Best Animated Feature

The Croods (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

The Croods (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2014
3/5 Stars
Nominated for 1 award.
Nominated for Best Animated Feature Film (Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco, Kristine Belson).
Watched August 28, 2014.

If I could suggest one thing when viewing “The Croods,” it would be to not read too much into the plot and characters and just enjoy the story for what it is.  A pre-historic cave family has their home destroyed and must set out across the unknown in search of safety and a new cave.  With the help of a slightly unwanted stranger, they discover what it is to embrace change and to face adversity together as a family, even if your family is stupid.

That synopsis might not sound too bad until you get into the grit of things.  Grug (Nicolas Cage) is the father, and he is fiercely opposed to any kind of change or outside thinking.  When his daughter Eep (Emma Stone) tests the limits and then meets an outsider named Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who is also an inventor, he does what any typical dad would do and tries to lock her in the cave.  When their home gets destroyed, everything changes and Grug reluctantly follows Guy and Eep, along with his wife Ugga (Catherine Keener), crazy Gran (Cloris Leachman), son Thunk (Clark Duke), and little one Sandy (Randy Thorn) across the unknown.  They face perilous adventures with wacky creatures and explore lands full of vivid colors.  Grug is obstinate the entire way and refuses to accept a new way of thinking.

This is where things could get weird.  The parent is refusing to see another point of view and won’t listen to his teenager.  On the other hand, the teenager thinks she knows best and is drooling over a boy.  The boy seems like the most level headed character, even though he has a sloth for a belt and he invents things like fire.  He is all about progress and moving forward and sees little value in tradition.  The dad is stuck in his ways and resists change to a fault.  He apparently doesn’t use his brain, according to the film.  The black and white representations of opposing sides of society could be that, or just a typical plot point in a children’s film.  You make the judgement call.

The story telling is predictable, albeit entertaining and funny.  There are some basic plot points, although surprisingly both parents last at least the majority of the film, whereas most films for kids feature a dead parent.  The kids have to go through some great emotional turmoil to make them understand the value of family, even when they’re being stupid, and nature continues to beat the cave people into submission.

I feel like this review came off more negative than I intended.  Like I said, the colors are fabulous, the film is entertaining and funny, and I enjoyed the animation.  I don’t know how quickly I would watch the film again because, let’s face it, it’s no Shrek, but it wasn’t the worst film of 2013, that’s for sure.

If none of the things I mentioned above bother you, and especially if you have kids, then I would recommend that you see “The Croods!”

Frozen (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Frozen (2013)
86th Academy Awards
5/5 Stars
Nominated for 2 awards, of which it won both.
Won Best Animated Feature Film (Chris BuckJennifer Lee, Peter Del Vecho), and Best Music-Song (“Let it Go” by Kristen Anderson-LopezRobert Lopez).
Watched May 1, 2014.

Frozen is probably one of my favorite films that I have seen in a long time.  While still slightly more childish and more princess-y than the popular Pixar films, this new Disney princess installment makes a giant leap in its franchise.  It has a modern take on the typical formula and even pokes a little fun at common missteps in the original princess films.


The animated success is a story about sisters.  The girls are princesses, happy and carefree.  They love each other and Elsa’s (voiced by Idina Menzel) uncommon ability to create ice and snow out of nowhere keeps them entertained for hours.  After a freak accident where the youngest, Anna (Kristen Bell), almost dies because of Elsa’s powers, she and her parents are forced to keep her abilities a secret.  Even Anna has her memories removed and Elsa is confined to her room where she attempts to control her feelings and her powers.


When Elsa comes of age to take the throne, the girls are finally together again, but the coronation doesn’t go as planned and Elsa flees the kingdom, turning the carefree summer fjords into an untimely winter wonderland.  Anna teams up with an ice salesman named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) to track her sister down and bring an end to the winter.


The film has good humor from the beginning, but one of the best characters is definitely Olaf, a snowman come to life as the comic relief.  Olaf combined with Kristoff and his personable reindeer Sven make excellent companions as they try to solve first one problem, and then the next.


I saw Frozen for the first time with my sister, so anyone who has seen the film will understand why it made everything that much more special for me.  My sister lives on the other side of the country and I rarely get to see her, which is hard when we’re best friends.  Getting to see an animated princess movie with songs and cute animated boys and ridiculous humor was the best.  The end made it that much more sweet.


The most important message of the film, which is a bit of a spoiler so watch out(!), was that the love of family is just as important and powerful as romantic love.  In fact, when Anna is so preoccupied with finding The One, especially because she has been alone and dreaming for so long, she and Elsa both take each other for granted.  It isn’t until the dire end when all might be lost that they find each other again and rekindle a bond they once had in childhood.  Elsa has likewise been preoccupied, but more with hiding her true self.  She has a personal crisis that most people never experience and her sister is one of the only people who can help her come out all right.  While the story has some side plots, its main message is that true love heals everything, and the love of family is just as powerful, if not more so, than other types of love.  This is a really big step for Disney and I am exceedingly proud of this film and its message.


I could tear apart the film a lot farther (I tend to do that with movies that I really enjoy), but I will stop here except to say that the animation was stunning, the music was wonderful, the voices were perfect and a-typical Disney corny magic, and I want an Olaf… or a Sven of my very own.  If you have yet to see Frozen, do yourself a favor and add it to your Netflix list.  Now.

Despicable Me 2 (2013) Review | Jamie Daily

Despicable Me 2 (2013)
86th Academy Awards 2013
4/5 Stars
Nominated for 2 awards.
Nominated for Best Animated Feature Film (Chris RenaudPierre CoffinChris Meledandri) and Best Original Song (“Happy” by Pharrell Williams).
Watched March 7, 2014.

I liked Despicable Me 2 quite a lot.  It has been a while since I have seen the first film, and as such I possibly had a more positive reaction than true lovers of the original and its main character Gru, but I felt completely satisfied by the end of the animated feature.


Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is a retired villain who is now embracing the home life–raising his three adopted girls and throwing the perfect birthday party.  He has his famous lair full of minions working on a new line of jams and jellies that no one, not even Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) can deny are disgusting.  As a result, it is hard for Gru to turn down the Anti-Villain League when they come to him in need of some assistance.


A research facility in the north was stolen–completely disappeared.  They have determined that a shop owner at the local mall is likely the culprit, which means that Gru and his new partner Lucy (Kristen Wiig) must go under cover.


For lovers of the original, they may be dissatisfied with Gru and his character arc.  His story is wrapped up very nicely in the first film and there is little left to develop in him.  It is true that he is pretty one note.  His one conundrum is dating, which is humorous but hardly comparative to the life altering changes he encountered previously.  He has funny lines and quirks, but the red headed Lucy tends to upstage him constantly.


Despite this huge flaw, the rest of the story is pretty solid.  My favorite aspects of these films has always been the Minions, second only to Agnes, the precious, big eyed little girl who will tug at your heart strings.  The Minions are hilarious, charismatic, and blessedly stupid.  For those who have seen the film, “BAH!” has become my new favorite exclamation, but for everyone else I cannot explain because it would be a huge spoiler!


If you are having any doubts as to if you should see this film, let me assure you that the final scene itself is worth the entire film.  Hint: 90s music sang entirely by Minions.  J’adore.  If you like animated films, particularly what usually comes out of Universal and Illumination, you will likely love this film as well.

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!


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.