Posts Tagged ‘animated’

Ghouls Just Want to Have Fun

November 9, 2012
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Bold. Original. Entertaining. Abnormanny so.

An Active 3D Review: ParaNorman 3-D

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

Wow – this one came out of left field… After the disappointment of that bland plod, Hotel Transylvania, I wasn’t prepared to invest much anticipation in this; what I had assumed to be more directionless kiddie-horror.

What we have here is an engaging and surprising tale set in a small town, Blithe Hollow, featuring a somewhat geeky schoolboy, Norman, who “sees dead people” (just as Haley Joel Osment had done some some years ago in The Sixth Sense). As he travels down the streets and sidewalks, Norman bumps into ghosts of the deceased, greeting them and conversing with them as if it were the most natural thing in the world. But, being as it certainly isn’t, he’s teased at school, and even Norman’s father (voiced by Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s Jeff Garlin) is starting to lose his patience with what he regards as his child’s eccentric and antisocial whimsies. He isn’t even impressed by his son’s regular chats with his late paternal grandmother (voiced by that zany doyenne of Broadway, Elaine Stritch).

Further eroding poor Norman’s reputation at school is the awkward fact that the town’s resident alcoholic/tramp/loon is his uncle. The open-minded lad is neither embarrassed nor frightened by this wild and inconvenient relative, though his parents don’t approve of any contact. It’s bad enough, after all, that their kid goes around kibitzing with mid-air.

But it’s no surprise that the poor uncle has gone off his rocker; he’s been sitting on a horrific secret for decades. He also knows that the only person who can help him with this frightening predicament – and save the sleepy town to boot – is his nephew, Norman…

Now that I’ve feasted on it, I’ve spent a couple of weeks trying to find a classification into which I could neatly slip this highly enjoyable romp. One thing I can assure you is that it’s no kids’ picture. It’s way too dark for that. After a scene in which our young hero attempts to take a book from the grip of a recently deceased person and ends up desperately trying to wrestle the object off the old dude, given that rigor mortis has set in… I resolved to nudge this title out of the ‘small fry’ domain. Yes, it’s animated, and yes, it’s the story of an alienated young boy, but any resemblance to cute, family-friendly fare ends right there.

Every single frame of this wonderful adventure has been invested with care, humour and passion, and I delighted in its wicked characterisations, beautifully realised backgrounds, and its unapologetically dark and impish sense of fun.

[Oh, and by the way: credit geeks such as your truly are rewarded with a sequence toward the end of the closing credit crawl, in which… nah, I won’t reveal it.]

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Good intentions, but Disney dips

April 27, 2011

An Active3D Movie Review: MARS NEEDS MOMS 3-D

Rating (out of 5 stars): **

Smart tagline; you gotta hand it to them.

The premise is entertaining enough: a young lad, Milo, who lives with his mum, is bratty and lippy. After a heated exchange with his mother (who has bust him for trying to avoid eating his broccoli by feeding it to the family cat) he expresses the wish – as petulant kids often do – that he didn’t have a mom. Unbeknownst to him, however, planet Mars is on a mission to harvest earth moms with good child-rearing skills. It’s a long story, and I’ll leave the film to bore you with those details, but the long and short of it is that the evil Martians abduct his mother that very night. Milo manages to stow away aboard the aliens’ spacecraft, and an adventure is born. Needless to say, the boy will soon regret his harsh words – and prove his love for his mom.

Although it bears the Disney badge, this tale, based upon the children’s book by Berkeley Breathed, is the product of a Robert Zemeckis outfit, ImageMovers Digital. And therein lies one of its biggest problems. Mr Zemeckis – much as I’ve loved his movies over the years – appears to be irretrievably welded to a technology known as motion capture, in which actors have computer sensors dotted all over their faces and bodies which inform the behaviour of computer-animated characters. He used the technology in A Christmas Carol, the animated 3-D movie which starred Jim Carrey. In that film, most of the characters appeared squint to me. In this film, emotions and expressions still seem trapped within the rigid, computer-animated faces. If you’re going to depend so heavily on the actual actors for facial expressions and body movements, then for goodness’ sake, just use the actors as they are, and place them, if necessary, within a computer-generated environment – as happens in Tron Legacy and Thor.

The sentiments expressed in the film are noble ones, and are quite appropriate to the Disney brand, but I couldn’t get over the bloodless 50-yard stares of these motion-capture avatars. The technology is honestly not worth pursuing. If you’re going to use sensors to (try and) replicate the facial expressions and body language of the characters, then why not cut out the middle man and use the real thing? The whole point of animation, as I understand it, is to stylise and exaggerate, in such as way as reality can’t. Motion capture technology is merely robbing animators of their powers, and I truly believe that Uncle Walt would be mortified to have his name attached to such endeavours.

A Macaw-Inspiring Animated Epic

April 27, 2011

An Active3D Movie Review: RIO 3-D

Rating (out of 5 stars): ***

Travelogue-cum-family-friendly-adventure - the visual splendour of Rio 3-D.

Blu is an appropriately-named blue Macaw who’s grown up under the wing, so to speak, of his owner and best friend Linda in the small, snowy town of Moose Lake, Minnesota. Their blissful domestic routine is disturbed one day when a geeky Brazilian bird expert arrives at their doorstep, and explains that, because Blu is such a rare bird, they need to bring him to Brazil to mate with a female counterpart, and thus ensure the survival of the species. At first Linda resists the proposal (which includes flying her to Rio to accompany her feathered pal), but her conscience gets the better of her, and before long, they’re off to Rio Blu is introduced to Jewel, a beautiful but haughty female blue Macaw who is less than impressed by Blu’s inability to fly like the city’s wild parrots.

But it turns out that Jewel’s bad attitude will be the least of Blu’s worries, as the birds find themselves enmeshed in the nefarious activities of a gang of animal smugglers. By introducing this narrative thread, the film draws attention to the illegal trade of exotic animals that results in the cruel and unnecessary death of many animals every year. So, if this film can, in its own small way, make filmgoers mindful of this ugly trade, then so much the better.

The movie offers much action and adventure – which may even alarm the littlies – but the entertainment quotient is high. And who better to direct it than Rio-born Carlos Saldanha, who gives the film a travelogue quality, and guides the animator’s restless virtual camera throughout this busy metropolis – from its palm-lined beach boulevards, to its cluttered, steeply-inclined favelas.

The good news is that Brazilian legend Sergio Mendes was brought in to take care of the film’s music – though the bad news is that most of the time, the seductive rhythms of Brazil have been bastardised, in an effort – one presumes – to make them sound contemporary and more friendly to the North American ear. Eeeuw. I was also not very comfortable with the new age sexism that characterises the tale. Blu, the male parrot, is the awkward, nervous one; the one who can’t fly, who’s initially mocked by the able and street-smart Jewel. Similarly, with the human characters, it’s the male Brazilian bird-geek who is bumbling and largely ineffectual, whilst Linda, by contrast, is strong and capable. One strong, moral male in the film might’ve been a nice role model for the little boys in the audience! All in all, however, a colourful, exciting and entertaining romp.