is coming, and that he’s heading for the land of “Tomorrow” which is safe from the impending apocalypse. It isn’t long before the Croods’ home is destroyed in the ensuing chaos, and they seek help from Guy to find a safe home in tomorrow. Along the way, the Croods (specifically Grug) may learn a thing or two about opening up to the world and having unique ideas outside the status quo.

It’s a simple enough story, livened up by some smart writing and humorous running gags, as well as some solid voice work. There is a bit of a downside in that the movie has more characters than it knows what to do with (you may wonder why the story even needed Eep’s siblings), and the story is a bit on the predictable side, with the messages – simple truths that they may be – feeling a tad ham-fisted.

The CroodsBut it’s all made more enjoyable by the film’s real highlight: The animation. The Croods showcases some of Dreamworks’ best visuals, with just about every scene being a display of color and detail. Best of all are the character designs for all the prehistoric beasts the Croods run across. The creatures in The Croods feel more inspired by prehistoric animals than based off them, which allowed Dreamworks to get creative with the character designs. Among these creatures are quadrupedal whales and swarms of piranha-birds. The strange creatures littered throughout The Croods help give the film some imaginative spark.

The animation and designs are where The Croods’ creativity shines. It’s just unfortunate that the story, while technically sound, is so much less creative. The characters and their relationships all fit neatly into the exact roles you expect them to, and it’s only in the last fifteen or so minutes that it gets any real emotional oomph.

It may not reinvent the wheel, but The Croods has a fun time with the tools it has at its disposal. If Dreamworks isn’t your cup of tea, The Croods isn’t about to change that. But for the initiated, it’s a fun, and ever so colorful ride.

 

6.5

Turbo Review

Turbo

It’s often said that Dreanworks has an inconsistent track record with their animated features. They’ll pop out some really good ones when they want to, but then they seem to toss in some less-than memorable ones in between. Some claim this inconsistency is due to Dreamworks trying too hard to one-up the competition, leaving them to often feel more excessive than genuine. While these complaints aren’t always warranted, consider Turbo to be one of the reasons they’re still brought up.

 

Turbo tells the story of a snail named Theo (Ryan Reynolds), who dreams of being a famous race car driver like the ones he watches on TV. His brother Chet (Paul Giamatti) tells him to get his head out of the clouds, but a freak accident ends up fusing Theo’s DNA with nitrous oxide, giving him super speed and car-like abilities, and he is renamed ‘Turbo’. This leads to a series of events that ultimately leads Theo and Chet in the company of a group of humans and a small parade of fellow snail characters, who help Turbo enter the Indy 500.

 

The preposterous premise helps make the film a little more entertaining than it might otherwise be. Unfortunately this premise seems like a very thin guise for Dreamworks to capitalize on the popularity of Pixar’s Cars franchise (the snail characters themselves might bring to mind Lightning McQueen and friends transformed into mollusks).

The story feels like your typical “follow your dreams” plotline that accompanies the majority of animated movies, with Turbo having little to no other defining character traits than his desire to be a racer. Chet is your atypical stick in the mud, while the other snails seem defined solely by their running gags, and the humans by their racial stereotypes.

TurboWhat gets these characters from point A to point B has a tendency to be exactly what you think it would be. The movie offers nothing in the realm of surprises, but at the very least, it does have some funny moments when it wants to (though an insistence on humor based around social media and autotuned remixes in the second half feels a bit cheap).

To its credit, Turbo does include a quality voice cast, with Reynolds and Giammatti being joined by a small army of celebrity voices that give the movie some energy as well as credibility. And it boasts some lively, colorful animation.

The problem is that Turbo’s tank is running on empty when it comes to storytelling. It follows just about every cliche in the book without a second thought. It’s telling when the movie’s very best moments feel like its siphoning the creative gases of other films, never bearing the same results as its inspirations.

It may have a fresh coat of paint, but there’s nothing under turbo’s hood.

 

4.0