Tag Archives: Animation

“The Emoji Movie”



“The Emoji Movie” isn’t quite as god-awful as you’d think and it’s not as dumb as you’d expect, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good. This ninety minute long commercial exists only for the sole purpose of trying to cash in on the big business of tween and teen dollars by endlessly referencing their popular smartphone culture. There’s not much of a plot and what’s there is so mundane that it’s not even classifiable as mildly creative. Watch as the thinly developed characters wander into name brand app after app, from YouTube and Facebook to DropBox and Spotify. Did Apple finance this project?

It’s not funny and all of the attempted jokes fall flat. Every. Single. One. I’m not even sure what could’ve fixed this problem, because the voice talent (while not very good) is better than it should be (considering the junk dialogue that T.J. Miller, James Corden and Anna Faris have to work with), the friendships between the characters is at least believable, and there’s a positive message about celebrating individuality and always being yourself. The computer language aspects of the movie aren’t even lazy, it’s just the uninspired animation and the tiresome ideas are so indifferent that this project feels like a feature length commercial for Facebook, Candy Crush, and Spotify that’s been stripped of all fun and laughs.

“The Emoji Movie” doesn’t really cater to kids and it doesn’t really cater to adults, meaning that nobody will enjoy this moviegoing experience. The very idea of emojis living in the colorful world of Textopolis might be lame, but this surefire kid-borer does get the tech nerd aspects right and is — gasp! — unexpectedly clever at times. If your kid’s into coding and hacking, I suppose they might relate to this movie.

What’s so amusing about this movie is that, like the “meh” emoji, it’s kinda boring, sorta funny, and totally pointless.

“My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea”



The trippy indie animated movie “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea” feels a heck of a lot like it was dreamed up during an artistic hipster’s drug induced stupor. The film, written and directed by graphic novelist Dash Shaw, is an apocalyptic mind-bender about the many reasons why high school totally sucks.

The movie takes a look at one truly terrible day in the life of high school junior Dash (Jason Schwartzman), his nerdy best friend Assaf (Reggie Watts), high strung school paper editor Verti (Maya Rudolph), and popular girl Mary (Lena Dunham). When an earthquake suddenly strikes, it sends their high school crumbling into the sea, and the kids must reach the senior level of the building before it’s too late. The gang encounters sharks, jellyfish, a jock-led cult, drug seeking bullies, and more, eventually enlisting the help of tough Lunch Lady Lorraine (Susan Sarandon) to lead their escape to safety.

The simple plot is fattened up with extraneous padding in order to get to a feature length runtime of (an already brief) 75 minutes. The film is at its best when dark humor rules the scenes with a subversive snark; what a pity the idea starts to feel stretched too thin by the halfway point.

This is a really weird movie that’s packed with a kaleidoscopic vibe and psychedelic visuals that at times reads like a piece of experimental visual art. The eccentric backgrounds are colorful and delightfully garish, with inventive screen burns, crude hand-colored characters, and bits of digitally created handiwork thrown in the mix.

Shaw utilizes various media types to create a boldly original work of art, from uncomplicated pen and ink line drawings filled in with crayon and chalk to finger paint and dribbling watercolors. The action sequences rely heavily on the use of strobe lights, and there’s even a pre-credits warning that people with epilepsy may need to exit the theater.

This is a gonzo spirited adolescent disaster movie that artistic types are guaranteed to love.

“Cars 3”



Not much happens in “Cars 3,” a sometimes by-the-book animated sequel, but at least it manages to redeem the awful “Cars 2” that came before. It’s a far cry from that disastrous installment and while it’s not quite as cute as the original “Cars,” there’s a lot to be admired here. First and foremost, it’s not another 90 minutes of complete and utter junk that Pixar has been so adept at churning out lately (“The Good Dinosaur,” “Inside Out,” “Finding Dory“).

Everyone’s favorite little red roadster Lighting McQueen (Owen Wilson), once the fastest race car who reveled in winning Grand Prix trophies left and right, has found himself slowing down. Nearing retirement, he tries his best to train himself into continued relevancy by prepping to go up against the new, younger super fast superstars like Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). When Lighting teams up with peppy trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), it doesn’t take him too long to figure out that he just simply can’t keep up and he, pardon the pun, just has no gas left in him. Lightning begins to see a spark in the bright young ingénue and eventually hands over his legacy to the next generation.

It’s important to note that this third installment presents a bittersweet, decidedly adult story that’s serious in its earnest tone, an introspective about the loss of youth and knowing when it’s time to throw in the towel and make way for the youngsters to pass you by. While kids can be expected to be reasonably entertained, the depth and sober context of the story will sail right over their heads. It’s a great story idea but it’s not going to appeal to the younger set, which in itself has a nice ring of irony.

This sunset story unfortunately manages to feel a little hollow at best and at worst, a huge Disney cash grab play to appeal to little girls. Wow, you mean to tell me that GIRLS can be race cars too? Who’d have thunk it? Cruz sometimes gives the impression of a character that’s strained and phony, a young car who blew her shot at becoming a real racer and has since given up on her dream. Of course, Disney / Pixar can’t have that, so you can guess what happens next in the story.

Despite the flaws with the plot, the film features some inspired voice talent from Chris Cooper (Smokey), Lea DeLaria (Miss Fritter), and Nathan Fillion (Sterling), and is beautifully directed by Brian Fee, who makes every racing scene thrilling and gives every quiet reflection meaning. The animation is top-notch and among some of the studio’s best, especially a rousing and zippy bit at a demotion derby.

Animation fans should check this one out, but understand that there’s not much here for the kiddos. If you’re looking for the usual fluffy crowd pleaser from Pixar, this isn’t it.

“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.