Sunday, January 1, 2017
Review(s): 'Storks' is a Cartoony Animated Comedy Done Right
We may want to leave a lot behind, and leave certain things in 2016... What we want to take with us, however, is a pretty solid crop of animated movies. One of which I just saw for the first time...
Yes, Warner Animation Group's second feature, a fun little comedy outsourced to Sony ImageWorks up in Vancouver. Storks is the movie that Sony Animation hasn't made in a while, and it's also one of the better animated comedy romps made in the last few years.
I liked the characters a great deal! The film's sense of humor channels The Lego Movie and other irreverent cartoon comedies, but it definitely swings more towards classic Looney Tunes. The premise is pretty fun and inventive as well, and while some may say that rings similar to Pixar, I don't mind. Pixar did not create the "what if so-and-so" story, though they do specialize in it. On paper, Storks sounds like it takes a lot from other places. It does, it's not ashamed of that, but...
It does very cool things with what it has. I found myself really laughing at the jokes, but I actually really liked how they executed the story. The way they set up the storks' headquarters was really neat, and the machine they used to use to make babies. You have other things that really work, from Tulip's backstory to the subplot with the family. There's actually some real heart in the subplot alone, and how the kid Nate - who ends up being the older brother to the pink-haired baby Junior and Tulip have to deliver - just wants to spend time with his overworked parents.
The storks at CornerStore, an Amazon-esque parody located on a ridiculously high mountain above the clouds, have given up baby delivery. Their boss Hunter has turned the facility into a package delivery empire, and he's adamant that they don't go back to babies. Everything's pulled off with such zazz. Really picking up once Junior and Tulip set out to deliver the pink-haired baby that they accidentally used the machine to make, the film goes all sorts of weirdo directions. Everything concerning the wolf pack is downright hilarious, definitely spicing up the middle.
The film's offbeat sense of humor keeps what is actually a straightforward adventure firing on all cylinders. Not only do the wolves bring that, but also the Pigeon Toady, an intentionally hyper-obnoxious toupee-wearing chirper who is always talking like someone trying to be hip. Sometimes the film gets a little too frenetic, and at times it does feel a bit undercooked, but what bolsters the tone is the very strong character animation. Look, I may be souring on CG films trying to be so hyper-real yet trying to stay caricature-y in some way, but Storks' character animation really impressed me. The movements, the acting, it was just right.
Other than that, it's a very there-looking kind of movie. Undeniably pretty for something made for $70 million, it's not earth-shattering... But those movements! That character animation! It is no surprise, for director Doug Sweetland utilized Looney Tunes energy and slapstick in his Pixar short Presto, it carried over nicely into this film. If Mr. Sweetland ever got to make The Familiars a few years back at Sony Animation, I think it would've played out like this. I hope he secures more animation directing work in the future, because he nailed it! With the help of a solid script from the other director, comedy man Nicholas Stoller, it just really hits a sweet spot.
A good cartoony animated feature isn't easy to make. After Disney's few irreverent comedies of the 1990s and early 2000s, I feel few did this particular type of movie justice. Blue Sky did it with the first Ice Age, and to a lesser extent, Rio. Sony Animation impressed with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, while I feel the first Despicable Me was actually a home run for Illumination. DreamWorks got it really right with their Madagascar 3. So Storks being a very good feature-length cartoon? That's a high honor in my book. It's gleefully silly, heartfelt, and pretty well-written. Not without some roughness around the edges, it flew to me.
Other things I saw recently... SPOILERS for these too...
Though this is mostly a Storks-related post, I'll briefly comment on other recent films I've seen.
The Nice Guys - This won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I quite dug it. A seedy, 70s-set buddy cop comedy with a groovy aesthetic and atmosphere, The Nice Guys has a pretty tight script though it can be convoluted at times. That all being said, it has some strong action scenes, it parodies 70s movies and shows with gusto, has a good if not slightly anachronistic soundtrack (my music nerd is showing here, I know!), and it's got a different sense of humor.
Doctor Strange - A big one right here, being a Marvel Cinematic Universe installment. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange takes a good-sized risk: Introduce a whole new side of the MCU, in its case, the magical side. While Thor was a mild tease of Marvel's cosmic side, Guardians of the Galaxy was a full-blown jump into space. This sinks us right into magic, alternate dimensions, psychedelic altering of reality, all kinds of mind-bending stuff. All the players are good here, and Stephen Strange is immediately likable the minute you see him... He's basically me when it comes to music and the years certain songs/albums came out!
Despite a little too much over-explaining and exposition, and a rather dull villain, Doctor Strange lives up to its name and gets a little trippy at times. It also boasts a very satisfying third act battle, and is surprisingly very quiet in stretches, really refreshing in a world of blockbusters blowing stuff or being loud most of the time. In many ways, it felt like a Phase 1 MCU movie, mostly Iron Man. Slow-burn first third, some solid action in the middle, and a cool climax. Not a fantastic entry in the series, but one well-worth checking out.
Rogue One - This launching of the non-Episode chapters of Star Wars is more or less director Gareth Edwards' Godzilla. Many complained his Godzilla film, released two years ago, had very little Godzilla in it and very boring lead characters. I was on the other side of the coin, I loved everything but the leads, who were just decent characters at best. It's a film with an awesome story, but with rather rote leads. I loved how they looked at Godzilla and his duel with other creatures from a human perspective, and the sheer suspense that came with all of that.
Basically, Rogue One is pretty much that. I love how they tell the story of how the rag-tag group of rebels stole the Death Star plans, even though we know how it's all going to end. Outside of frontrunner Jyn Erso and the on-point droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk!), the other characters are just kind of there. No standout personalities or anything, but they get the job done. Its first two thirds are satisfactory, and the film does a great job at blending a rougher atmosphere with the classic Star Wars feel and tone. We are really in the middle of the war here, and the violence is a little more real. This is handled without sacrificing what we love about the galaxy far, far away. The third act blows everything out of the water, with an absolutely perfect final five minutes.
People worried that Disney would kiddify Star Wars? People worried that they'd make Darth Vader break out into song? People worried the reshoot rumors meant that Disney was going to water this off-the-beaten-path installment down? Darth Vader's climactic rampage is one of the iconic villain's most intense and chilling moments ever... All in Disney's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story...