Tag Archives: animated movie

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” a colorful comic book trip

Who can be a hero? That’s the central question of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” The ideal of the superhero seems so grand, so powerful, especially to a kid. When great power is thrust upon you, can you measure up?

Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman and written by Phil Lord and Rothman, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is the story of Miles Morales (voice of Shameik Moore), a middle-school kid in Brooklyn who is struggling with his father (Brian Tyree Henry) and a new school. When he’s bit by a radioactive spider, he turns into the new Spider-Man just as the original Spider-Man (Chris Pine) is killed by Kingpin (Liev Schreiber). A transdimensional rift opens up from Kingpin’s latest venture, dragging in other Spider-Men and women from other dimensions, including Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), noir Spider-Man (Nicolas Cage) and another Peter Parker (Jake Johnson). For Miles, the responsibility of being a superhero is a tremendous burden, and he’ll need to overcome his fears to save his dimension.

The animation stands out as a highlight of the film. It somehow manages to blend 2D and 3D imagery, evoking comic book panels while also providing some depth. The colors are vibrant, especially the streaks of glossy red and yellow, incorporating a sense of graffiti.

Miles journey is not very original, a pretty typical coming-of-age story, but the film is important in that it features a young African-American becoming a superhero. His race is never made an issue throughout the film. He could be white, black, Latino or any other ethnicity. He’s treated as an equal amongst a very formidable lineup of superheroes. Gwen Stacy is an equal. Even the pig Spider-Man is an equal. For a generation of superhero fans who have been treated to irreversible lines of what is male and female, white and black, seeing all superheroes as equitable is welcome. The message of the film is that anyone can be Spider-Man, anyone can be a superhero. That’s a strong, resonant theme in today’s world.

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“Ralph Breaks the Internet” breaks from Disney’s tradition

The first “Wreck-It Ralph” film is an average story propped up by likeable characters. Its sequel, “Ralph Breaks the Internet”, is a subaverage story propped up by somewhat likable characters. So, in general, a stepdown.

Written by Phil Johnston and Pamela Ribon and directed by Johnston and Rich Moore, the story picks up six years after the events of the first film. Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) are best friends growing distant. Vanellope wants to branch out and is bored by the repetitiveness of her game. Ralph tries to help her, but is stuck in his routine. When circumstances force them to venture into the internet, Vanellope wanders into Shank’s (Gal Gadot) game, finding a potential new home, while Ralph and Yesss (Taraji P. Henson) try to win money by getting likes online. Eventually, Ralph’s insecurities spiral and bring down the whole internet.

The first real test of a sequel is determining whether or not it’s necessary. Great sequels build on the original’s themes and characters and feel urgent and important. “The Empire Strikes Back” deepens the emotional involvement of Luke, Leia and Han. “The Godfather Part II” further illuminates the theme of power and the fall of Michael. Heck, even “22 Jump Street” deepens the connection of Schmidt and Jenko. “Ralph Breaks the Internet” doesn’t quite reach that standard of importance. Ralph and Vanellope go through some turbulent times together, but it doesn’t feel as weighty as the original’s quest for Ralph to find comfort in his identity. The original’s plot is not a master story to be sure, but it was charming and heartfelt and much of that heart is missing in this sequel. Learning to let go of Vanellope is an interesting side plot more than a main plot. Indeed, the film ends at a more interesting point than it begins; if Vanellope leaves Ralph, how does he cope? “Ralph Breaks the Internet” just doesn’t feel as relevant as it needs to be.

The new aspect of Ralph’s world is the venture into the internet. There are some interesting winks and nods towards certain services like eBay and a rather shameless Disney website promo. All in all, it feels rather pedestrian without much commentary. Is the Internet good? Is it bad? What does the film have to say about it? Not much. Some definitive moral themes about the net and its effect on us would have given greater depth to the story. And one can’t help but wonder with all the pop culture references if the film will have a short shelf life.

But in a way, it’s the strangeness of the film that leads to its entertainment. Ralph puts his face on a screaming goat. All the Disney princesses appear in their pjs complaining about men. Vanellope breaks into song about a game called “Slaughter Race” (penned by longtime Disney musicman Alan Menken). And the ending is so bizarre in its harkening to King Kong that it’s worth the price of admission itself. In a way, the Ralph franchise is Disney’s Deadpool: off the collar, parodical and distinctly unique in its irreverence. It’s entertaining to be sure, but far from a classic Disney outing.


“Isle of Dogs” a lot of fun

Wes Anderson makes the same movie again and again, just in a different format. For some filmmakers (Tim Burton), the formula has become stale and tedious. For Anderson, with his kinetic style and dry wit, it’s still fun for the time being.

“Isle of Dogs” tells the story of Atari (Koyu Rankin), a young boy and ward of Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura). After dogs are deemed a public health crisis after a string of diseases is associated with them, all dogs in Japan are shipped to a trash island far away. Atari runs away from his home, steals a plane and flies to the island to find his dog, Spots (Liev Shreiber). He befriends a group of dogs including Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum), who agree to help him find Spots. Chief, the only stray of the group, is a reluctant ally and resents humans for what they’ve done, but as he grows to know Atari, his emotions change.

The film is a visual feast, with the swift camera pans accentuated by the vibrant colors and smooth animation. Anderson has always done a good job of focusing the viewer’s eye to his subject and exemplifying the film’s emotions through the actions on the screen. Whether it’s a closeup of a character’s eyes as they come to a realization or a chaotic zoom in to emphasize a shocking turn of events, he uses film composition to keep his stories interesting and heartfelt.

He also continues to display his unique wit and charm. The main characters have interesting personality quirks and story arcs and the script keeps the action going at a brisk, never-boring pace. Things move fast and the audience is rewarded for keeping up with his trademark jokes.

For Anderson though, his repetitive style is beginning to border on unoriginality. There are enough differentiations in theme and plot to keep his films interesting for the time being, but like many others before him, his movies are all starting to feel the same: dysfunctional family, long lost relatives, quirky side characters, prestige vs. instinct quarrels, blatant yet funny dialogue, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, F. Murray Abraham, Jeff Goldblum. There is a risk that he may soon seem to be parodying himself and that would demean his otherwise strong stories.

And a continuous problem with Anderson in all of his movies is his lack of female characters. Not only are they not protagonists, they are distinctly lacking everywhere onscreen. The vast majority of his characters are white males. And the women of the story serve mostly as companions or sex objects (not in an overt, callous way but in a matter-of-fact way). They are distant and detached or committed to a cause past thought of their own lives. It would be interesting for him to branch out not only in his style, but also his cast list. Many of the roles in his films could indeed be women characters, but he has trouble writing that way.

Ultimately, “Isle of Dogs” succeeds not only as another strong Anderson film that fits into his canon, but also because it mirrors current events. It’s a story about the outsider who benefits society, about government manipulation to find a common enemy to consolidate power, about abusing the environment and leaving our children messes and trash, about the importance of science and reason over preconceived biases and about our basic communication with nature, respecting and cultivating it. It’s a beautiful story that exemplifies what Anderson does best.

“Minions” is a boring cashgrab

The appeal of the minions in the Despicable Me series is that they’re funny. When the action and drama takes place, they are there for the comic relief and for a bit of heart as well, reinforcing the emotion of Gru or his adopted daughters. So when they are given their own separate film minus their usual co-stars, something is inherently missing right off the bat. They’re not funny anymore. And that, for an animated film, is deadly.

Minions begins with the formation of the minions, at the dawn of life on earth. They have always sought out the biggest, baddest being to serve, but almost always unwittingly causing their leader’s downfall. They go into a form of self-exile, lost without their life’s purpose. Three minions, Kevin, Stuart and Bob, set out to find a new boss in the summer of 1969. They find Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock) and her husband Herb (Jon Hamm) who stage a plan to steal Queen Elizabeth’s crown.

There was such heavy promotion for the film that nearly all of the best parts have already been seen by the viewer by the time they get to the theater. The result is a harmless and pretty forgettable outing with everyone’s favorite sidekicks.

This is the main problem: the minions are sidekicks. They work best when they are reacting rather than initiating the plot. Viewers will yearn for Gru, Agnes and the others and the emotional pillar they represent. For reference, think to Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow or the Hulk; they work best as part of an ensemble, a supporting player, not as the main character (to highlight just part of the problems with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and the two solo Hulk films).

The rest of the film is uninspired. That may actually be worse than being a terrible film; you at least remember a terrible film. Minions is instantly forgotten upon leaving the theater.