Tag Archives: Children

TrollHunters: Rise of the Titans

[3 stars]

When last we saw our intrepid heroes, they were….well, don’t worry about it, there is a significant recap to remind you and get you current from the final moments of Wizards. Which, to be honest, left us hanging a bit and with a need to wrap it all up.

And, yeah, that’s not entirely going to happen, but that isn’t a surprise either. Rise of the Titans breaks into new ground for the franchise, having done fantasy and science fiction and myth, we’re now into Kaiju, with obvious nods to Godzilla vs Kong and Pacific Rim. The story is big in more ways than one. It is also a bit more rushed than the series since they’ve only allowed themselves a bit less than 2 hours to cover all the ground they wanted. And it is a LOT of ground. It also means there isn’t any of the really quality voice acting and character building we’ve seen in the past…because this is a wrap up. There are revelations and epiphanies (and some logic leaps for that matter) but none of the big arcs we’ve seen in the past, unless you count this as the end of an uber-long arc for all the shows, which would be fair.

The story was written and directed by several people, which shows in the breakdown of this event movie. For all intents it’s about 4 episodes in length, and the flick is divided into some natural breaks, though completely one story. This also isn’t a segment of the franchise that you can watch out of order, as you could the many series. Without the grounding of the previous stories, it will make absolutely no sense. It’s a gift to its audience, and has a wonderful ending that I’m desperately hoping they just leave as is. Not because it isn’t good, but because it is and doesn’t require anything more.

Either way, if you loved the foundation series, as I did, then you will enjoy and must see this conclusion. If you haven’t found the shows yet, give them a shot. Yes, they’re for younger people, but there is so much in there that adults will be well hooked and entertained as well. At least some of us will be.

Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans Poster

Space Jam: A New Legacy

[3 stars]

OK, I get it. I understand why some folks will just love this crazy and silly romp through parenthood and basketball. And, to be completely fair, LeBron James actually pulls off his role believably. And Don Cheadle (Avengers: Endgame) gets to eat some serious scenery as well.

As a story, this is about on par with a Looney Tunes cartoon. It doesn’t hold up under any scrutiny. But the Tron/Matrix send up, and totally unabashed WB advertisement for every bit of IP they still own, entertains on several levels. The more you know, the more you’ll enjoy the references and background characters. (Though I also have to admit that voices for the classic ‘toons and some of their characterizations, esp. Bugs, didn’t quite work for me.)

Helping James out as his on-screen son, Cedric Joe feels about perfect. And Sonequa Martin-Green (Star Trek: Discovery) got to show us a new side of herself as James’ partner.

But most of the kudos really have to go to director Malcolm D. Lee who found the tone and the pace to keep it all going. He’s the core reason this crazy gamble worked. A brilliant classic? No. But certainly not an embarrassment. And while it will work on the big screen, it honestly is fine on a smaller one as well.

Space Jam: A New Legacy Poster

Boss Baby: Family Business

[3 stars]

Wow there’s a lot going on in this movie. It’s not only frenetic in the extreme through the first two thirds, it’s packed with comments and commentary. Logic?? Well, not so much of that, but it is certainly (and surprisingly) entertaining. I have to admit, I have almost no memory of the original Boss Baby. Fortunately, that didn’t matter too much as they recap what’s necessary…at least enough to jog your memory.

There is a lot of great voice talent throughout the movie, but the highlight is Alec Baldwin (Motherless Brooklyn) and Jeff Goldblum (Hotel Artemis) trying to outdo one another as oily characters with nothing but disdain for the world. That, of course, shorts the plot considerably, but it isn’t like the plot makes tons of sense. And the satirical edge of it all is nicely played; the kids pageant is particularly scathing if you really listen to it.

Writer/director Tom McGrath (Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted) delivered again one of those movies you come to in order to turn off your brain and take a funny, pretty ride with some laughs. I suspect it will live in my memory only slightly longer than the first film, but will remain roughly as ephemeral. It certainly aims at all ages for its entertainment.

The Boss Baby: Family Business Poster

Luca

[3.5 stars]

After the amazing journey of Soul, Luca had some fairly high expectations to meet. And it didn’t, at least for me. While this latest Pixar does pay off by the end, it is a slightly mixed path to get there. Mixed messages. Mixed accents. Mixed clichés. It was just unable to commit to being Italian or American’s ideas of Italian. I also found myself more than a little uncomfortable at times with the choices, even as other aspects were hilarious. Ultimately, I found myself enjoying the idea of Luca more than the movie itself.

Part of the problem is that the logic of the world is mutable. The rules keep changing to meet the convenience of the plot. Another issue that the characters are all pushed to such extremes as to break their credibility. The trick is to dance up to that line and then pull back…get the laugh but ground the character. Instead this all came off as a grand cartoon rather than a wonderful film.

The voice talent is, overall, sufficient. The drifting accents didn’t help, and the silly situations made some of the choices forced. Jacob Tremblay (Doctor Sleep) didn’t really get to explore his character. And Jack Dylan Grazer (Shazam!) tried, but didn’t really capture the nuance that might have been there in Alberto. Even Maya Rudolph (The Mitchells vs The Machines), who had some real fun, didn’t manage many levels. And the less said about Saverio Raimondo’s over the top villain, the better. The best performances were the small cameos: Sacha Baron Cohen (Trial of the Chicago 7), Sandy Martin, and Marco Barricelli. Interestingly, all three older characters in the cast.

I do have to say, though, that the animation did capture the quality of the Italian sun beautifully. And some of the aspects of family and growing up were depicted quite well too.

Luca is a fun distraction with a lot of poor choices. And, perhaps director Enrico Casarosa will get to try again as it certainly was impressive for a first time in the chair, despite my misgivings. What it comes down to is, sure, see it if you’ve got D+. But, honestly, this could have been so much more.

Luca Poster

 

Wish Dragon

[4 stars]

When Wish Dragon starts, you’re sure you’ve got it sussed. I mean, c’mon, a wish granting dragon stuck in a teapot…shades of Aladdin, right? Well, yes and no. Certainly there are commonalities, but writer/director Chris Appelhans not only steeped the tale in Chinese culture, he also told it simply and with unexpected honesty. And while aimed at and safe for kids, adults will find plenty in it to be entertained by. Impressive for a first-time effort in the driver’s seat.

Jimmy Wong (Mulan) plays the guileless and true-hearted master of the teapot trying to reconnect with his friend Natasha Liu Bordizzo. Their path and relationship are the heart of the tale while Constance Wu (Solos) and Will Yun Lee (San Andreas) voice the parents of the respective kids. And none of it would work without the vocal acrobatics of John Cho (Mirai) as the dragon, Long.

I can’t pretend this isn’t a movie for children, but I found myself utterly drawn in and entertained. Maybe that says more about me or my current state of mind, but I recommend this one and even plan on watching it again. It has wonderful messages and reminders of life. And, most importantly, manages to get there in some surprising ways, even if other aspects choose tried and true paths. Could it have been more realistic or included more of the real world? Sure, but it doesn’t feel lacking for its efforts. And, sure, it has to wrap it up on a high note, but the successes are all through human toil and effort, not through wishes granted, which is a more powerful message than you typically get in these stories.

Wish Dragon Poster

Raya and the Last Dragon

[3 stars]

There is something wonderful about Raya and it’s message. It’s timely and important. Sanitized and simplified to be sure, but a message that is needed right now in a way that it hasn’t in decades. However, with 8 writers and 4 directors it is hard to provide credit for the results to any individuals (at least while looking from the outside). I do wonder just how much more focused it might have been had there been fewer cooks in the kitchen.

Kelly Marie Tran (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) gives voice to our hero with a fierce energy, despite some of the less-than-mature choices in the script. She is surrounded by great talent as well. Daniel Dae Kim (Stowaway), Gemma Chan (Captain Marvel), Awkwafina (Paradise Hills), and Benedict Wong (Gemini Man) rise to the top in that group. Every one of these characters hints at depths that never really get plumbed, but it does help provide some weight and tension to the story.

Of course the animation is often gorgeous, but it is also odd. I was often dropped into the uncanny valley, not because of human characters, but because the water effects have gotten so photo-realistic that the choice to keep human and animal characters clearly nonrealistic was often jarring.

The movie itself is definitely worth checking out, at least once. Had the story had been a bit more brave and bit less managed, it could have been a classic. But by focusing on the cute too much, and avoiding real cost and pain, it ends up as more typical Disney fare regardless of the non-typical character design and casting.

Raya and the Last Dragon Poster

The Mitchells vs The Machines

[3 stars]

Gravity Falls writing duo Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe have delivered an entertaining, if somewhat frenetic and younger-focused bit of story. The visually vibrating world is filtered through the eyes of 18 year-old Katie, voiced by Abbi Jacobson. Jacobson manages to capture that sweet spot of teenage-dom between complete independence and the need for family quite nicely. Her mother, given life by Maya Rudolph (The Happytime Murders), dances between parent and peace-maker for the family in some really wonderful ways as well.

And then there’s the villain of the piece, Olivia Colman (The Father). With quiet, London-ium charm, Colman tries to bring down the world.

The story itself is one very long setup for a nicely tight final half-hour. That long setup, however, can drag a bit and feel more than a little forced, and this is where Rianda’s new director chops show the most. He and Rowe do a solid job of using everything they put on screen, but the pacing is a little slow and the humor isn’t quite enough keep it going on its own until the threads come together.

All that said, for an afternoon’s distraction, it isn’t a loss. Certainly, the younger you are the more enjoyable it will be (down to about age 10). And, to be fair, that is probably where they were aiming the story. Originally planned for a theatrical release, it was pulled onto streaming… and given the world-crashing calamity of it all, not to mention the younger audience, that was probably the right choice. On the smaller screen it is significantly less imposing. But, ultimately, this one will have to be up to you in terms of whether to spin it up or not. I can tell you it does know where it’s going in the end, just be prepared wade through a lot of silly to get there.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines Poster

Tom and Jerry (2021)

[1 star]

I accept the fact that some folks may find this entertaining. I didn’t. I couldn’t even finish the movie. The blending of the animation and real world was, at best, odd and, at worst, just pointless. I don’t know what Tim Story was thinking when he agreed to take on this project with a script by Kevin Costello (Brigsby Bear). The blended animation and real-world makes no sense at all in action or substance.

Add to this that the acting, despite some reasonable talent, was stretched beyond credibility. It never found a tone that worked. In fact, Chloë Grace Moretz (Greta) couldn’t even modulate her voice to sound believable. Michael Peña (Fantasy Island) is absurd from the get-go. And, frankly, Jerry is just a dick in this story, way beyond what I remember from the cartoons growing up.

Perhaps the studio got what they wanted in the resulting movie. Maybe, even, Story hit the marks he was aiming for. What I can say is that I wasn’t the target on just about any level. I couldn’t appreciate the technology, the humor, nor the drama. I rarely turn off a movie, but after 30 minutes of this drivel I had to save my evening and I ran away. You shouldn’t even start.

Tom & Jerry Poster

Earwig and the Witch

[2.75 stars]

There’s 2/3’s of an entertaining movie here. Sadly, that last act is missing. Honestly, what you get is really just the first installment of a series…but there doesn’t seem to be another one in the works. And, besides, it’s a cheat to end mid-tale rather than to have a coda that can expand the story for later. In other words, every movie needs to stand on its own, even if it feeds into a bigger arc. Director Goro Miyazaki (From Up on Poppy Hill) knows this, so I don’t quite understand the choices, unless they were driven by cost or other factors.

Added to the challenge is that Studio Ghibli is clearly trying out new tech with this film. The result is very cold, losing all the warmth and subtle artistry the group is famous for. The look of the characters is very plastic-y and the lips don’t sync well at all. Some of that may have been the voice talent, but it was more noticeable than I’ve seen before in a Ghibli release.

And the voice direction was only middling. So much so that only a couple of the smaller characters really stood out. Neither of them were the women at the heart of the tale. Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) and Dan Stevens (Colossal, Legion) were either given more leash or put in more effort, but it was their deliveries that were the most memorable.

Goro’s father, Hayao Miyazaki (The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness), apparently helped with the planning of this story. You can see his influence in some of the interesting flows and the general joy and humor of the film, but I can’t believe even he was happy with the ending.

Ultimately, assuming the story is continued, this will be an intriguing first installment. But if it ends up just standing on its own, it is somewhat pointless. Frankly, I’d hold off till there is the promise of more, or you’re either prepared to be left hanging, or know the original books enough to know what’s going on.

Earwig and the Witch Poster

The Witches

[3 stars]

Welcome to the weird and wonderfully dark work of Roald Dahl’s children’s stories. The Witches is cut from the same cloth as Charlie and the Chocolate factory, though without quite the same pizzazz. At least not in this incarnation.

Director and co-writer Robert Zemeckis (Welcome to Marwen) certainly picked up the weird in this tale, but it has an uneasy truce with the wonderful. The production design nicely captures the dark and nasty side of Anne Hathaway’s (Becoming Jane) grand high witch and her twisted coven. Their costumes and prosthetics are delightfully creepy, but also probably a bit too scary for a really young audience.

And Octavia Spencer (Onward) provides an adult ally to the young Jahzir Bruno. Her warmth and parentship are solid, but it never feels entirely right. Meanwhile, Stanley Tucci (A Private War) and his cadre of hotel workers provide the broad humor and pratfalls attempting to keep the chaos and danger on the lighter side.

This isn’t a brilliant film, but it’s well executed. Part of its struggle is that it is a story out of time. As told, it only really works set in the past, but it is also afraid to truly tackle that past as part of the story. Had Zemeckis and his co-writers, which included Guillermo del Toro (Tales of Arcadia), were happy to take the backdrop, but not confident enough to fully acknowledge the implications.

For a little light entertainment that is a few shades darker than treacle often offered young viewers, this may do. It is diverting and has its moments as the three adult leads certainly know how to deliver physical humor. It just doesn’t fully come together as a classic or even strongly rewatchable fare.

Roald Dahl's The Witches Poster