Category Archives: Animated Films

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs-1937

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs-1937

Director-David Hand

Starring-Various Voices

Reviewed March 18, 2017

Grade: A-

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the debut feature length production by storied producer, Walt Disney, and has the grand honor of being the first animated feature ever to be made. Until the time of its release, animated stories were not features at all, but rather, shorts that were shown as gag-filled entertainment not to be taken very seriously. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs made animated films something to be appreciated and respected- the film, released in 1937, was re-released in theaters many times until the 1990’s and is a blueprint for what animated features would become. The film is based on the famous Brothers Grimm fairy tale and is a cherished treasure.

Beautiful inside and out, Snow White is a lonely princess who lives with her devious wicked stepmother, the Queen. Making the most out of her troubled life, Snow White hums and sings with her bird friends who gather to keep her company as she is forced by her stepmother to work as a scullery maid . The Queen is a vain woman, jealous of Snow White’s natural beauty, constantly consulting her mirror to ask “who is the fairest one of all?”. One day the Queen decides to put an end to Snow White and orders a henchman to kill her in the forest and return her bloody heart to her in a box. When the henchman is unable to do the deed, he pleads with Snow White to flee. She winds up in a little cottage housing seven dwarf men whom she befriends as the Queen is determined to take drastic measures to find her.

Circa 1937, and for years to come, animated features were not created as they are today. Rather, they were simplistic- and wonderful- in the use of storyboards and drawings in their creation. This daunting task, and the creativity involved, makes them just lovely to look at. Since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the debut animated feature, the drawings are fantastic to view- like pictures- and to appreciate the craftsmanship involved. The characters are richly created, with bright, vivid colors that distinguish them from one another- the bright red lips of Snow White and the blue and gold colors of her dress contrast with the regal purples used on the Queen, to say nothing of the deep red color of the poison apple. The color makes the apple appear delicious, but also dangerously blood red. These nuances make the characters deep with texture.

The friendships Snow White makes with the dwarfs and the animal life in the forest are whimsical and filled with love and the animal element later would become a staple of Disney’s works- Dumbo and Bambi. The animals are naturally fond of Snow White because she is joyous and kind- they in turn warn her of impending danger as the Queen turns herself into an old woman and lumbers towards Snow White, snug in the cottage.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs features an old style romance- the handsome Prince takes a shine to Snow White, noticing her natural beauty as she sings and later determined to save her- which of course he does when he magically kisses her in the films finale. The songs featured only enhance the love story- “Some Day My Prince Will Come” is a lovely ode to romance and is tenderly sung by Snow White as she longs for the Prince’s touch, frustrated with her life.

The creation of the seven dwarfs is done in magical fashion and seven little men living together seems quite natural in those innocent times. Each distinctive from each other- Dopey being my personal favorite in his innocence and playfulness- Happy, Doc, Grumpy, Sneezy, Sleepy, and Bashful are all written with great zest as we fall in love with each of them from the first moment we meet them as they belt out “Heigh-Ho” in unison.

Since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs deserves merit for being Disney’s first, overlooked can be the omission of any family members of Snow White’s besides the evil Queen. Where is Snow White’s father and mother? Any siblings? Certainly they are presumed dead, but they are never mentioned. Also, why does the Queen have a Magic Mirror and why does she have special powers that nobody else has?

At one hour and twenty three minutes, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a quick film, but does not feel underdeveloped. The story and the characters are rich with appeal and intrigue making the film a classic that should be shared with all youngsters. It is a classic tale of good versus evil, a great love story, and sets the tone for other Disney masterpieces to follow.

WALL-E-2008

WALL-E-2008

Director-Andrew Stanton

Starring-Various voices

Reviewed February 1, 2009

Grade: B+

After hearing so much buzz about WALL-E, I decided to see for myself what all the fuss was about. Disney-Pixar has created another fantastic film. Visually, it is a creative and intelligent experience that warrants the praise it has received. They also do a lot with the intricate graphics and animations.

In a futuristic world where humans have destroyed their environment, and thereby abandoned planet Earth. Robot, WALL-E, is left to clean up the mess. He then meets a fellow female robot named EVE, and the two develop an innocent, sweet relationship that is charming and authentic.

The humans in the film are portrayed as fat, lazy, incapable of intelligent thought, and most unable to move very much since technology has trained them to be as such. Sad.

The story itself is very sweet, touching, and sends a very important message about society and taking care of our environment. Very enjoyable.

The Aristocats-1970

The Aristocats-1970

Director-Wolfgang Reitherman

Starring-Various voices

Reviewed December 29, 2016

Grade: B+

The golden age of Disney films mainly occurring prior to the release of this film, The Aristocats is a latter day Disney film, released in 1970- the first release since Walt Disney’s death in 1966. It is a darling story with a very cute subject matter- cats living in sophisticated Paris face peril from their butler. Like many Disney works, the film’s message pertains to the treatment of animals. The Aristocats is much safer fare than the dark Bambi or even Dumbo, but it is a fantastic film worth watching.

Glamorous and elegant retired opera star, Madame Adelaide Bonfamille, lives peacefully with her gorgeous mother cat, Duchess, and her three kittens, Marie, Berlioz, and Toulouse in the heart of Paris, circa 1910. They are sophisticated beyond measure and enjoy every luxury known to cats, and are accompanied in their estate by English butler, Edgar. One day while Madame is discussing her will with her attorney, Edgar learns that she plans to leave her entire estate to her cats, until their death, then all goes to Edgar. Filled with greed, Edgar plots to kill the cats. This leads to an adventure in the country as the accosted cats attempt to find their way back home to Madame, with the help of feral yet kindly cat friends.

Ever so sweet to the film is the burgeoning romance which erupts between Duchess and Thomas O’Malley, as he  aids the cats in returning to Paris. It is classic girl from high class, meets the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks- only cat style. The chemistry is readily apparent between the pair and, on a personal note, my female cat Thora certainly seemed smitten with Thomas O’Malley as she sat smiling at Thomas as she watched the film.

During their adventure, Thomas and Duchess manage to dance and sing along with Thomas’s best friend Scat Cat, who leads a Jazz band of alley cats- this makes the film light and lively in tone. The group also shares adventures with English geese, Abigail and Amelia Gabble, who share a fondness for style and a prim and proper manner.

Throughout it all, the group continues to be pursued by Edgar, who is portrayed more as a bumbling villain than a sinister one, making The Aristocats a fun film rather than anything too heavy or sinister.

The sophistication of the film is really what makes me enjoy it so much. The high style of the Parisian city blocks, Madame’s gorgeous mansion, and the beautifully drawn French countryside are my favorite elements. I love the contrasts with this film- the city and the country, the high brow characters meet the more blue collar ones, but in the end, everyone comes together to conquer the mischievous foe.

Whereas, in Bambi man is the serious enemy, in The Aristocats, Edgar is more of a buffoon than a true dangerous element. He is cartoon-like (no pun intended), thereby the film is more of a caper with hi-jinks than of true danger.

For the cat lover in all of us, The Aristocats is a delightful film with a nice message, and a wonderful cultural experience. Who can forget the fantastic theme song, “Ev’rybody Wants to be a Cat”?

Toy Story 3-2010

Toy Story 3-2010

Director-Lee Unkrich

Starring-Tom Hanks, Tim Allen

Reviewed July 8, 2010

Grade: B+

It is not easy for sequels to succeed in the creativity or the originality categories, but surprisingly, Toy Story 3 is a fresh, imaginative, fun film. The characters are charming, interesting, and heartwarming, and the film is able to avoid a sappy result. Pixar has another hit.

Andy, now grown up and headed off to college, sees no reason to keep any of his childhood toys, now irrelevant and headed for the scrap box- at least that is what Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and friends, fear will happen as the dreaded day approaches. They must scheme to avoid their fate.

Many interesting new toys are introduced to this franchise with unique personalities, thereby giving a fresh approach, yet not forgetting the past. I adore how Toy Story 3 has many dynamic themes (loneliness, abandonment, togetherness), that play very well together with a nice message.

On a deeper level, the film certainly reflects the modern era. People are so easily thrown out, forgotten, and abandoned, whether through a job, relationship, etc. so that makes this film a sad reality if one chooses to look at it that way, which most won’t.

Great movie for kids and adults alike with a meaningful, relevant message. The film is not a sugar-coated affair and offers a cold reality, while still remaining accessible.

Dumbo-1941

Dumbo-1941

Director-Ben Sharpsteen

Starring-Various voices

Reviewed December 24, 2016

Grade: A

One of the best produced (and at sixty-two minutes, one of the shortest!) of the classic Walt Disney films of the golden age, Dumbo, in similar fashion to another Disney classic, Bambi, is both heartbreaking and mixed with fun entertainment. It should be heralded and viewed by everyone- children and adults alike, and teaches a valuable lesson in acceptance and tolerance- messages that never go out of fashion, despite the film being made in the grand old year of 1941.

To draw more comparisons to Bambi, we are introduced to the title character, as Dumbo is nuzzled and cherished upon being brought into the world by storks, by his warm and affectionate mother. Dumbo is an elephant and his mother a circus elephant, where she spends her days as entertainment, along with a group of other female elephants- none of whom has her grace, kindness, or dignity.

Sweet Dumbo is born with an imperfection- he has enormous ears. While others- namely the female elephants- ridicule and stare in horror at the lovable little elephant- his mother embraces and cuddles her little bundle of joy, eliciting a genuine, good-nature warmth rarely seen in cinema history. There is something so innately good about this character, (Mrs. Jumbo). She has a richness and way about her that is fantastic and consuming.

Sadly, one day, while entertaining the masses, a bratty human kid taunts Dumbo, causing Mrs. Jumbo to go ballistic, immediately going into protection mode. She is then deemed a “mad elephant”, shackled, and chained, and worse yet- separated from her baby. How anyone can watch this portion of the film and not shed a tear or get a lump in their throat is beyond me. Walt Disney was a master at eliciting raw emotion from his audience and writing a heartbreaking yet charming stories.

The centerpiece of Dumbo is the wonderful bond between mother and son- a sweet and powerful connection almost everyone can relate to. The pride and joy in Mrs. Jumbo’s eyes when she is granted a visit from Dumbo while imprisoned is magical- it means the world to her.

The supporting characters are key to the richness of the film- Timothy Q. Mouse is an important character to the story. Upon Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo’s separation, he becomes Dumbo’s only friend, sympathizing with Dumbo, and is instrumental to Dumbo’s reunion with his mama as well as his future successes in the circus. The bitchy female elephants are crucial too- despite being one of their own, they still reject Dumbo and mother. There are some light moments, as when the ladies, (Catty, Giddy, and Prissy), gossip and act superior to others.

Another fun scene, to balance out the heavy drama, occurs when Timothy and Dumbo accidentally mistake champagne for water, causing them to hallucinate and imagine pink elephants.

Dumbo is important in that it sends a powerful message about the way animals (especially circus animals) have historically been treated. Why animals should be used to amuse and entertain human beings is anyone’s guess, but this film is a powerful reminder of such. Fortunately, the film goes for a happy and satisfying ending, which should please fans. An animated classic for the ages.

Bambi-1942

Bambi-1942

Director-David Hand

Starring-Various voices

Top 100 Films-#88

Reviewed December 22, 2016

Grade: A

Simply lovely, endearing, and a heartbreaking tale, Bambi is one of my favorite classic Disney animated features of all time. Gorgeous and flawless, the film sends a definite message of animals longing for peace in a world filled with hunters attempting to disturb and kill the graceful deer. After all of these years, this message still resonates loud and clear, in sad, heartbreaking fashion. All deer hunters should watch this film and then have the audacity to hunt. Bambi was released among the Golden Age of Disney films, led by Snow White, Dumbo, Pinocchio, to name but a few.

We first meet baby Bambi as his dear mother nurtures and nestles him, fawning over him with pride and teaching him the joys of the forest.  Bambi’s father is the Great Prince of the Forest- protector of all the creatures of the land. Bambi’s mother (unnamed) warns an exuberant Bambi to be cautious of the gorgeous, yet dangerous, meadows, where the deer are vulnerable and unprotected.

During the film’s famous gut-wrenching scene, tragedy occurs, and violence disrupts the peaceful forest, leaving Bambi alone, lost, and devastated, forced into a cruel world of tragedy, realism, and responsibility. The scene gets to me every time as we see the pain and the harshness of what life is like for the sweet deer, to say nothing of the other animals in the forest- namely, Thumper (a rabbit), and Flower (a young Skunk). These characters are Bambi’s best friends. The dripping teardrop that oozes from Bambi’s eye is unable to be forgotten.

To counterbalance the dark tone of the film, Disney successfully adds cheerful scenes of the animals dancing and co-mingling with each other- as one community. This is nice as it shows the power and the bond between the creatures- they are united as a family and take care of one another. I love this message, especially as young people will watch the film for the first time.  There is also a sweet romance offered between Bambi and Faline.

To watch the film and listen to the musical score is to experience sheer beauty. The music makes the film powerful- its classical and operatic elements are gorgeous and will elicit emotions for sure. Visually, each frame is a drawing set against a still and is magical to watch and marvel at the amount of work that undoubtedly went into this preparation.

In the end, the circle of life takes place. Bambi becomes the Great Prince of the Forest, replacing his father as the protector. Now  all grown up with two tiny babies of his own, he must protect his family and friends. Life goes on. A sad yet realistic message. How brave of Disney to create a piece as wonderful as Bambi.

A personal satisfaction for me is observing my beloved female feline friend, Thora, become mesmerized and attentive to the film each time I watch it.

Disney’s Bambi is a wonderful, cherished treasure that evokes emotion and teaches a valuable, though painful message. It is a timeless masterpiece to be enjoyed for generations to come. One will not escape the film with dry eyes, which is a testament to the marvelous film making involved.

Fantasia-1940

Fantasia-1940

Director-James Algar, Various

Starring-Leopold Stokowski, Walt Disney

Reviewed December 30, 2010

Grade: B+

Before viewing this 1940 gem by Walt Disney, I was naive to knowing exactly what Fantasia was about- certainly, I had heard of it and knew it was an animated production, but was also mystified by it. Now embarrassed, I realize what a creative treat I missed out on. Better late than never.

I expected a Walt Disney animated story along the lines of Snow White or Pinocchio, but I was sorely mistaken by this assumption. While the film took me a bit to get into, it is a marvel and quite extravagant. The mixing of classical pieces and animated story is brilliant and is visually amazing. There are eight pieces in total, all with stories to tell.

Animated films are not typically my genre of choice, but this one impressed me quite a bit, if nothing more than the imagination involved. A Fantasia reboot emerged in 2000.

How to Train Your Dragon-2010

How to Train Your Dragon-2010

Director-Dean DeBlois, Chris Chambers

Starring-Gerard Butler, America Ferrera

70109893

Reviewed January 6, 2011

Grade: B-

How to Train Your Dragon is a  decent, but less than spectacular, animated film from 2010. Undoubtedly targeted toward youngsters, it contains G-rated elements and I may have enjoyed it more if I were nine years old. The film is loosely based on the British book series of the same name. A subsequent sequel has commenced in 2014.

From a story perspective, the film does tell a story with a nice message. Young Hiccup is a teenage Viking on the cusp of becoming a man. As a ritual, he is expected to kill a dragon to prove his worth as a warrior to his tribe . When put to the test, Hiccup finds that instead of desiring to kill the dragon, he wants to befriend it. Of course, the traditional Vikings want no part of any unity between the tribe and dragons, who are long-time enemies.

Mixed in with the main story is the inevitable love story between Hiccup and Astrid, a tough Viking girl.

There are way too many endless aerial battles between the tamed and vicious dragons, that it begins to feel more like an effort to fill time rather than furthering the main plot in any way.

This film has a nice message of kindness and togetherness, but seems very predictable and does not take any risks. There is nothing  wrong with it, and animated fans may look at it differently, but to me, it is run of the mill.

Fantasia 2000-2000

Fantasia 2000-2000

Director-James Algar, Various

Starring-Steve Martin, Bette Midler

60000436

Reviewed January 9, 2011

Grade: B+

Fantasia 2000 is a visually stunning remake of the 1940 Disney film. The modern version is produced by Roy Disney, nephew of the famous Walt Disney.

There are nine segments in total, each set to a classical music piece. Masterpieces such as Symphony No. 5 by Beethoven and Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin are featured. The Rhapsody piece is a gorgeous story of four individuals who dream of a better life in 1930’s New York City. The four do not know each other, but their lives intersect in a unique way.

Each segment is introduced by a celebrity: Steve Martin, Angela Lansbury, Bette Midler, and Quincy Jones appear, adding helpful thought and interpretation.

The final piece, in particular, is both moving and breathtaking. Firebird Suite-1919 version- by Stravinsky tells of a sprite (an ethereal entity), awoken by her companion, an elk, as a volcanic spirit has erupted in the peaceful forest, burning it down. The sprite must work to rebuild the peaceful land. It is an earnest, heartbreaking piece.

Being somewhat of a film traditionalist, I prefer the original slightly, but this version is great. Fantasia 2000 is wonderful to look at.

Despicable Me-2010

Despicable Me-2010

Director-Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud

Starring-Steve Carell, Jason Segel

70115629

Reviewed January 26, 2011

Grade: B-

My immediate reaction upon seeing Despicable Me is that it is a cute film, just custom made for the masses- children and families alike. This is fine, but I was honestly hoping for something a bit edgier or of more substance, but I did enjoy it at the same time.

To be clear, the film is a fun, family style affair for all ages with a nice story. It basically tells the story of a villain, named Gru, who is in competition with other super-villains and hatches a plan to shrink and steal the moon. He is reformed through three orphans (Margo, Edith, and Agnes) he first uses in his plan, but later comes to love and eventually adopts. The orphans predictably reform Gru and bring out the nice man within him. They clearly change his life for the better.

There is nothing really wrong with this film, nor is there anything really tremendous about it either. I know some people really loved it. To me it was decent, but I wanted a bit more and perhaps a more complex or interesting plot, but that is just my personal taste.

Anomalisa-2015

Anomalisa-2015

Director-Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson

Starring-Tom Noonan, Jennifer Jason Leigh

80080269

Reviewed August 27, 2016

Grade: A-

Anomalisa is one of the most creative offerings I have seen of late. As animation is not my forte- typically I find them much too nicey nice, and the old “family friendly” tags makes me cringe- but Anomalisa has received heaps of buzz so I decided to check it out. I am glad I did. The stop motion film is quite adult themed, though not the slightest bit raunchy. Rather it is an intelligent tale about loneliness and human beings connecting with each other through this loneliness. It is a bit of a melancholy film too. Anomalisa is based on a 2005 play.

The central character of the story is Michael Stone, a depressed customer service expert, who travels to Cincinnati to deliver a seminar on his area of expertise. Michael is riddled with anxiety and his life is rather mundane though he checks into a stylish hotel that is presumably hosting his convention. He is a bit of a big name within his industry. Oddly, every person he encounters looks and sounds the same- that of a white man- even his wife and son. He is haunted by the memory of an old flame, Bella, who it is revealed he jilted years ago and now lives in Cincinnati.

The story gets interesting when Michael hears a woman’s voice singing- up until now all voices are male, remember- and he is desperate to find the voice. He meets Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), an insecure, rather dowdy woman, who he becomes infatuated with. A customer service representative at the hotel to witness Michael’s seminar, Lisa is instantly smitten, though wary of Michael’s intentions. They bond and the film tells of their romance and insecurities.

The film is highly creative and unique. It is also mysterious. My first wonder was attempting to figure out why all of the character’s- regardless of gender- share the same voice. Clearly Michael is lonely and sees everyone else in his life as monotonous or meaningless- until he meets Lisa, that is. The film is not clear as to what Michael sees in Lisa- perhaps her realness in a world of phoniness. She is an ordinary girl, but perhaps that is the point? I am still not sure of this.

I did not find the character of Michael to be likable and certainly not one to root for. He is dismissive of some characters, a bit condescending, but despite this, is not a hated character either. He and Lisa as a duo are to root for.

Anomalisa has some humor too- albeit dark humor. When Michael mistakes an adult toy store for a traditional toy store and purchases a Japanese sex doll for his son, Michael’s wife hilariously wonders about some foreign substance around the doll’s mouth. A nervous male passenger on Michael’s flight clutches Michael’s hand, even after landing safely.

The explicit sex scene between Michael and Lisa is as shocking as it is tender- I think showing this graphic edge in animation really through me for a loop since this rarely happens in animated films, and I still- perhaps incorrectly- assume that animated films are for children only with their parents to endure. To be fair, Anomalisa is not true animation- felt puppets are used, which gives a great, human looking feel to the film and makes the characters more life-like.

Anomalisa is not a perfect ten, but is damn close for it’s left of center approach alone. A magical journey into the art of creativity and thought. A little far out there for most, and perhaps the sarcasm may be lost on some, but a unique experience, nonetheless.

Frankenweenie-2012

Frankenweenie-2012

Director-Tim Burton

Starring-Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short

70219496

Reviewed February 25, 2013

Grade: B

Frankenweenie is a very creative Tim Burton made, stop-motion film that received a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the 2012 Oscars. On the dark side, it is a pleasure to watch for the thought invoked, and left of center compared to many safe modern animated features.

The story revolves around a lonely young man who experiments on his recently deceased dog to bring him back to life. It is a black and white film, has nice horror references (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein) and interesting characters. It is also heartwarming as the child’s love for the dog is evident.

The movie is easy to compare to 2012’s ParaNorman in multiple ways (lonely male teen, both dark films). As much as I give major props to this film for the creativity involved, somehow it did not completely connect with me (I liked ParaNorman better) and I’m not sure why, but I have great respect for the creative achievements it encompasses.

ParaNorman-2012

ParaNorman-2012

Director-Chris Butler, Sam Fell

Starring-Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick

70217914

Reviewed February 25, 2013

Grade: B+

ParaNorman is a very imaginative, enjoyable, animated film that I admired a great deal. Creative colors and images are key and the film is stop-motion.

Despite being animated it is really not a kids movie, but rather geared toward the teenager or older demographic. It is among the strongest, along with Frankenweenie- a similar type film, of the five nominated films for Best Animated feature, in the year 2012.

In fact, ParaNorman is so similar to Frankenweenie that they could almost be simultaneously reviewed or be watched in the same day.  Both center around an isolated young male coping with his surroundings and both contain a light horror feel to them.

In ParaNorman, an army of zombies invades a small, suburban town, and our hero, Norman, a strange young man who can communicate with the dead, must save the day. The film contains sympathetic peers, but the adults in the film present various obstacles.

I have gone on record as being not much of an animated film fan, but I do view the best of each year and this one impressed me immensely.

The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya-2014

The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya-2014

Director-Isao Takahata

Starring-Aki Asakura, Kengo Kora

80013552

Reviewed June 23, 2016

Grade: B+

The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya is a Japanese animated film released in 2014.  It is a unique film- mixing elements of fantasy and drama- stunning to experience and appreciate from a creative perspective. Unusual still is the lengthy running time of two hours and seventeen minutes- animated films are typically on the short side. This is not to say that it drags, although I found it helpful to view in segments. Originally made in the Japanese language, the film has been dubbed in English and features recognizable voices such as Mary Steenburgen, Lucy Lui, and James Caan.

A bamboo cutter named Miyatsuko discovers a baby girl inside a bamboo tree one day. He and his wife consider her to be a divine presence and decide to keep her as their own, naming her Princess Kaguya. Mysteriously, she begins to grow and develop at an alarming rate and is the wonder of the village. Kaguya develops  a playful crush on Sutemaru, a handsome peasant in her village.  Kaguya, led by her parents, is taken into a life of nobility and wealth as her destiny. Her governess attempts to mold her into a regal Princess, but Kaguya is a wandering, free spirit, and rejects the formalities of this life. Her myriad of wealthy suitors counters with her feelings for Sutemaru.

From a story perspective, the film shines, as the conflict over wealth versus poverty are explored. Kaguya’s parents are not greedy, but they do want her to receive her just desserts and a life free of hardship- as they are used to. They want something better for her. One can relate to the parents views, but Kaguya feels differently. She wants freedom, love, and happiness, not  a life of rules, procedures, and smoke and mirrors.

The makers of the film clearly present the viewpoint of someone “other-wordly”  who is observing and analyzing planet earth, warts and all, so the film does have a message to it. It is not cliched or overbearing in its approach though-merely honest and sincere.

Every frame in the film appears to be a gorgeous drawing- not conventional, fast-paced animation, but rather classic, muted, pastel type colors are used, giving it a softer touch, which astounded me. If one is not into the story (tough to imagine), one could easily sit back and marvel at the spectacle.

The growing trend in animated films seems to be a return to traditional drawings- think Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer- as evidenced by The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya and Anomalisa, two recent animated features receiving critical acclaim. This is music to my ears as these are far superior than the usual, and redundant, CGI-laden films.

Hotel Transylvania-2012

Hotel Transylvania-2012

Director-Genndy Tartakovsky

Starring-Adam Sandler, Kevin James

70220028

Reviewed June 13, 2013

Grade: C-

Hotel Transylvania is a 2012 animated film about an overprotective Dracula with a teenage daughter fascinated with the human world. The premise sounded interesting to me- a gothic, spooky feature, and the animations are very well done- bright, colorful, and unique, but the plot is way too predictable and the story as safe as they come.

Despite the dark mood of the film, there is nothing remotely scary about Dracula or any of the other characters. Rather they are completely cliched and quite amateurish. The target audience is obviously age 10 and under and parents might find themselves bored.  I am not a parent and I was bored to tears at one point. It is too cutesy for my tastes.

Save for the impressive animations, Hotel Transylvania is complete mainstream fare and forgettable film making. A great story achieves mountains and this one lacked.

The Peanuts Movie-2015

The Peanuts Movie-2015

Director-Steve Martino

Starring-Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller

80057058

Reviewed December 20, 2015

Grade: B-

Having adored the Peanuts comic strips in the “funnies” papers every Sunday as a wee child, as well as the wonderful classic A Charlie Brown Christmas special that aired every holiday season, I was eager to see a full-length film released in theaters.  The Peanuts Movie commemorates the 50 year Anniversary of the Christmas special.  The Peanuts gang are so All-American and ingrained in our culture that I could not resist seeing it. I expected “cute” and that is exactly what I received. The film was nice, but quite safe and certainly predictable.

The Peanuts gang is much more than just the antics of Charlie Brown and his faithful dog Snoopy, who clearly take center stage in the film. It is the entire beloved gang and they are all featured here- Woodstock, Peppermint Patty, Marcie, Linus, Lucy, Frieda, Pig-Pen, and others, albeit in clearly supporting roles.

There are two main stories featured in the film- the long-suffering and (in his mind) friendless (despite actually being loved by the gang), Charlie Brown is enamored with his new neighbor- the Little Red-Haired Girl- well-known from the original comic strips as Charlie Brown’s schoolyard crush-yet never seen. The other is Snoopy’s writing of a book about the Flying Ace- in which he saves his crush, Fifi, also a pilot, from the dangerous Red Baron and his army.

Per usual, the film is really about Charlie Brown’s endless insecurities prompted by bad luck and always screwing things up- no matter that his intentions are noble. When the Little Red-Haired Girl moves in across the street from Charlie Brown, he is immediately smitten and does numerous things to impress and acquire her attention- of course with difficulties arising. A talent show in which he plays a magician goes wrong. To his delight, he is partnered with the Little Red-Haired Girl on a book report, but when she is called out of town he is forced to write the report himself, thereby foiling his attempts at getting close to her.

Per usual, all parents remain unseen and speak in garbled voices as the story is solely about the kids. An interesting element is, while the Little Red-Haired girl is seen and does indeed speak, most of this occurs towards the end. Up until this point we see her only from behind allowing an element of mystery to surround her. It would have been interesting seeing some of the supporting characters explored more- is Peppermint Patty gay and is Marcie her love interest? How about a love interest or background for some of the others? A very quick side story explored is a growing romance between Pig-Pen and Patti.

The film does a nice job with featuring the familiar settings of the original comic strip- Lucy’s psychiatrist’s booth, the wall,  and the skating pond are prominently featured, which is a treat for long-time fans.

In the end, The Peanuts Movie is a nice film. I would have preferred a bit more of an edge or more creativity as original creator Charles Schultz had, but it is nice to be reminded of a simple time in life and this film is a good time.

The Lego Movie-2014

The Lego Movie-2014

Director-Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Starring-Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks

70289949

Reviewed October 24, 2015

Grade: D

A child’s movie in every sense of the word, The Lego Movie is silly and amateurish. It contains a hackneyed plot and an incredibly fast pace that makes the viewing experience quite unpleasant, frankly. Computer animated and primarily created by imagery, a scene involving two human beings interspersed among all of the animation only makes the plot more sappy, overwrought, and predictable. The film is a complete dud and a waste of energy save for one lone catchy song appearing throughout the film. I am perplexed why this film received mostly positive reviews as I did not share the same sentiment.

The premise is too complex for the target audience, for starters. In a Lego universe, where all of the characters are Lego pieces, a mysterious wizard- Vitruvious, attempts to protect a super weapon (Kragle) from the evil Lord Business. While he fails, he prophesies that a person named “The Special” will one day find the Piece of Resistance capable of stopping the Kragle. Kragle turns out to be superglue in the human world, as a cameo with Will Ferrell reveals he is really the human version of Lord Business, and refuses to let his young son play with Dad’s Lego set, thereby threatening to permanently keep the set stationary with glue. Inevitably, this leads to a tender scene with Dad and son.

I simply did not find The Lego Movie very engaging story-wise or from a visual standpoint and was bored throughout most of the experience. Admittedly, modern animated films are not my favorite genre- I miss the days of the classic Disney drawing style films like Bambi or Dumbo. The major flaw is the frenetic pacing of the film. Did the powers that be think that all youngsters and parents dragged along to see the film suffer from attention deficit disorder? There was no time to pause and ponder what was going on in the story since immediately it was on to the next scene. In fact, during most scenes the action was non-stop so that the film seems like one long action sequence.

The main character of Emmett, a young Lego piece characterized by everyone as dull is voiced by Chris Pratt. Emmet stumbles upon a young woman named Wyldestyle looking for something at his construction site- she assumes he is The Special and they race to save the world from Lord Business. Emmet, as far as a lead character goes, is likable enough and predictably, a romance of sorts develops between he and Wyldestyle. Through their adventures we meet various creative characters like Batman and Princess Unikitty.

The film contains a sickeningly catchy song called “Everything is Awesome” that will stick in the viewers head whether desired or not and that is the strongest part of the film. It is not that the song is lyrically great or anything, but it is fun and hum along.

Overly high octane and an uninteresting plot make The Lego Movie perhaps appealing to young kids in the seven to ten range, but is a forgettable and tedious experience for this grown-up. The ending of the film leaves room for the inevitable sequel.

Inside Out-2015

Inside Out-2015

Director-Pete Docter

Starring-Amy Poehler, Diane Lane

80030684

Reviewed September 8, 2015

Grade: B+

Frequently, when I view a modern animated feature, (and by modern, I mean 1990 and beyond), I am either bored or left with a “meh” feeling- or both. It seems the trend is “let’s create a manufactured film that will appeal to five year old’s who will drag their parents to it”. It is almost as if mediocrity is accepted in animated film, but Inside Out challenges this trend with a thoughtful, interesting slab of story. With this latest Pixar offering we find a refreshing, intelligent film that makes the viewer think, in addition to containing a genuine cute factor, with lots of colors and interesting animation interspersed throughout.

Our story finds eleven year old Riley Anderson, and her five different personalities, working within her brain in unison. The emotions are five distinct little people representing (and named) Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger. They overlap, conflict, and humorously strive to take control of Riley’s mind and thought processes. Joy is the central, and obviously happiest of the emotions. They all live in Riley’s conscious mind, named Headquarters. One day, Riley and her family pack up and move from Minnesota to the unknown and overwhelming city of San Francisco to capitalize on a job opportunity offered to Riley’s father. The city is bustling and the family is thrown for a loop. Riley in particular has a difficult time adjusting to this vastly different world and finds herself friendless and acting out of character. Sadness accidentally begins touching other emotions within Riley’s mind, which sets off a plethora of strange emotions causing her to behave strangely and become irritable. Joy and Sadness struggle to return to Headquarters and fix the issues.

Inside Out is a complex animated film and will certainly go way above the heads of many youngsters who will undoubtedly see it. I find this rather refreshing. It is a coming of age tale for adults and mature kids that challenges its audience rather than spitting out a retread or formulaic family story that we have scene countless times over. In fact, Riley and her parents are arguably supporting players in the story, taking a back seat to the small, interesting creatures in Riley’s mind. In a way, her mind is a carnival of riches and cool characters emerge. I smiled as more characters were introduced. Riley’s imaginary friend from years ago, named Bing Bong, was pulled to the forefront of her emotions, as he was sadly was forgotten in her mind. Who cannot relate to this? A childhood ritual of creating a friend.

I adored the trip through Riley’s mind and marveled at the revelation of the inner workings of her mind- with creative colors and bright interesting lights. What a super-cool adventure for a young film lover to experience! Inside Out is quite sophisticated. The main concern is the level of patience that this film requires. It is not a force-fed story, but rather encourages one to experience and feel. Touching scenes do prevail, but the message I receive from Inside Out is an important one- a multitude of emotions in every human being is normal and the way the film shows them overlap and work together is ingenious- nobody is one emotion all the time- nor should they be as the movie promotes successfully. Human beings are meant to feel.

The film also contains humor. I had to laugh out loud when one character sees a button labeled “puberty” and assumes it is nothing of importance. This inside joke is also alluded to at the conclusion of the film- a sequel perhaps? Given that Riley is only eleven years old, puberty will be the natural progression and an enormous one at that.

Inside Out challenges the norm in animated film and entices audiences to think. It feels genuine, which is impressive in itself. It is sentimental without feeling contrived or corny. The film succeeds on many levels.

101 Dalmatians-1961

101 Dalmatians-1961

Directors-Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimi

205524

Reviewed March 5, 2015

Grade: A-

101 Dalmatians is a darling Walt Disney film that encompasses wholesomeness, love, and devotion. Set in London, which adds a level of sophistication to the film, it tells the story of lonely songwriter named Roger Radcliffe, who lives in a flat with his faithful and devoted Dalmatian, Pongo. Their’s is a happy existence, but something is missing. Pongo, voiced by Rod Taylor (of The Birds fame), is determined to find a mate for both himself and for Roger and sets about to do just that by watching lady’s and their dogs walk the streets in front of their home. He is successful in finding the perfect match for both (Anita for Roger, Perdita for him) and the four of them look forward to years of happiness together until a sinister friend of Anita’s, Cruella De Vil, enters the story. Cruella sees profit in the Dalmatians and attempts to steal and destroy them.

Cruella De Vil is a delicious villain, and certainly one of the most entertaining in animated film history, but more than that, she is comically devious. Her maniacal laugh and witty language make her a perfect foil for a wholesome couple and wonderful, cute little pups. Certainly, the audience does not root for her, but there is something wicked and fun about her over-the-top character.

The film, made in 1961, has wonderful artistic direction that animation today does not have- the scenes look like beautiful drawings and there is a Mad Men quality to the design. The “look” is very different from current animation in that it is sleek and constructed skillfully and not loud, fast, and bombastic.

I love how the film is from the point of view of the Dalmatians Pongo and Perdita and not from the perspective of the human beings simply telling the story about their dogs- this adds to the level of empathy felt for the animals since they are the central characters and we see their attempts at rescuing all of the stolen dogs. Also wonderful is how all of the dogs of London (and various other species of animals) band together in rescue. They work as a team to save and protect their own that are being mistreated and sent to their slaughter.

An enjoyable scene involves the climactic car chase between Cruella’s gaudy, luxury car and a furniture van. As the pups are using the van as a means to escape, a cat and mouse game ensues providing comedy and dramatic flair. As the vehicles wiz along dirt and back roads towards London, the scene is among the most suspenseful of the film. In addition to this riveting scene are others involving the dogs tiptoeing past their captives as we cross our fingers they will not be heard and subsequently caught, and an adorable scene showcasing the dogs cleverness at covering their spots with soot in order to escape.

A heartwarming, inspirational film for the entire family to enjoy many times over, 101 Dalmatians will leave you smiling and humming. It is a truthful, wonderful film about love for animals.

Animal Farm-1954

Animal Farm-1954

Director-Joy Batchelor, John Halas

Voices-Gordon Heath,Maurice Denham

70015758

Reviewed December 10, 2013

Grade: B+

Animated film based on the classic fable written by George Orwell. This film is quite different from the typically wholesome Disney animated film of the time and reportedly many parents were shocked by the subject matter (didn’t they read the book??).

Animation-wise, this film does resemble a Disney film as the colors and animals are meticulously drawn and composed. The tale, as anyone who has read the book knows, is quite dark and satirical/political, and sadly, is relatable today as class systems, power, and greed are still quite prevalent in today’s society. The ending of the film is changed and is more hopeful than the book ending, presumably to appeal to a larger audience.

The written fable is far superior to the film, though the film is well done and effective and gets the message across. Made in the 1950’s, it still holds up well and is a look at the dark side of humanity.

Frozen-2013

Frozen-2013

Director-Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Starring-Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel

70279000

Reviewed December 13, 2013

Grade: B

The adjective which springs to mind about the latest hit animated film that has overtaken the nation is “cute”. The story is loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson story (which is modified immensely) and tells the story of 2 royal sisters (Elsa and Anna), one of whom has special “ice” powers and accidentally injures the other causing a rift. From this point, there are a series of misunderstandings, love interests, a handsome prince, and an adventure through the snow, and a Snow White type theme. The story as a whole is uplifting, sweet, and certainly targeted to kids and parents seeking a wholesome, safe experience, but is it too safe?

My one criticism is the lack of diversity and culture in the main characters as they are all similar in looks, which doesn’t set the best example for kids watching. The musical numbers certainly stick in your head as I was humming them for days. The songs are very trendy, pop leaning which may make this film age quickly and have an overly current flavor. I loved the frozen, icy, wintry animation sets which are perfect while watching in the winter months. Olaf, the sidekick, mini snowman is witty and steals the show.