Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, Zoe Kravitz, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Nicolas Cage, Kathryn Hahn, Liev Schreiber, Chris Pine
While the last decade has been the era of the superhero movie, there has remained a clear distinction between the live action and animated entries in the genre. Live action superhero movies have become the biggest show in town, genuine four-quadrant blockbusters designed to appeal to an audience much larger than just comicbook fans. The animated superhero movie, on the other hand, has maintained more of a niche status, tending to be released straight to video and remaining the property of the devoted comicbook audience. Sony Pictures’ latest attempt at rebooting their Spider-Man franchise, the aesthetically original and undeniably cinematic Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, is the first animated superhero movie to really challenge that distinction. Continue reading
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Akira Ito, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Yoko Ono, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe, Fisher Stevens, Liev Schreiber, Courtney B. Vance.
In recent years, Wes Anderson has seemingly surpassed Tim Burton as cinema’s most popular and recognisable visual stylist. With every new film he only becomes more and more Wes Anderson. His latest offering, Isle of Dogs, is possibly his most imaginative film yet and sees him returning to the painstaking medium of stop-motion animation for the first time since Fantastic Mr. Fox.
While the title of the film may sound like ‘I love dogs,’ it takes us to a world which sadly does not. In the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki, 20 years in the future, an outbreak of snout fever and dog flu has seen Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), the latest head of the cat-loving Kobayashi dynasty, banish all of the city’s dogs to Trash Island. In this exile colony sick and angry dogs search for food among the garbage, forming gangs and alliances in order to survive. Continue reading
Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Starring: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy
Animation studio Pixar has produced more than its fair share of beloved movies but 2003’s Finding Nemo undoubtedly sits close to the top of their very impressive pile. So it was inevitable that we would return to the Pacific Ocean for another installment, and with Dory, the lovable blue tang with the five-second memory, being arguably their most popular character it made sense that she would play a starring role. The only surprise then is that it took 13 years for us to get there. But Pixar’s track record is not nearly as impressive when it comes to sequels. With the exception of Toy Story 2 and 3, none of the others have really hit the mark. Pixar is undoubtedly at their best when they are being original and thinking outside the box, but with a title that suggests much the same premise as the first film, can Finding Dory be more than just a simple retread?
“Hi, I’m Dory. I suffer from short term memory loss.” These are the first words we hear in Finding Dory and in an instant they simultaneously re-establish who this character is and entirely reinvent her for this new story. Continue reading
Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Christopher Walken, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito
Disney has always had a knack for squeezing every last dollar out of their intellectual property. Their most recent endeavour has been to recreate their classic animations as live action films for a new generation. We’ve had Maleficent (a reimagining of Sleeping Beauty), Cinderella and now The Jungle Book. But to call Jon Favreau’s film live action would seem a bit of a stretch when Mowgli himself is the only live element on screen.
Scripted by Justin Marks, this Jungle Book draws in equal parts from Rudyard Kipling’s original stories and the 1967 Disney animation which is, for so many people, the definitive version. Bagheera the panther (Ben Kingsley) narrates the tale of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a man-cub raised by wolves in the jungles of India. While a much loved member of the pack, Mowgli develops slower than his brothers and sisters. Behaviours that are to them second nature need to be learned by him, and he is constantly being scolded for his tricks – using tools to solve problems rather than doing things the wolf way. Continue reading
Directors: Charlie Kauffman & Duke Johnson
Starring: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan
With his screenplays for Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation, and his directorial debut Synecdoche New York, Charlie Kauffman has shown himself to be one of the cinema’s truly unique voices. He thinks outside the box. But where his experimentation is usually at the narrative level, with Anomalisa, which he has written and co-directed with Duke Johnson, the experimentation is stylistic. This sombre tale of alienation and despair is told through stop motion puppetry.
Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a respected customer service expert and author of the bestselling book ‘How Can I Help You Help Them?’ He has flown into Cincinnati for one night to speak at a convention. While he has a wife and son back in Los Angeles he is desperately lonely and sad man, haunted by a relationship from a decade ago which ended badly, something which is particularly front of mind at the moment given she lives in Cincinnati. In the corridor of his hotel he meets Lisa, a customer service rep from Ohio in town for the convention, and is quite taken with her. There is something about her which makes her stand out from the sameness of everyone else. She is an anomaly, an Anomalisa. Continue reading
Director: Peter Sohn
Starring: Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Sam Elliot, Anna Paquin, Steve Zahn
2015 was a unique year for a number of reasons, one of them being that we got two Pixar films. Breaking their one film per year pattern, with the release of The Good Dinosaur, the studio’s 16th feature animation, 2015 became the first two-Pixar-film year. But rather than this being a bonus gift just in time for the holidays, it is the result of a troubled production that saw the film’s release pushed back from 2013, the original director replaced and a screenplay seemingly written by committee. As such, after the wonderfully imaginative Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur is in every way Pixar’s second film of 2015.
The Good Dinosaur starts with a simple premise: what if, 65 million years ago, the meteorite that was supposed to crash into the Earth and wipe out the dinosaurs had missed? Naturally, the dinosaurs would have remained Earth’s dominant creatures and, over the course of a few million years, evolved into a sophisticated agrarian society. Continue reading
Directors: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen
Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan
In the last twenty years, no Hollywood studio has been as consistently original and imaginative as Pixar. In an era when kid’s movies are so often dumbed down and seem guided primarily by merchandising departments, John Lasseter and his brains trust at Pixar allow themselves to be guided first and foremost by ideas. Their latest offering, Pete Docter (Up, Monsters Inc) and Ronaldo Del Carmen’s Inside Out, arguably represents the zenith of Pixar’s bold originality, taking us inside the mind of a young girl.
Inside Out tells a very small scale story. Eleven-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) lives a happy life with her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) in Minnesota, only to have it unsettled when her father’s work requires the family has to relocate to San Francisco. With no friends, a different house and a new school, Riley starts to feel terribly homesick but doesn’t feel that she can talk about it with her parents. That is all that happens in the movie. At least, that is all that happens on the outside. For the key action in Inside Out actually takes place inside Riley’s mind. In the control room of her mind we meet anthropomorphised emotions, Continue reading
Directors: Don Hall & Chris Williams
Starring: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk
Fourteen-year-old Hiro Hamada is a robotics genius who, having lost his parents when he was very young, is wasting his prodigious talent hustling people at underground bot-fights. After an inspiring visit to the laboratory of his equally brilliant brother Tadashi at San Fransokyo Tech, Hiro is determined to gain entry to the university and study under the legendary Prof. Callaghan. But there is an accident at the university expo, with a fire taking the lives of both Tadashi and Callaghan. However, despite losing his brother Hiro is not alone. Tadashi has left behind Baymax, a giant, inflatable, robotic Personal Healthcare Companion he designed, and Baymax becomes Hiro’s carer and friend. When Hiro spots a mysterious man in a Kabuki mask using microbots, the very invention Hiro had been displaying at the expo on that fateful night, he starts to suspect that foul play may have been involved in the fire. After a few strategic upgrades to Baymax, Hiro and Tadashi’s friends set out to get to the bottom of what really happened. Continue reading
Directors: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Starring: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Alison Brie
The Lego Movie marks the latest step in the recent diversification of the Lego Group, producers of everyone’s favourite colourful, interlocking construction toys. The last decade-and-a-half has seen them produce a series of best-selling video games and DVDs, but a $60 million motion picture backed by Warner Brothers represents arguably their most ambitious step yet. However, rather than feeling like a film made by a toy company, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the writer/directors behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, have delivered a film that is surprisingly clever, creative and funny.
The Lego world is under the control of the tyrannical Lord Business. Business likes logic and order. He separates the Lego world into different realms, keeping the city of Bricksburgh separate from the Old West, Pirate Cove, Clown Town and the rest. He encourages people to follow the instructions and stifles creativity. But there is a prophecy that tells of the Special, “the most talented, most interesting and most extraordinary person in the universe,” who will reunite the Master Builders and remove Business from power. Somehow, the Special turns out to be Emmett, a simple, lonely construction worker from Bricksburgh. He is identified by the spunky heroine Wyldstyle who takes him to meet the Master Builders so they can prepare for their assault on Lord Business. Oh, and of course Emmett becomes quite smitten with Wyldstyle. But she has a boyfriend… and he’s Batman.
The Lego Movie is all about imagination, both in its form and its content. Visually, the film presents us with a world in which everything is made from Lego. And when I say everything is made from Lego, I mean everything. Buildings, vehicles, landscapes, water, fire, all Lego. But rather than this limiting the scope of the film, it makes it entirely limitless. The internal logic which guides the film is that of a child’s imagination. Rather than being kept separate and adhering to real world story logic, the different realms of the Lego world intermingle resulting in an amazingly diverse story where our characters include Batman, cowboys, the cast of Star Wars, Abraham Lincoln, pirates, Gandalf, Michelangelo (both the Renaissance artist and the ninja turtle), space men and Shaquille O’Neal.
A fun, irreverent adventure that feels a bit like Toy Story meets Inception or The Matrix, the film’s narrative reinforces this focus on imagination and individual creativity by taking its lead from the very toys which inspire it. Yes, Lego comes with instructions but the real fun is to be had when the instructions are thrown out and your imagination takes over. So while Lord Business desires order and conformity, our heroes are the Master Builders whose creativity enables them to see the potential of their surroundings, enabling them to dismantle the world around them to build something new.
The Lego Movie is magnificently animated by the team from Australian animation house Animal Logic. The animation, while clear and vibrant, has a slightly clunky quality to it which works perfectly with the limited pliability of Lego figurines. This animation is then complemented by a strong voice cast including Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Will Ferrell. You get the impression that these funny people have been given a little bit of freedom in their characterisation, so while the film is very much G-rated in its content, the humour has the same patterns and rhythms of today’s more successful comedies.
With creativity and originality in mainstream animation appearing to have plateaued over the last couple of years, The Lego Movie feels fresh and exciting. Clever, funny and with enough heart to prevent it from being a cynical product promotion, it is possibly the best animated feature since Toy Story 3.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen The Lego Movie? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.