Animated Film

ParaNorman (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

ParaNorman (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Animated Feature Film (Sam Fell, Christ Butler).
Watched January 31, 2014.

I was pleasantly surprised by ParaNorman.  I have not been impressed with 2013’s animated features so far, and something featuring zombies is rarely something I seek out on my own.  Suffice it to say, I was not stoked about watching ParaNorman, but luckily it pulled out the comedic stops and pumped in enough story that I wasn’t hating my life while watching it.


Here we see yet another claymation, stop motion animation, not unlike the recently reviewed Frankenweenie.  Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) is an oddball, by even his family’s standards.  His best friend is his Grandma (Elaine Stritch) and he talks to her about everything.  The only hitch is that his Grandma is dead.  Norman sees and converses with a lot of dead people, but everyone who is living thinks he is absolutely bonkers.  One day, the only man in the town crazier than Norman warns him that an evil is about to be set loose on the town, and only Norman can stop it.


Norman grew up in a small town not unlike Salem.  Its history is rich with dead witches and every year they celebrate the demise of one named Agatha (Jodelle Ferland) who supposedly put a curse on her judgers and the town.  This centuries-old curse is more than something that sells t-shirts to the community, but this year things go down differently.  Several zombies rise from the grave and Norman, his sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), and a few odd sidekicks have to save they day.


While Norman is your normal misunderstood lead character, and Kodi voices him well, the real show stopper was his only friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), the classic fat kid whose lines and physical comedy make every scene he is in.  His muscled brother Mitch (Casey Affleck) is a classic jock without brains, which is perhaps how he gets roped into the adventure so easily.  The film also dwells on Norman’s poor relationship with his father (Jeff Garlin) who, as his wife points out, is scared for Norman, not of Norman.


The end of the film goes a little off the deep end but the animation is so wild and cool that I didn’t mind at all.  The colors and the fluidity of every motion were truly breathtaking.  This is actually one animated feature from 2013 that I wouldn’t mind viewing more than once.  It was funny, appropriately scary, albeit incredibly predictable.  If you don’t like being able to figure out the plot (which in that case maybe you shouldn’t watch kid movies) you won’t like this film.


I highly recommend ParaNorman to you.  It might be a little scary for the kids but in this day and age, who knows what they can stomach!


Head Over Heels (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Head over Heels (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
1/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Animated Short (Timothy Reckart, Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly).
Watched January 28, 2014.

Head Over Heels  is a claymationstop motion animated short that has a really cute concept.  It is about an older couple who has obviously been together for a long time–so long that they have forgotten what it means to be in love.  The symbolism for this is a little unique and extremely obvious–Walter lives on the floor and Madge lives on the ceiling.  They may share the same fridge, but that is about it.  One day, their house literally falls out of the sky and they are forced to reassess the way they have been viewing their relationship.


While the concept is cute (and solid), the execution is not.  It seems more like an exercise in animation than a success at story telling.  What could have been told in less than five minutes instead is told in eleven and we spend a long time watching the couple fight over a picture, vacuum the floor, fiddle with antennas, and take a walk outside.  It is hard to make their faces communicate their emotions, and after watching ParaNorman (another nominated film that I will be reviewing next week), the animation seems extremely lacking.


I really enjoyed the concept of this film, and it was certainly cute, but it is sad when an eleven minute short is too boring.  Unless you are studying stop motion animation and/or claymation, I would not recommend this film to you.


Frankenweenie (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Frankenweenie (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Animated Feature Film (Tim Burton).
Watched January 13, 2014.


I will be one hundred percent honest, I am not a big Tim Burton fan.  I do not mean this in a particularly negative way, it is just that his form of artistry does not always grab me in the way it does others, and that isn’t a bad thing.  Despite this, his films and in particular his stop motion animations are so incredible that from a technical standpoint, it is hard to hold a candle to his skill.


Frankenweenie is no different.  While the animated winner Brave from this year wasn’t necessarily better in story and execution (big ambitions that fell short of expectations), Frankenweenie has a little of the bizarre we expect from Burton and a good amount of emotional connection that works well to keep audiences watching.


The film is a black and white story of Victor Frankenstien (voiced by Charlie Tahan), a genius kid who has a knack for science and a best friend who just happens to be his dog Sparky.  His science infatuation is stoked by new teacher Mr. Rsykruski (Martin Landau) and bemusedly endured by his parents.  All of his classmates are classic Burton odd balls with funny shaped heads, spooky accents, and fortune telling cats.  They are all gearing up for the science fair, which has sparked an odd amount of competitiveness in the class, and everyone is looking to Victor for inspiration.


While Mrs. Frankenstien is all for Victor’s classic weirdness, the Mr. insists he takes up a sport.  Unfortunately, at his first baseball game, tragedy strikes and good old Sparky gets hit by a car.


Cue the classic Frankenstien reanimation sequence in which Victor patches his dog back together and brings him back to life by utilizing a lightning storm.  While the new and improved Sparky needs a recharge now and then, and perhaps a new patch or stitch here and there, he is back to normal and all pet adoring audiences can relate to wanting their pet back again.


The science fair and competitive classmates make the story take a turn for the worse.  Will Victor be able to save the day and convince the town that Sparky should stay?


Let me tell you, I have lost some precious pets in my day and I cried right along with Victor when he lost dear Sparky.  However, when Sparky comes back with a sewn on head and his tail goes flying if wagged too vigorously, I was properly grossed out and very appreciative of the black and white versus color imaging.  The story was cute, the characters were quirky, and there was an emotional connection to the relationship between Victor and Sparky, but other than that I felt like Frankenweenie was a distinctly kids movie.  Pixar often maneuvers their stories to be equally appreciated by both kids and adults alike, but this nomination was a little too childlike for my taste.  Despite that, there is some morbid, racist, and fecal humor that might amuse some people.


While it certainly wasn’t the worst movie I have seen this year, it will never make my top 10.  If you want to appreciate Burton’s exquisite art in the form of stop motion animation, then you will certainly appreciate aspects of this film.  The lead characters were strong and their story lines were decent.  It was the side plots I was more let down by, and the quirky classmates that had me scratching my head.  I have no idea how Victor did not have any friends in such a town of odd balls.

Wreck it Ralph (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Wreck it Ralph (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Animated Feature Film (Rich Moore).
Watched July, 2013.


My husband was very excited to watch Wreck it Ralph.  Video games have always been a huge part of his life, and a movie about the bad guys from those games was bound to peak his interest.  I, on the other hand, was fairly indifferent although I had heard good things, so when we finally sat down to watch it I think my expectations got the better of me.  The story is cute and the characters are endearing, but it is hardly the classic I thought it might be.


Ralph is the bad guy of a made up, 30 year old arcade game in which he demolishes a downtown apartment building and Fix it Felix swoops in and saves the residence and the residents.  But once the arcade closes down for the night, the characters of the games don’t sleep.  Ralph is still the villain and outcast who lives in the dump (offscreen), full of the wreckages of days gone by, whereas Felix has the penthouse in the apartment building and the residents are throwing (him) a party.  Ralph was not invited.


But Ralph has had enough!  He invites himself to the penthouse party and angrily insists that he should be accepted just like Felix!  One of the residents condescendingly tells him that if he wins a gold coin, he can leave the dump and join them.  The snag is, if he goes to another game to get a coin and dies, he doesn’t regenerate like in his own game but is gone forever.


This is when the movie should have gotten good, but instead Ralph only visits two other games, the second of which he gets stuck in.  It’s pretty cute, somewhat reminiscent of today’s Candy Crush, but with racing and fiercely jealous driving girls.  Ralph encounters the famed “glitch” named Vanellope who steals his coin so that she can enter the Sugar Race.  Little does he know but Ralph is going to dig up some pretty gnarly stuff in his attempts to get his coin back.


There are some cute romantic moments between Felix and the warrior Calhoun (Jane Lynch) from the first person game Here’s Duty who was programed to have the saddest back story ever.  With their help, Ralph has to save Vanellope and the arcade before he can even think of returning back to his own game.


The movie is colorful and cute, with the proper amount of villains, action, comedy, and sappy relationships.  The plot gets a little wild, blending the arcade story lines together into something toxic, and things get a little hairy for a kid movie.  I liked it for the most part, but like I said, it isn’t quite the classic that I thought it would be.  There were a lot of elements to the story and I think it would have been a lot stronger if they had taken some of them out.  However, I did appreciate that Ralph’s golden coin wasn’t as big a focal point as it could have been.  He had his own selfish reasons for wanting it, but in his pursuit of social acceptance, he found something much more important, and something worth fighting for.


If you have kids, I would recommend this film, although watch out for some scary sequences.  Otherwise, it might be worth your while to skip this one and re-watch a classic that you already know and love.


Brave (2012) Review | Jamie Daily

Brave (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
2/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award, which it won.
Won Best Animated Feature Film (Brenda ChapmanMark Andrews).
Watched April 28, 2013.

When it comes to kids’ films, Brave is pretty good.  When it comes to Pixar films, it doesn’t quite meet expectations.


The animation is nothing to complain about–it is the absolute beauty that we have come to know and respect from a Pixar film.  However, except for Cars 2Brave almost hits the bottom of my list of watch-worthy Pixar films.  I was more than excited when it came out in theaters–Pixar’s first female lead is a fiery Scottish red head who wants to ride through the glen shooting arrows instead of getting married.  The story is indeed what holds this film back, and I hardly felt it was worth 93 minutes of my time.


Perhaps my expectations got the better of me when it comes to Brave (and who can blame me with the song they chose for the trailer–see below).  It starts out well enough, following a predictable yet charming and entertaining storyline that is very well in line with the trailer.  Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald)has a long, unruly, incredibly red mane of hair that goes deep down into her soul.  While her father is distracted by hunting bears and telling the story of how he lost his leg, her mother is preoccupied by making a lady out of her daughter, who is in fact a princess.


As is true in many royal situations, and other cultures besides, Merida is going to have an arranged marriage, although the method of choosing her suitor is rather barbaric and the candidates are bleak.  They participate in games to win her hand–such as throwing heavy objects and other manly displays.  Merida is furious with both of her parents, but most especially her mother.  The two of them have a strained relationship, fueled by both who refuse to see the other’s point of view.


I won’t say much else about the story, else I should give away some major plot points, but it is the rest of the story that I was very disappointed with.  There needed to be some way to solve the situation.  If Merida lay down and accepted the marriage, she wouldn’t have become a Pixar leading lady.  However, there needed to be some way to bridge the communication gap between herself and her mother, and frankly I found the results a lot more childish than most Pixar blockbusters.


There are a few twists and turns in the story that don’t lend much, and actually weigh down the plot, although I cannot embellish lest I give too much away.  Therefore I will leave you with this: the animation, colors, and scenery are all beautiful.  The music is fairly good, and although the men are all one dimensional, they were my favourite bits of the film.


If you enjoy Pixar, I would say that Brave is probably worth seeing at least once, but there are a lot more films on my list to watch before I would see this one again.  Maybe I can satisfy my need for more Celtic culture in my life by listening to the song from the trailer (“Tha Mo Ghaol Air Aird A’ Chuain” by Julie Fowlis) over, and over, and over again.