“Captain Underpants”



If “Captain Underpants” succeeds at one thing, it’s making me realize that I have the sense of humor of an eight year old. The movie, based on the incredibly popular series of children’s books by Dav Pilkey, relies predominantly on potty humor jokes as its core backbone of comedy — and it kept me laughing the entire way through. There aren’t any philosophical nor meaningful lessons to be learned here: it’s just mindless, poop-joke filled fun that celebrates the devotion and importance of a loyal friendship.

The movie tells the story of best friends George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) and their penchant for cooking up epic pranks that target their mean school principal Krupp (Ed Helms). One day George hypnotizes Krupp with a toy ring and with a snap of their fingers, he becomes the dimwitted (and overly enthusiastic) superhero Captain Underpants.

There’s something innately hilarious about the entire scenario, and the appealing, tidy animation lends the perfect punch to the plot. Watching the doofus Krupp strip down to his tighty whities and jump through windows while trying to save the day is even more enjoyable with the robust primary colors and curvy character styles that comprise the drawings. The animation is cheery, spirited and bright, and I really love how the entire film looks.

Hart, Middleditch, and Helms all give strong, cheery, and amusing vocal performances that perfectly fit their characters. Ditto for Nick Kroll hamming it up as Professor Pippy Pee-Pee Poopypants, the evil scientist with the most unfortunate of names. (Only the most stoic members of society who lack an ounce of a sense of humor won’t be able to resist chuckling at that)!

The story’s bread and butter is its mild rude humor, but at least it shows a deep appreciation (and a genuine celebration) of the fantastic comedy potential that lives in the most simple of fart jokes. The movie works because it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.

Yes, it’s goofy and juvenile, but “Captain Underpants” provides the perfect summer escape for the kiddos that will also entertain fun-loving adults. Now where did I put that whoopee cushion?

“Smurfs: The Lost Village”



In one of the most simplistic animated films that’s come along in a great while, “Smurfs: The Lost Village” knows its audience and plays directly to it. This kid-friendly film seems to be geared towards toddlers and is very reminiscent of the old “Teletubbies” television show (I think its PG rating is a bit too harsh, even with the mild rude humor and action pieces). The scenes are so rapidly paced and elementary plotted that this movie will manage to hold the attention of those with even the shortest of attention spans, all while boring the adults silly.

Smurfette (Demi Lovato) is given the starring role this time around as she leads a group of her friends through the Forbidden Forest to find a lost village of Smurfs. Of course the menacing wizard Gargamel (Rainn Wilson) is still trying to capture the little blue creatures for himself. The voice actors are lame too, which really hurts the movie (the worst of the bunch are the irritating Jack McBrayer as Clumsy Smurf and Joe Manganiello overplaying it as Hefty Smurf). There are some mild lessons about dismissing gender conventions and educating yourself by exploring different cultures, but most of these themes will likely sail right over the heads of your little ones.

Parents and other grown ups, be warned that there’s not much here for you to enjoy: this is an animated movie that’s unapologetically 100% geared towards and made explicitly for the kiddos. That’s not a bad thing in itself, but bucking the trend of tongue-in-cheek adult jokes and pop culture references that dominate animated films these days is more than a little unexpected.

Also unexpected is the quality of the animation. It’s much better than it needs to be, cheerfully bright and colorful with a tactile, dreamlike appearance that’s quite irresistible. What a shame that the film itself is not. It’s predictable and wholly mediocre, an overall flat exercise that’s better suited for Saturday morning t.v.

“The Boss Baby”



“The Boss Baby” is told from the point of view of a child with an overactive imagination, a plot point that still doesn’t fully excuse the lame story of a cutthroat business minded infant who never ages because he swills a special formula that keeps his cheeks chubby and his kewpie eyes freakishly large. The movie is sentimental but no overly so and has a teaching lesson that focuses on sibling rivalry, but it’s mostly one-note and tedious, an endless procession of butt jokes and tired sight gags.

There’s some decent voice work here from Alec Baldwin as the boss baby and Miles Bakshi as his older brother Tim, although both actors started to grate on my nerves more quickly than they should have. The plot doesn’t really matter much, but I really hated the film’s notion that puppies are nothing more than a cute accessory. The story implies that pets in general are fully disposable, which is not a great message to be teaching children. The quality of the animation is high and there are a couple of truly inspired and funny jokes, but they are lost in the lazy and generic storytelling. The film’s formula is this: when the story starts to lag, just show a cute animated baby bottom and let the “awww, shucks” laughs ensue.

This is a really dumb idea for a movie (and get ready because the ending sets the stupid thing up for an inevitable sequel), but even if you turn off your rational brain and simply ride along with the film’s reality, it’s still not interesting enough nor fun enough to have much of an impact.

“Rock Dog”



“Rock Dog” is an animated film that’s perfect for older kids (ages 8 – 12), especially those who are musically inclined or play an instrument. While this sweet natured movie isn’t going to change the world or even be remembered years later, it is better than it should be on all accounts.

The film is set high in the snowy mountains of Tibet, where Mastiff pup Bodi (Luke Wilson) lives with his father Khampa (J.K. Simmons). The dogs are responsible for protecting the sheep residents of the village from a pack of big, bad wolves. When Bodi develops a love for guitar playing, he dreams of going to the big city to pursue his music. Once Bodi gets to the city, he crosses paths with famous reclusive British rock star Angus Scattergood (a really, really funny voice performance by Eddie Izzard). You can probably guess what eventually happens with the story because it’s as predictable as they come, and while the film suffers greatly from its stupid ending, the rest of the movie is pretty enjoyable.

Bodi’s wide-eyed, youthful optimism creates a fantastic yin-and-yang quality by playing off of Angus’s grizzled cynicism, and I enjoyed their time together onscreen. At the film’s center is a great “follow your dreams” message about living your life in a way that makes you happy because it’s the only one you’ve got. There’s a catchy original song but it’s surprising that a movie about a guitar playing, rocking dog doesn’t feature a lot of actual rock music.

I expected this movie to be lazily packed with pop culture references (like the terrible “Lego Batman Movie”) but it’s not, and I applaud the filmmakers for refusing to use that as a crutch. There’s just enough tongue-in-cheek humor to make it engaging for adults too, despite its mostly uninspired story. The whole project reminds me of a strange mash-up of “Zootopia,” “Kung Fu Panda,” and “Kubo and the Two Strings.” It’s a different kind of adventure, yet it features the most basic of plots.

While the voice talent is nothing more than competent, the mediocre animation is good enough and the funny characters are likeable enough that it’s not a total loss.




Disney’s animated musical “Moana” is formulaic. Happily, it’s the new Disney formula rather than the old fashioned Disney formula. That’s to say that our strong, independent heroine doesn’t just sit around and wait for her prince charming.

Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) is a teenager living in the Pacific Islands with her sheltered family. When the natural reef, flora and fauna begin dying in her homeland, she sets off on an adventure (after being “chosen” by the ocean itself) to find the demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) in order to save her people. The feisty Moana is strong-willed, intelligent and kindhearted young woman, and is sure to be an inspiration to little girls (and boys) everywhere. There’s no Prince Charming love interest, and there’s a fun, magical focus on Polynesian culture and a distinctive sense of place.

Everything in this movie screams high quality, and all with an overwhelming sense of care and passion (several attributes that have been lacking from many recent Disney and Pixar films).

Cravalho and Johnson voice their characters with a contagious enthusiasm, both giving first-rate vocal performances. There are plenty of big, rousing musical numbers with catchy original tunes by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i. The music in this movie is going to be tough to beat because the songs are so creative in their lyrical rhythms and arrangements. The animation is magnificent and dazzling, and the visuals are textural, gorgeous to look at, and incredibly refined. At times I forgot I was watching an animated movie, and I longed to dip my toes in the crystal clear ocean where Moana and Maui sailed.

The movie isn’t dumbed down for idiot audiences either (okay, so there is an extended senseless scene with a tribe of warrior coconuts that had me rolling my eyes). Overall the entire film is a sophisticated, elegant and polished adventure.




Dreamworks Animation certainly knows their audience and caters exclusively to them with “Trolls,” their latest unoriginal but colorful cartoon fiesta. Make no mistake, this is an animated movie that’s targeted specifically to the under 8 set, and there’s not much in the way of rich content for adults. The movie is bright and splashy and filled with a couple of catchy original tunes (as well as lame covers of several 80s pop songs), but for every bright moment there’s also junk like a character who farts out glitter, trolls using their hair as a weapon, and plenty of modern lingo sass talking (“oh snap!,” and “solid burn!“).

Optimistic, peppy and Pepto Bismol-colored troll Poppy (Anna Kendrick) teams up with frowny-faced, grumpy troll Branch (Justin Timberlake) and heads out on an adventure to rescue her troll pals after an evil Bergen (the natural enemy of the troll) kidnaps a significant portion of the village in hopes of feasting on them at a lavish banquet. That’s it; that’s the entire plot of the movie. The paper thin script feels cheap and crummy, and even your youngest toddler can probably guess the outcome of this heroic odd couple tale. There’s not much story at all, just a lot of jolly musical numbers and brief introductions to random rainbow-hued characters.

This movie was obviously edited for those with very, very short attention spans. It jumps around quickly and foolishly, and even the mildly amusing musical numbers feel as if they have been cut short to appeal with those who can’t sit still for more than two minutes at a time. At least most of the kids in my audience seemed engaged with the story, but you really don’t have to pay close attention to follow along.

What shocked me the most is the fact that there’s quite a bit of wasted Hollywood voice talent, with the big personalities of James Corden, Russell Brand and Jeffrey Tambor fading away with very minor background roles. Some of these actors have less than a half page of dialogue in the entire movie. Kendrick and Timberlake do a fine job voicing the leads, but I would’ve loved to see more from Tambor and Corden in particular. The actors playing Bergens (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Zooey Deschanel, Christine Baranski, and John Cleese) have much more screen time, and they all are quite enjoyable.

“Trolls” isn’t particularly well animated, it’s instantly forgettable, and it’s not even very funny, but the film as a whole is entertaining enough. There’s a decent message of loyalty, friendship and finding your own happiness within. It’s harmless and will most likely please the average moviegoing family who will undoubtedly buy a ticket.

Despite all its flaws, the movie made me feel happy and had me cheerfully dancing my way out of the theater: and there’s much to appreciate about that.


I am both surprised and pleased to report that “Trolls” is not terrible. In fact, it’s quite watchable. This puts it ahead of virtually every animated movie of 2016 (except for the wonderful “Kubo and the Two Strings“).

The titular trolls live in a tree. The tree is in the middle of a town populated by Bergens, a miserable race that is convinced that the only way they can be happy is by eating trolls, who are perpetually so. When the trolls leave the tree to escape the perpetual threat of the Bergens, they become hunted and Chef, the meanest of the Bergens, tracks them down and kidnaps several of the trolls. Perpetually peppy troll Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) feels responsible and, together with the practical but lonely Branch (Justin Timberlake), travel to Bergen town to rescue the taken trolls. Along the way, they meet a batch of colorful characters and help spread cheer.

Not everything in “Trolls” works. There are plenty of overused cliches that are the cinematic substitute for creative thought (why does every recent kids movie have to feature at least one moment of a character getting startled and defecating in surprise? Why is that so funny to people?). There are characters whose sole purpose seems to be making comments like “oh, snap!” And some jokes are repeated so often that they wear quickly out their welcome. All of that being said, there’s enough of a story here to sustain momentum as the characters move between musical dance numbers which are, for the most part, entertaining. The animation (which, while not stop motion, looks like it takes its visual cues from the Laika films) is inventive, bright, and textured. And the message — one of acceptance and the importance of finding joy in your life — is certainly one we can all get behind.

If you’re looking for a colorful, joyful and music-filled movie to entertain your kids that will not leave you bored, you could do worse than “Trolls.”




The quirky and original story idea behind the new animated film “Storks” should’ve made this family friendly movie soar. Instead, it never really gets off the ground. The end product delivers a movie that’s not very creative, not any fun, and not any good.

After an unfortunate mishap at the baby factory caused storks to give up on the baby delivering game years ago, the birds now deliver consumer packages instead of infants. Junior (Andy Samberg) is the top delivery stork at Cornerstore.com and is on the fast track to become the new boss. When Junior’s human friend Orphan Tulip (Katie Crown) accidentally activates the baby making machine and creates a little girl, the pair scramble to deliver the kid to her new family before angry CEO Hunter (Kelsey Grammer) finds out.

The story sounds charming and original, and it is. That’s not the problem. The real issue stems from the dreadful script and god-awful dialogue. The bright and peppy visuals can’t take away from the ridiculous, overly talky nonsensical ramblings, poor direction, and overall lazy filmmaking.

The movie is just plain dumb too. It has something that’s even more stupid than the truck driving octopus from this year’s “Finding Dory“: a pack of wolves that can join together to create everything from a bridge to a working submarine to an airplane.

Everything about the movie feels awkward and uncomfortable, from the lackluster voice talent to the unlovable and off-putting characters. Pigeon Toady (Stephen Kramer Glickman) is one of the ugliest and most annoying animated characters in recent memory, and Jennifer Aniston should never be hired to voice an animated character ever again. Like never ever. Her emotionless monotone as mom Sarah is proof that she has no business doing vocals. Thank goodness for Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key as a pair of over-excited wolves. If not for them, I probably would’ve walked out.

Warner Animation Group is competent enough at creating pleasantly colorful animation, but even their artists can’t save this bummer of a movie. Your kids deserve better.

Matt was unavailable for review.

“Kubo and the Two Strings”



Move over, Pixar: there’s a new game in town. “Kubo and the Two Strings” is the latest big screen effort from Laika, an animation studio that has had its own ups and downs over the years, but reaches a new level in quality and storytelling with this gorgeous, haunting film. The sheer artistry on display here is overwhelming, from the richness and scope of the animation to the imaginative fable that incorporates Japanese samurai mythology.

Laika’s signature animation style is loved by some and loathed by others (I’m in the former camp). Since it’s stop-motion yet still computer animated, the characters move in a very specific way, which really adds to the feel of the film. There’s a great deal of depth and complexity in the animation that mirrors the story’s narrative. The overall themes of kindness, remembrance, redemption and discovering your own bravery are decidedly adult. It’s hard not to love and be inspired by Kubo’s heroic nature.

In the story, young one-eyed boy Kubo (Art Parkinson) accidentally summons a spiteful, vengeful spirit. Guided by his late father (who appears as a silent origami warrior), Kubo goes on a great quest with Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) and Monkey (Charlize Theron) to solve a mystery involving his dad’s armor. Kubo must eventually face his grandfather, the evil Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), to take a stand against his blindness to humanity. Kubo does so with his magical musical instrument as his only weapon.

The voice talent reaches perfection across the board. McConaughey adds comic relief but in a sincere, honest way. Theron gives a heartbreaking, quietly ferocious performance too, and Fiennes finds the perfect balance that mixes sinister with kindness.

Make no mistake, this is a very sophisticated film in both style and tone (and in my opinion shouldn’t be marketed to family audiences). There are more than a few very frightening scenes that are certain to scare delicate kiddos. I would recommend this film for mature, thoughtful kids ages 11 and up. A good litmus test for parents is whether or not your kid could handle “Frankenweenie,” “ParaNorman” and “Coraline.” If they sailed through those without incident, then “Kubo” will be suitable for them.

What a true pleasure it is to see a smart animated film with such a fully realized scope. “Kubo and the Two Strings” is touching, magical, masterful and a must-see.


Beautifully animated by the studio Laika, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is a well-written story of a brave young boy who must set out on a epic quest following the death of his parents. It is easily one of my favorite animated movies of the past several years and proves the point of how an art form using drawings, clay figurines, and computers can be used to express emotions in a way that can be even more evocative than using live actors.

Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy living in a village with his mother. When vengeful supernatural spirits come looking for him, he is forced to venture out in search of a magical suit of armor that can help protect him against his evil grandfather (Ralph Fiennes). Along the way, he is helped by his guardians Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey).

Laika’s stop-motion animation style is well-suited for Kubo’s story; the world of “Kubo and the Two Strings” is fully realized. The backgrounds are subtly textured and the paper and clay models lifelike and expressive. The principal voice actors turn in strong performances; even though there are a number of recognizable names in the cast (which, in animated features, is usually all about stunt casting to increase box office draw), they each do a good job of imbuing their characters with a distinct and authentic personality. There are no false notes here; the studio does a great job of building on their strong past (which includes the gems “Coraline” and “ParaNorman”) by taking as much time to get the script right as the animation.

A word of warning: although it’s animated, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is not the right choice for children of all ages. Although the main character is a child, many of the themes are more adult in nature. It’s full of dark material that will frighten younger kids. For older kids and adults seeking a timeless tale of good versus evil in a land of magic and magical creatures where friends, family, and loyalty will help to win the day, it’s a great choice.


“Space Dogs: Adventure to the Moon”



When I saw that an animated film from Russia was playing at my local theater, curiosity got the best of me so I went to check it out. I have to say it’s one of the latest in a string of “what the hell did I just watch?” movies. If you’ve ever wanted to know what a Russian animated film is like, let me assure you that it’s pretty much what you’d expect. How this managed a theatrical release in the U.S. boggles the mind.

Believe it or not, this is an actual sequel to the 2010 film “Space Dogs.” Part II assumes the audience is already familiar with the characters because in the introductory scenes, there’s zero set up as to who these characters are and what their backgrounds were. There are obvious references to the earlier film which make this movie strange from the get-go. In this one, adorable pup Pushok sets out to find his missing cosmonaut dad. The pup travels to the White House (what?) and climbs onboard a U.S. rocket bound for the moon. When he arrives on the moon he finds his mom, dad, a loud and obnoxious monkey astronaut from Texas (double what?) and an abandoned baby alien. Told you this movie is crazy.

The film is poorly computer animated and most of it looks very cheap and uninviting. There are jerky movements and blurry backgrounds, and the lack of detail is very distracting. The animals have no personality in the way they are drawn; no richness to their fur and no contrast in their coloring. I can’t imagine how any child would fall in love with any of these characters. International copyright laws have also been thrown out the window because there’s a rat named Lenny who is a dead ringer for Remy from the Disney/Pixar film “Ratatouille.”

I saw the U.S. theatrical release so the entire thing was dubbed in English by D-list American actors who will do anything to pay the rent, including Ashlee Simpson, Phil LaMarr and Alicia Silverstone. This meant the dialogue didn’t match the mouth movements of the animation. Sometimes the dogs’ mouths were moving when nothing was being said, making for an amusing yet confusing ride (I would have much preferred to see it in Russian with English subtitles). The most unintentionally hilarious scene is a god-awful musical number (scored with some random, ghastly original American pop song) where dogs Belka and Strelka are “singing” and performing. The song lyrics make zero sense and half the time the dogs don’t even appear to be talking at all!

There was also this bizarre ending voiceover about how Russia and the United States agreed to work together in the space race in an act of international cooperation — it felt false and tacked on and couldn’t have been in the original foreign version (especially because earlier in the film there’s a reference to “the Americans” being behind a laser ray that’s stealing objects to place on the moon).

Was some of the script changed a bit to suit American audiences? I’m not sure. There is one particular line that makes me think the perhaps not. A pet cat is lamenting that his person now loves her new dog more than him, so his rabbit friend begins to freak out that she will tire of her pets and “sell us for medical experiments.”

If that ain’t Russian, I don’t know what is.

Matt was unavailable for review.

“Ice Age: Collision Course”



The fifth film in the prehistoric animated franchise, “Ice Age: Collision Course,” may feel a little stale but it’s still an enjoyable movie. There’s plenty for kids and adults alike to appreciate. It’s funny, heartwarming, and beautifully directed by Mike Thurmeier and Galen Chu. It’s not something that will change the face of cinema but it’s far better than the usual throwaway animated junk that Hollywood frequently churns out.

The formula may be the same (our beloved animal heroes once again set out on an adventure, this time to save themselves from a giant incoming meteor) but the movie somehow manages to still feel original. In a brilliant move by the filmmakers, there’s quite a bit of screen time devoted to the silly, accident prone squirrel Scrat. (Seriously, it’s time for Scrat to get his own movie)! As with the previous films, “Collision Course” features brief snippets of several subplots interspersed with Scrat’s slapstick antics.

Woolly mammoths Manny (Ray Romano) and Ellie (Queen Latifah) are struggling with their daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer) growing up, getting married to the goofy Julian (Adam DeVine) and leaving home. Manny’s best friends are back too: Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) continues his quest for true love and saber tooth tiger Diego (Denis Leary) is as wise and grumpy as ever. I was thrilled to see Granny (Wanda Sykes) back with a larger role; she’s easily the funniest of the bunch. The gang teams up with erratic one-eyed weasel Buck (Simon Pegg) for help saving the planet.

The voice talent rages from brilliant (Sykes and Leguizamo) to good (DeVine and Pegg) to barely acceptable (Latifah and Romano) to downright irritating (Jesse Tyler Ferguson‘s lame shtick as the Shangri-Llama is neither funny nor original, and Palmer is simply awful). Other actors lending their voices include Jennifer Lopez as Shira, Jessie J as Brooke (a gorgeously animated new character that’s sure to be a hit with little girls everywhere) and Nick Offerman as Gavin (the only supporting voice actor whose performance is so strong that he doesn’t get lost in the background).

The movie has a slightly smart, slightly scientific plot and message. This film isn’t even close to being as brainless as the studio’s marketing campaign would lead you to believe. The science is ludicrous of course, but at least astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson shows up for a tongue-in-cheek ‘explanation’ (as Neil deBuck Weasel). It’s enough to make inquisitive kids go home and pick up a book or Google the scenarios that are presented. Overall the movie’s message values science and learning over ignorance, and we should all get behind that.

That’s not to say that this movie isn’t stuffed with stupidity, but at least it’s not overly stupid. Yes, there’s plenty of lowbrow bathroom humor; yes, there’s a substantial amount of modern lingo sass-talking; yes, the obnoxious possums Crash and Eddie (voiced by Seann William Scott and Josh Peck) are back with groan-inducing flamboyance. But the core characters are so likeable and the animation so skilled that it’s easy to overlook the film’s flaws.

Matt was unavailable for review.