Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Animation catch-up: Despicable Me 2, Planes, & Turbo.

I won’t pretend to think this year in animated features has been a great one. I know many probably had issues with the medium in 2011, but trust me, this year for animation is easily worse. Not only is it the worst year for the medium since 2006, it’s one of the worst years in animation I can remember. I’ve already gotten around to a few of these films, but today, I decided to finish up some reviews of movies I saw earlier in the year, but I’ve been holding back for a while. Some I saw by my own free will, while others I was coerced into seeing. Enjoy!

Despicable Me 2:
Oh, Despicable Me. How I failed to understand the broad appeal of the first movie, and the very hit-or-miss Looney Tunes style humor that it employed. You could imagine how unenthusiastic I was to learn that a sequel was in development. In this installment, we see Gru swapping his life as a supervillain for a nice comfortable life as a father. However, when an organization known as the Anti Villain League seeks his know-how in the case of tracking down and capturing a criminal mastermind who stole a super serum, he teams up with the all-too energetic agent Lucy Wilde for the mission, while one of his daughters falls for a young boy, and his gibberish speaking minions get tangled up in their own problems. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed this movie more than the first.

Of course, that’s not saying a whole lot. Much of the same vices of the first film are still present here. Hit or miss slapstick that either help the film, or create an overly obnoxious vibe, merely passable characters that are sometimes a waste of the talented comedians behind them, and attempts at being “cute” that can border on annoying. It sounds like average stuff, but one area where I think the film improved on is in the humor factor. I’ll admit that I was laughing quite a lot during this sequel, while rarely shaking my head. A lot of this humor comes from Gru’s adopted daughters, his new mission partner and love interest Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig), as well as Gru’s scene stealing yellow minions. They border on being overused at times (specifically by teasing a future movie based solely around them during the end credits), but they still had me tickled throughout most of their screentime. So, while Despicable Me 2 may be an improvement on the first, it still isn’t enough to convince me that their developers, Illumination Entertainment, are in the big leagues yet.

*** / *****

Remember those awful direct-to-DVD sequels Disney used to make years ago? Well, they came back. After the success of Pixar’s Cars, Disney decided to make a spin-off series above the world of Cars called... Planes. Eventually, plans changed for the film, and it was instead rescheduled to release theatrically. Contrary to what many people believe, this shouldn’t have remained a DVD only release... it shouldn’t have even existed in the first place.

A half-hearted throwback to old underdog tales (and by “throwback”, I mean “butchery”), the film follows Dusty Crophopper, a cropduster who dreams of competing in the big leagues with professional racers in a world Grand Prix of sorts. Wouldn’t you know it, he gets his wish. He gets training from an old war veteran, makes friends with several of the racers, and makes enemies with the self-absorbed champion who is self-absorbed for seemingly no reason whatsoever (complete with a Will Arnett impersonation).

Through and through, this movie is thoroughly predictable. I’ve said before that just because a movie is clichéd does not necessarily make it bad, it just depends on how you execute them. Planes just happens to use them badly. It’s not as if there’s anything insultingly bad about the film, but the problem is that this film is so, so BORING. There is barely anything worth recommending in this film. All of the jokes (Well, most, because there were some legitimately funny lines in there) fall flat, the characters are all pretty much ciphers (and this is a sad waste of the many talented voice over actors), there is zero suspense or investment in the whole affair, and even the animation is generic. This movie especially fails in the emotional department, because none of the sentimentality or “feel-good” moments ever feel earned. One thing we can all be thankful for is that this generic mess is at least over quickly.

*1/2 / *****

TURBO-TASTIC! I’ll admit that upon hearing the premise of Turbo, I thought this movie was going to be thoroughly stupid. However, to my surprise, Turbo is actually pretty fun, despite whatever story issues it has. The lead character of the film is Theo (aka Turbo), a garden snail that dreams of competing alongside his favorite racers in the Indy 500 circuit. After a freak accident one night, he becomes the fastest snail in the world, capable of going top speeds of over 200 miles per hour. Through a series of events, he eventually finds himself living out his dreams, competing against the fiercest challengers in the racing world.

Like I said, just by this premise alone, I thought the film was going to crash and burn. However, the film does remain very entertaining. If I have complaints about anything, it’s that the story doesn’t live up to the full potential the project had. A traditional underdog story to a fault, Turbo doesn’t always do much to set itself apart from numerous better films, which includes moments where it rips off Ratatouille as well. However, the movie is still fresh and enjoyable, due chiefly to how funny and charming the movie’s voice cast is. Not all of the jokes hit bullseyes, but the film remains consistently humorous. The film is also a technical marvel, none more attention-grabbing than Richard King’s creative sound design. Kudos also go to those great racing sequences, thanks especially due to consultation from DP Wally Pfister.

***1/2 / *****

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