After months of seeing hits and disappointments of untold hype, the summer movie season has finally come to a close. With awards season right around the corner, I decided to take some time to review some animated features I’ve had a chance to see. Many of you have probably already read my review of Brave, but I haven’t had a chance to review any others. From what I’ve watched, it’s looking to be a strong year for animation, and we still have promising movies like Frankenweenie, Rise of the Guardians, and Wreck-It-Ralph to go. Today you get a four-for-one. Enjoy!
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted:
As someone who really liked the first two Madagascar movies, this one was just flat out stale. While not without merits, the movie suffers from an overabundance of characters, both old and new. Some of these characters are more entertaining than others, but it just makes it hard to stay focused on any one of them. On top of that, the movie is rushed, and the humor is inconsistent. King Julien, a comedic gem in the previous movies, is played up to be such an irritating idiot. Even the penguins have grown old. It’s still occasionally entertaining, and it looks great as always, but this beast needs to make way for the next franchise.
LAIKA animation follows up their gorgeous 2009 hit Coraline with ParaNorman, an affectionate mixture of John Carpenter and John Hughes. Even though the first act was making me a little impatient, once the ball gets rolling, it’s constantly entertaining. Led by an awesome voice cast, the movie shines with winning humor, spooky atmospherics, and surprising exploration of kid-specific themes. It’s not always perfect, and maybe it could have used a little more psychological depth, but at least it looks absolutely dazzling. Lastly, even though it’s nothing bone chilling, it’s actually scarier than most modern horror movies.
**** / *****
The Pirates! Band of Misfits:
ARRR! The quirky scallywags of Aardman animation be at it again! After seven years of waiting, they’ve at long last made port with their return to stop motion. The Pirates! be a scurvy, swashbuckling, and laugh-out-loud funny high seas adventure, with Charles DARRRwin. Okay, I promise to stop talking like a pirate now.
I must say, even though it doesn’t have the same originality as Chicken Run, or the same comedic bite as Wallace and Gromit, The Pirates is a very entertaining movie. It’s easy enough to compliment the animation, and Aardman’s signature style of slapstick, or a terrific voice cast as we’ve come to expect. All that aside, it remains a constantly funny adventure, with only a few jokes that ever fall flat. It’s great to have you back Aardman.
**** / *****
The Secret World of Arietty:
So far, the only animated movie I’ve seen this year that even comes close to being as good as Brave. Based on the award-winning book The Borrowers, and developed by Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli, Arietty is a gorgeous adventure. The animation is simply a masterstroke of creativity, and the film balances Ghibli’s signature childlike innocence amidst mature themes as masterfully as always. The English dub also features a strong voice cast, Bridgit Mendler and Amy Poehler specifically worthy of notice.
The most fascinating aspects of The Secret World of Arietty are extended scenes without any dialogue, scenes that rely on ambient sound design and visual storytelling to let the viewer take in the size and scope of this world. There is a point where this starts to become an issue, but such a thing is easy to forgive, and makes for one great family adventure. As with Pixar, Studio Ghibli has been making consistently good movies that take both the older and younger viewers of its audience seriously. That’s no small feat to accomplish, and The Secret World of Arietty testifies once more to Ghibli’s sparkling ingenuity.
****1/2 / *****