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

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.

 

4

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

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

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

Shrek Forever After Review

Shrek Forever After

When Shrek Forever After was released in 2010, it had two goals in mind: The first was to redeem the series after it lost its groove with Shrek the Third. The second was to bring the series to a close. The good news is that it partially succeeded in these goals. The bad news is that, in the end, it’s still in the shadows of the first two entries in the Shrek series.

Shrek Forever After sees Shrek in the midst of a mid-life crisis. Family life is stressful for the once-curmudgeonly ogre, and (in perhaps a bit of a commentary on the nature of the third film) his new celebrity status has made him feel less like the ogre he once was.

Shrek Forever AfterAfter a spat with his wife Fiona, Shrek stumbles upon one Rumplestiltskin, who makes a deal with Shrek to give him one day to feel like an ogre again, in exchange for one day from Shrek’s past. Rumplestiltskin, having evil motivation, takes away the day Shrek was born, which sends Shrek into a parallel universe where he never rescued Fiona, Donkey is a vagabond, Puss in Boots is overweight and Rumplestiltskin has taken over the kingdom of Far Far Away. Think of it as Shrek’s take on It’s a Wonderful Life.

The story may not stack up to those of the first two Shrek’s, but it is far more focused and better structured than the clunky, disjointed plots of Shrek the Third. And it has some honest goes at some emotion, which were also lacking from the third film.

It’s the writing and humor that aren’t up to par with Shrek or Shrek 2. The jokes here are less witty, sometimes relying on callbacks to the first two entries instead of springing the originality that made those films such a joy. There are still some fun jokes to be had, but they’re lightly spread out in between more bland and uninspired gags. Even Shrek himself seems a little worn out with all the fairy tale parodies and pop culture references.

Another downside is that Rumplestiltskin is the weakest villain of the series. He lacks the conniving charm of Lord Farquaad, and is never as entertaining as Fairy Godmother or Prince Charming. Audiences may even find they dislike him more for being annoying than for being a villain.

Shrek Forever AfterHowever, Shrek Forever After does benefit for keeping the story focused on Shrek and his journey to end Rumple’s curse and set things right. Some new characters – like a parade of ogre freedom fighters- are introduced, but the movie wisely keeps them in minor roles. Rumplestiltskin is the only major new player, otherwise it’s only the core Shrek characters who have major parts in the story. After Shrek the Third sidetracked with characters like Artie and Merlin (who, not surprisingly, don’t return here), this is all the more refreshing.

The voice work remains consistent, with Mike Meyers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas still giving the movie some energy, but the animation looks like it’s still running on Shrek 2’s character models, which is more than a little noticeable given the six-year gap between the two movies.

In some ways, Shrek Forever After has a lot going for it: It, unlike its predecessor, knows a thing or two about storytelling. It has good intentions and even a little bit of heart. But it’s also a movie that looks more dated than it should, and one that lacks the smarts and creativity in writing that its forebears exuded.

Shrek Forever After may not be the satisfying ending the series deserved, but it does get an A for effort. And effort is more than you could say about Shrek the Third.

 

5

Shrek the Third Review

Shrek the Third

If Shrek the Third proved anything when it arrived in 2007, it’s that sometimes you really can have too much of a good thing. Even a franchise as entertaining as Shrek could go wrong. And boy, did it go wrong.

 

The first Shrek is still one of Dreamworks’ best movies, and Shrek 2 isn’t too far behind, being one of the better sequels out there. But Shrek the Third is not only a disappointment in relation to its predecessors. It is, quite simply, a bad movie.

The first two Shrek’s were smart, well-written, and were built around the clever motif of turning the world of fairy tales on its head. That motif is still present in Shrek the Third. But the smarts, the writing, and the cleverness didn’t come with it.

Shrek the ThirdThe story – or more accurately, stories – lack any real focus, and the results feel more like a series of unconnected events loosely roped together than a proper story. The movie begins with Fiona’s father, the king of Far Far Away, dying. Shrek would then be the proper heir to the throne, but being an ogre is the furthest thing from royalty in Shrek’s eyes, and so he – along with Donkey and Puss in Boots – sets off to find Fiona’s cousin “Artie” who is next in line.

That setup alone is already pretty weak, which might explain why Dreamworks saw fit to toss in two other major plots: One of which, as it turns out, is that Fiona is pregnant, which gives Shrek something to think about while on his journey. Meanwhile, Prince Charming, still angry about the events that occurred in Shrek 2, seeks revenge on Far Far Away by recruiting a small army of fairy tale villains to siege an attack on the kingdom.

 

Admittedly, the plot with Prince Charming actually provides some fun. I’ve always enjoyed when a secondary villain gets promoted to big bad, and this particular instance gives us a few funny moments with the fairy tale villains, and it has an amusing resolution. But it never really meshes with the other plots, nor are those other plots particularly good on their own merits. It’s almost as though the three stories were all thrown around Dreamworks as pitches for a third Shrek film, and then the movie began production before any one of them were really decided on. But Dreamworks picked up the pieces anyway, slapped them together, and hoped for the best. It didn’t work.

The first Shrek was genius for making an ogre the hero in a fairy tale world, and for turning those fairy tales into a series of jokes for all ages. Shrek 2 was almost equally genius for showing us that even fairy tale couples can have marital issues after their happily ever afters. But Shrek the Third lacks anything near the levels of creativity of its predecessors. It really is little more than a cash-grab.

The animation remains more or less the same as Shrek 2. It doesn’t have the same leap as the second film had from the first, but there’s nothing particularly bad about it, either.

Shrek the ThirdEverything else, however, is either relying on recycled ideas that have run their course (Donkey and Puss’ comedic tandem feels like its out of steam), or are new additions that are poorly thought out and sloppily executed. Even the new characters introduced here aren’t memorable. Artie (or Arthur, as in “King Arthur”) is an annoying high school kid with very little to offer outside of that description, and only seems to serve as a means of getting Justin Timberlake into the franchise. Meanwhile, Merlin the wizard shows up (mainly for plot convenience), but his ‘crazy old man’ persona feels like a forced (and ineffective) source of humor.

The returning characters haven’t changed much, and their voice work is all good (Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas and Cameron Diaz all return), but even they seem like they’re just going through the motions. Shrek himself seems Shreked out.

 

Shrek the Third may promote itself as a comedy. But seeing Shrek fall this far from greatness, after he once boasted so much promise and exuded such entertainment, is nothing short of tragic.

 

3