Stars: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader
Release date: August 11th, 2016
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 88 minutes
Best part: The stellar cast.
Worst part: The racial stereotypes.
Writer/director/producers…actor…Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have made some of Hollywood’s most controversial gross-out comedies. Superbad explored teenage sexual angst, This is the End skewered Rogen and his friends’ fame, and The Interview almost kicked off World War III by pissing off North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un. So, What next?
How about an animated sex-comedy about food? Sure, why not. Now, Sony will let them get away with anything. Sadly, Sausage Party proves studio notes and executive decisions are sometimes worthwhile. The movie’s plot is bizarre and simplistic. Hot dog Frank (voiced by Seth Rogen) and his girlfriend – hot dog bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) – live next to one another in grocery store Shopwell’s. Frank, alongside fellow sausages Carl (Jonah Hill) and Barry (Michael Cera), believes they will be chosen by the gods, taken to ‘The Great Beyond’ and set free. However, the plan goes awry after an argument with feminine hygiene product Douche (Nick Kroll) leads to a spill, and mass casualties, in the isles. Frank finds out their situation isn’t as it seems.
Sausage Party and Suicide Squad are part of one of 2016’s most irritating trends. Both, featuring wholly predictable plots and characters, are covered in a nasty, immature allure catering to cheap desires. They also feature unique and interesting premises butchered by abysmal execution. Make no mistake, Sausage Party would have made for a kinetic, cutting short movie. Rogen and Goldberg are talented and interesting enough to know better. The final result leaves much to be desired. It lingers between parody and cheap dig at Pixar. Despite the allure, the basic plot follows Toy Story’s friends-finding-one-another story-line step by step. The twists and turns are wholly predictable and lack depth.
Sausage Party relies on the MA15+ rating and the filmmakers’ sense of humour. The comedy is pitifully hit and miss, relying on expletives and sexual references throughout. Every frame features lazy sex, fart, and weed jokes and food puns. If the first three-quarters weren’t haphazard enough, the finale takes some distressing and demeaning left turns. The movie, nowhere near as smart or interesting as it thinks, delivers a broad commentary on organised religion. The food products, convinced of the gods’ kindness, deliver a loud, brash musical number each morning about their fate. However, after that small splash of genius, we’re given borderline-offensive stereotypes from Woody Allen-esque bagel (Edward Norton) to angry Arabic lavash (David Krumholtz). Oy vey!
Sure, Sausage Party has a stellar voice cast and neat ideas. It’s clear Rogen and Goldberg had a clear vision from day one. However, their self-indulgence has gone too far. This may be 2016’s biggest disappointment.
Stars: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill
Release date: June 16th, 2016
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 103 minutes
Best part: Ellen DeGeneres.
Worst part: The familiar story.
Disney is one of the world’s most powerful companies, capable of ruling over the box office from here to eternity. Along with Star Wars and Marvel, the company also owns Pixar Animation Studios. Setting the bar for animated cinema, the studio makes us laugh, cry, and question our place in the universe. Finding Dory, although not quite up there with Pixar’s best, continues the studio’s penchant for unique voices (in front of the microphone and behind the scenes).
Finding Dory is the much-anticipated sequel to 2003’s smash-hit Finding Nemo. The original’s fun visuals and sense of humour helped it become one of the past decade’s most memorable movies. As illustrated by the title, the sequel focuses on sidekick turned fan favourite Dory (Ellen DeGeneres). Set one year after the events of the original, the movie explores the Blue Tang’s struggle with short-term memory loss. Despite growing close to Clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence), Dory begins having fragmented dreams and flashbacks to life with her parents, Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy). After regaining some of her memories, she feels a sudden urge to find them. In true Pixar fashion, our heroes head off on a literal and figurative journey over hundreds of miles.
There are two versions of Pixar: one creates game-changing and thought-provoking adventures appealing to all four quadrants. The key examples – the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters inc., The Incredibles, Wall-E, Up, Ratatouille, and Inside Out – exceed all expectations. The other side of the coin includes polarising/cash-grab entries including the Cars movies, A Bug’s Life, Brave, and The Good Dinosaur. Like Monsters University, Finding Dory lands somewhere in the middle. Don’t get me wrong, I would take Dory over the Minions any day. This time around, the crew – heading from the Great Barrier Reef to straight to the Jewel of Morro Bay, California – meets a school of new and eclectic characters stuck in a marine park. Although a new setting is always welcome, the plot largely resembles that of the original. Despite the overall familiarity, however, the stellar visuals and rollicking pace are worth every second.
Whereas the original laughed at Dory’s short-term memory loss, Finding Dory hangs its emotional and psychological weight on it. The movie’s twists and turns revolve entirely around her, continually switching from wacky comic relief to sympathetic lead character here. Along with Dory, several supporting characters carry varying physical, psychological, or neurological conditions. Sidekicks including near-sighted whale shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and nervous beluga whale Bailey (Ty Burrell) are cute and concerning simultaneously. Although kooky seal Gerald and batty bird Becky are borderline offensive, ill-tempered Octopus Hank (Ed O’Neill) and sea lions Fluke (Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West) are hilarious.
Emotionally resonant fish (?), Sigourney Weaver (?!), Car chases (?!!) – Finding Dory delivers some of Pixar’s many wacky ideas. Yet again, Pixar respectfully provides a light-hearted look at life’s darker shades. However, is familiar feel makes it more appropriate for easy, care-free home viewing.
Writers: Dean DeBlois (screenplay), Cressida Cowell (novel)
Stars: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson
Release date: June 13, 2014
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 102 minutes
Best part: The wondrous visuals.
Worst part: The irritating supporting characters.
Certainly, Mega-conglomerate/animation playground Dreamworks has delivered its fair share of soaring highs and crushing lows. As critics and filmgoers know, this multi-billion dollar studio spoils its spectacular achievements (Antz, Kung Fu Panda) with forgettable time-wasters (Megamind, Rise of the Guardians) and pitiful misfires (Shrek the Third, Monsters vs. Aliens). Laughing all the way to the bank, Steven Spielberg and co.’s company, at one point, took on a habit of looking past constructive criticism whilst delivering passable-at-best efforts. However, the How to Train Your Dragon franchise has rebooted Dreamworks’ once-declining reputation.
Jay Baruchel & America Ferrera.
Assuredly, How to train Your Dragon 2 establishes this studio’s true potential. Catching up to Pixar and Blue Sky Studios, this company’s greatest creation soars higher than birds, planes, and daydreams. As we all know, this series deals with far more interesting winged beasts. This sequel, examining everything that made the original a momentous success, puts the pedal to the metal from frame one to frame…let’s not keep count. For despite the exhaustive number of man-hours and intricate, scene-stealing creations, this instalment successfully utilises every strand of the animation filmmaking process. Before I finish singing its praises, I should describe the plot’s most basic conceits. This instalment picks up five years after the groundbreaking yet patchy original. We are re-introduced to geeky Viking/dragon tamer Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) as he watches over the peace-laden village of Berk. Nowadays, he and his scaly friend Toothless whistle through the skies whilst exploring strange and significant lands. Supported by his father – and village chieftain – Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), blacksmith Gobbler the Belch (Craig Ferguson), and girlfriend Astrid (America Fererra), Hiccup is faced with his greatest challenge yet: growing up. In the transitional period between adolescence and adulthood, Hiccup must contend with his father’s overwhelming expectations and the village’s safety.
Gerard Butler & Cate Blanchett.
The original, placing flavour-of-the-month actors in hearty roles and utilising 3D technology’s endless possibilities, was one of 2010’s most enthralling success stories. Riding on the back of Avatar‘s immense critical and commercial glory, the original displayed the big-budget entertainment’s boundlessness. So, what separates the sequel from the original? Surprisingly, this instalment scorches the first movie’s foibles and constructs a more meaningful and succinct experience. This time around, several new and old characters are charged with purposeful positions in the narrative. Here, we have humans and monsters fighting each other for control of the world. Building upon its influences, this sequel seeks to expand this already glorious universe. In its first few scenes, this instalment breaks genre barriers to soar above its twee competition. Introducing multiple plot-lines, the story heartily rushes from one to the next. Tying up loose ends and burgeoning character arcs, the plot divulges into several touching concepts and sequences. With Stoick expecting Hiccup to take over his chieftain duties, the story clings onto several impressionistic and bold conceits. Touchingly, the baseline plot-thread revolves around its protagonist’s actions and reactions. As the over-arching conflict begins, involving notorious dragon hunter Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) and trapper Eret(Kit Harington)’s plans to enslave humanity by controlling the world’s dragon populations, our characters become well-rounded personalities. As familial feuds and allegiance switches rear their ugly heads, sparked by Hiccup’s long-lost mother Valka (Cate Blanchett), the narrative takes several dark turns without becoming dreary. Unceremoniously, like with most family-friendly adventure flicks, the messages lumber into frame alongside the final third’s heartbreaking battle sequences.
“This is Berk. Life here is amazing. Dragons used to be a bit of a problem. But now they’ve all moved in.” (Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), How to Train Your Dragon 2).
One of many impressive action sequences.
Overcoming the corny and tiresome admittances, How to Train Your Dragon 2‘s underlying subtext is surprisingly soulful and potent. Giving hope to our fearless characters, the narrative’s life lessons are worth noting. The movie, unlike most animated efforts, touches on several confronting and intriguing topics. Hiccup, having had his leg amputated in the original, now contends with a multi-functional prosthetic. In addition, several supporting characters relate their crippling injuries to destructive motivations. This series, thinking outside the box, relishes in its violent action sequences and tear-jerking twists. Beyond the sorrowful flashbacks and high stakes, this sequel’s attention to detail and sumptuous visuals are worth the price of admission. Worthy of big-budget cinema’s majesty, some sequences deliver pure escapist thrills and heart-throbbing joys. Improving upon the original’s accomplishments, acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins’ influence makes it easy to bask in this fantasy-epic’s glow. Not to be outdone, the intricate animation style develops epic landscapes and a wide variety of dragons. In each frame, dragons, weather patterns, and scenic vistas tell extraordinary stories. Also, unlike most Dreamworks efforts, the voice actors suit the characters on offer. Baruchel, normally miscast, is perfect for this charming and amicable role. As modern animation’s most likeable lead, his puberty-ridden quarrels suit the overarching conflict. Butler’s thundering vocals bolster Stoick’s magnetic presence. In addition, Blanchett, Hounsou, and Harington are welcome additions to this unique franchise. However, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, and Kristen Wiig are stranded in bland and unnecessary comic-relief roles.
Redeeming Dreamworks’ critical and commercial slump, How to Train your Dragon 2 casts aside all blockbuster-related preconceptions to bolster its entertainment factor. This series, breaking off from the sugarcoated animated-adventure formula, raises the bar thanks to its unique visuals, intensifying action sequences, and likeable lead characters. With an enjoyable voice cast anchoring the fantastical story, this tale of familial bonds, sacrifice, and heroic acts never feels like it’s…draggin’.
Verdict: Dreamworks Animation’s most exhilarating effort yet.
Stars: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman
Release date: April 3rd, 2014
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 100 minutes
Best part: The wink-and-nudge humour.
Worst part: The slightly exasperating length.
One toy company, over past few years, has caused more societal shifts than every government put together. The Lego Group, creating miniature architects and production designers, has an affecting stranglehold on almost every household in the Western World. Venturing into big-budget filmmaking, Lego’s latest spectacle, The Lego Movie, is history’s first BLOCK-buster (you can all have that one!). Fortunately, this animated roller-coaster ride delivers hysterical jokes, fun action sequences, and a modest tone.
Chris Pratt as Emmet Brickowski.
Nowadays, with Lego’s video games (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings etc.) conquering the small screen, this franchise delivers hefty amounts of nostalgia. I grew up with these yellow, plastic men myself. I, normally one to turn my nose up at nostalgia-drenched blockbusters, fell head-over-heels for this enthusiastic thrill-ride. Here, The Lego Group steps back about one-or-two cubit meters. Allowing the cast and crew to show off their unique talents, the multi-billion dollar company is displaying its modest side. This could be seen as an ongoing moment of weakness. However, this is a surprising move for this expansive corporation to undertake. Interestingly enough, the movie comes off as a running commentary on capitalism, industry, and social progress. However, before delving into its thematic relevance, I’ll describe the plot before this review smashes into tiny pieces. The story focuses on kooky everyman Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt). Emmet, following orders printed in specialised instruction manuals, fits into his city’s way of life. Listening to pop tunes, buying overpriced coffee, and working at a local construction site, Emmet lacks significant qualities. One day, after running into alluring warrior Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Emmet discovers the key to the universe’s survival.
Elizabeth Banks & Morgan Freeman.
Labelled “The Special” by the master builder’s leader Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), and told to collect the fabled “Kragle” weapon, his journey kicks off in spectacular fashion. As you can tell, The Lego Movie‘s plot is lifted from influential action-adventure flicks. Slotting genre tropes and familiar sequences together, the plot rollickingly speeds along toward the explosive climax. In the first third, the Matrix-style narrative kicks into overdrive. Defined by an all-knowing prophecy, the movie is wholly aware of its conventional tropes. Shifting from one action trope to another, The Lego Movie taps into multiple generations’ senses of nostalgia. With Lego being a major part of our childhoods, the movie captures a child’s acute and inventive imagination. Exposing Lego’s lighter and heavier shades, writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miler (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street), by throwing these lego creations onto the big screen, accentuate their humorous and clever style. Here, the dynamic duo examines Lego’s pop-cultural impact. Commenting on its own existence, The Lego Movie humbly points out the each twist and turn’s absurdities. This modern animated classic takes its relentless nature and builds upon it. Lord and Miller’s senses of humour place rectangular blocks into affable and important places. Following an intrinsic instruction manual, the duo’s screenplay delivers several eclectic comedic jabs and one-liners. Admittedly, it’s shameful to criticise The Lego Movie for its silliness. Basing a big-budget extravaganza on a famous toy, Lord and Miller keep up the tempo throughout its extensive run-time.
“Whoa, are we inside my brain right now? It’s big. I must be smart.” (Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), The Lego Movie).
Will Ferrell & Liam Neeson.
Fortunately, Lord and Miller, saving this plot from falling apart, kickstart one action sequence after another. After zany characters like Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) and Batman (Will Arnett) are introduced, certain set pieces fit together seamlessly. Developing a gigantic chase across multiple worlds, these set pieces mix humour, stellar animation, and stylish choreography. The Old West jet battle, featuring a steam train, police planes, and the Batmobile, is an early highlight. Beyond the pulsating action sequences, the animation style enthusiastically bolsters this questionable premise. Fusing CG animation, stop-motion effects, and detailed miniatures, Lord and Miller’s Lego universe is chock-a-block (zing!) with surprises and exhilarating moments. Venturing into “Middle Zealand”, the high seas, and corporate mogul Lord Business(Will Ferrell)’s lair, The Lego Movie trounces Pixar’s more recent efforts. In addition, the little yellow figures, stuck in these chaotic events, are the movie’s most engaging creations. Tapping into Lego’s extensive history, the cast list includes the 2002 NBA All-stars, Michelangelo, Abraham Lincoln, 80s-something spaceman (Charlie Day) and Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie). Beyond this, the movie provides a meta-commentary on Warner Bros. properties. Along with characters from Star Wars, Harry Potter, and LOTR, the movie comes close to creating a Justice League spinoff. Superman (Channing Tatum), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), and Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders) are welcome additions. Eclipsing these references, the lead voices cap-off this wondrous comedy. Pratt, Banks, Arnett, Freeman, and Neeson stretch their immense acting talents in these enlightening roles
By all means, The Lego Movie should’ve bombed spectacularly. At first, this overwhelming concept seemed like nothing more than a cheap gimmick. However, put in Lord and Miller’s careful hands, this animated gem, from its conquering landscapes to slick vehicles, has been built with precision, imagination, and care. Of course, credit also belongs to Pratt and co. for bringing these plastic heroes and villains to life. This may be cheesy, but this Lego creation reaches skyscraper-level heights.
Verdict: A humorous and enjoyable animated adventure.
Stars: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, Jack McBrayer
Release date: November 12th, 2012
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 101 minutes
Best part: The video game universe.
Worst part: The sugar-coated humour.
Video games are merely seen as a way of escaping reality. But the imaginative worlds created for every Halo, Call of Duty or Super Mario Bros. game may be small parts of something much greater. This is vaguely the premise of Disney’s new animated feature Wreck-It Ralph. The video game universe is given a new lease of life here. This behind-the-scenes look at our favourite pixelated heroes and villains is a testament to how far technology has come in the past 40 years. It’s a fun, vibrant and heart-warming journey through the 32-bit universe.
John C. Reilly.
Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is one of two main characters in the arcade game Fix-It Felix, Jr. (inspired by Donkey-Kong). His destructive ways have left him isolated from the game’s other characters, forced to watch them side with its titular hero Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer). After a disastrous support group meeting for disgruntled villains, Ralph comes back to his game having not been invited to its 30th anniversary party. Ralph’s existential crisis pushes him to strive for hero’s status. Hopping games inside the grid, Ralph will find his courage and humility in two games; Hero’s Duty and Sugar Rush. His illegal pursuit into the realm of Sugar Rush leads to his greatest challenge- friendship. This comes in form of young sugar-fuelled racer Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). Vanellope and Ralph must bond to achieve their goals before the video game multiplex becomes obsolete.
Wreck-It Ralph is a surprisingly inventive animated feature in the vein of Hoodwinked and Kung-Fu Panda. Disney has learnt from Pixar’s standard of breath-taking animated film-making. Disney animation has developed an epic, brightly-coloured and energetic version of Toy Story set in a multi-layered video game universe. Ralph’s journey towards both a hero’s medal and salvation is exhilarating whilst tugging the heartstrings at just the right moments. Ralph is ostensibly a nice guy in a bad guy’s intimidating exterior. Kids will enjoy this story of self-confidence and determination. Despite using the undying animated film theme of ‘always believe in yourself’, the film depicts a sensitive outlook on how our differences make us truly special. The main characters are all outsiders in their own games. They become the heroes they choose to be and never forget about each other along the way. Ralph and Vanellope’s instant chemistry works out the kinks in their contrasting personalities. Wreck-It Ralph‘s comedic moments however strictly serve the younger viewers. Vanellope’s goofy humour steadily becomes tedious. While Sugar Rush is a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-like plethora of candy related puns.
Wreck-It Ralph smartly bases its characters on the actors portraying them. The characters exude the same interior and exterior traits that make these actors some of the most likeable in Hollywood today. Reilly embodies Wreck-It Ralph with his usual every-man persona. Known for playing likeable characters in dramas such as Magnolia and We Need to talk About Kevin, Reilly’s portrayal of this down-on-his-luck hero comes off as a loving representation of his own indelible on-screen attitude. Silverman energetically voices a fun-loving child. Vanellope’s optimistic attitude keeps Ralph on his toes, proving that persistence is the key to happiness. Her snarky jokes at points crackle, drawing a sense of heart from Ralph’s tough exterior. Glee‘s Jane Lynch is hysterical as the Ripley-esque bad-ass chick. Lynch’s tom-boyish silver haired warrior is in desperate need of a silver lining. While 30 Rock‘s McBrayer plays an enjoyably optimistic character willing to give Ralph a chance.
“When did video games become so violent and scary?” (Wreck-it Ralph (JohnC. Reilly), Wreck-it Ralph).
Director Rich Moore is clearly inspired by the great Disney animated features that made the company an overwhelming success. The universe that Moore and Disney have created rivals the luscious landscapes of Pixar’s greatest feature films. The fore and backgrounds are teeming with classic video game and film references. Modern entertainment owes Disney many debts of gratitude for changing cinema throughout the past 40 years. However, this film is Disney’s homage to other popular genres and movements in the entertainment industry. Both adults and kids will have fun pointing out multiple arcade and 3-D video game references. The support group for example includes Pacman’s ghost nemesis, Bowser and Street Fighter‘s Zangief. The grid is also a plethora of video game influences. Any video game junkie will love the realm filled with Halo-meets-Aliens-like first person shooters, Nintendo/Super Mario Kart inspired racing games and every classic arcade game character imaginable. Look out for Sonic the Hedgehog, Mortal Kombat contestants and Q*Berg.
Disney’s latest animated feature is perfect for the holidays. Swerving away from Dreamworks’ generic pop-culture obsessed animated material, Wreck-It Ralph is a pacy mix of delectable set-pieces and likeable characters.
Verdict: A nostalgic and colour-saturated thrill ride.