Sunday, July 15, 2012

2012 Animation Report Card: First Half

With Blue Sky's Ice Age: Continental Drift kicking off the second half of the year (grossing an estimated $46 million on its opening weekend), now is the time to grade what we got in the first half. We only got four animated features of course (not counting The Secret World of Arrietty, being a 2010 film), while the second half will give us six.

These are just short reviews, as you can read the individual quickie reviews I did when I saw these films. The only one I did not do a quickie review for was Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, which I just saw. The full review of that film will be saved for Part 8 of "Moving Forward". Some of the grades may also be different from the original Quick Flick Reviews.

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
Directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda
Written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul
Produced by Chris Meledandri and Janet Healey
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Studio: Illumination Entertainment

Dr. Seuss’ classic has been updated into something that panders more to children than anything. The Lorax boasts some great colorful visuals and cute designs that are true to Dr. Seuss’ original illustrations, but the film is cut from the same cloth as Illumination’s debut feature, Despicable Me. It’s a sweet, saccharine romp with a message that’s not too heavy, it’s just rote and ironically almost out of place. It also has musical numbers which feel forced, and humor that is hit-or-miss. The Lorax himself and the Once-ler make the film worth it, while everyone else is just there to pad out the story and provide comic relief. For a film about the dangers of corporate greed and artificial things, it kind of felt artificial.

Original review

The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Directed by Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt
Written by Gideon Defoe
Produced by Julie Lockhart, Peter Lord and David Sproxton
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Studio: Aardman Animations / Sony Pictures Animation

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is a clever, sometimes wacky ride with a lot of work and effort put into it. Sometimes the blending of computer animation and stop-motion didn’t work, but overall, it’s loaded with eye candy and even some traditional animation for the great map montage scenes. The characters are fun, although they aren’t as memorable as the characters from the past Aardman films, but there’s enough charm to elevate it. The American version of this film tones down some of the more adult-oriented humor in the British original (The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!) and re-dubs a few voices for some characters, but that’s never too distracting. Minimal the plot may be, it’s really just a base for the crazy antics that follow when the pirate characters get entangled with Charles Darwin in London. Mayhem and wit ensues, making for an unexpected and fast-paced romp.

Original review

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted
Directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath
Written by Eric Darnell and Noah Baumbach
Produced by Mireille Soria
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Studio: DreamWorks Animation SKG / Pacific Data Images

Coming off of two entertaining but otherwise problematic films, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted actually ends the trilogy (well I sure hope it’s the end) on a high note. While the first two films had a hard time figuring out what they wanted to be, Madagascar 3 knows exactly what it wants to be: An over-the-top cartoon that’s loaded with ridiculous action, slapstick and zany characters. While some pop culture jokes and the use of pop songs from the past and present rear their ugly head a few times, most of the comedy is hilarious. The new characters are great, and the zoo gang is actually a much more interesting band of characters than they were in the first two films. Noah Baumbach spices up what could’ve been a by-the-numbers screenplay with a lot of wit, clever writing and even some heart. The animation is exciting, colorful and eye-popping, with a great circus finale that’s like a psychedelic explosion. It’s pure fun at its best.

Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell
Written by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi and Steve Purcell
Produced by Katherine Sarafian
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Studio: Pixar Animation Studios

Pixar goes for a more traditional route with Brave, a fairy tale-like story rooted in Grimm Brothers traditions while also drawing from the classic Disney book and putting some new spins on them. Like Pixar’s other films, it has a story that resonates with a beautifully written mother-daughter relationship that echoes the great father-son relationship in Finding Nemo. Also, the animation, character designs, art direction and lighting are peerless, as per usual with Pixar. The Scottish highlands look beautiful and epic. Patrick Doyle’s score is breathtaking and captivating, and the cast gives it their all. The film does have some issues, such as the pacing (it could’ve been longer) and a strange imbalance, where the comic relief sometimes overshadows the more serious side of the narrative. Fortunately, it never pulls punches and again, it plays to adults like every other Pixar film. It’s beautiful, moving and engaging.

Original review


There you have it. How would you grade these four animated features? Would you say 2012 is a great year for animation so far?

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