Reviewed: The Croods (2013)

the-croods-a-dreamworks-movieRecently, I’ve been of the mind that when it comes to quality blockbuster family animations, we’ve hit a bit of a slump. I know it happens sometimes but it was making me depressed. No longer were the brightly coloured posters of new kids’ films filling me with wonder and delight – more an overwhelming sense of ‘meh’ as I gazed at the overenthusiastic smiles of whatever uninspired character happened to star in this particular one. I’ve covered how I feel about Disney/Pixar’s part in this here.

The year hasn’t been a total letdown though. Paranorman rocked and it feels like these guys (Laika) have been picking up the slack where the other three majors (Disney, Dreamworks & Blue Sky Studios) had dropped the ball not just with inspired animation but storytelling too.

The last few flicks that came out of Dreamworks after Kung-Fu Panda 2 gave me cause to think that they’ve lost the magic as well. With nothing to offer but a handful of sequels and the only original title in the last two years being the frightfully disappointing Rise of the Guardians (despite its decent voice cast and guiding hand of Guillermo Del Toro), things were not looking good.

And then this; The Croods.

As I sat back and watched the story unfold, I breathed a sigh of relief as my cynicism subsided. All is not lost. They’ve managed to deliver a surprisingly heartfelt tale following the last caveman family on the planet that must learn to evolve or face extinction.

The writing on this one has been brought to us by co-directors Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch) and Kirk De Micco (Space Chimps) with a credit to John Cleese for developing the story. Space Chimps never really worked for me but Lilo & Stitch is one of my favourite Disney films ever and Cleese? Well, it’s John freakin’ Cleese!

The story follows the exploits of the last Cro-Magnon family who up until this point have succeeded in not dying by hiding in a cave and experiencing as little as possible. The metaphor is a little ham-fisted on that front but the real magic of this one lies in the relationship between father and daughter.

Eep (Emma Stone) is the rebellious teenage daughter that every father fears having. She’s headstrong and knows what she wants which scares the hell out of Grug (Nicolas Cage) because what she wants is exactly what’s bad for her in his eyes. And then she meets a boy named Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a Homo Erectus with ideas and other scary talents which only compound Grug’s fatherly over-protectiveness.MV5BMTY4MDA1MTgzOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjcxODAwOQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_With possibly the smallest cast list ever, the chemistry between the characters is pure alchemy but it’s Cage’s performance in this which helped remind me why he’s great despite the long list of terrible film roles that he’s chosen over the years. He brings an energy and warmth to this caveman with limited mental capacity that I haven’t seen from him in quite a while.

The animation is strong with a perfect balance of spectacle, slapstick and character development that many of its peers are lacking these days. See it with your family before they make a sequel.The+Croods+

Reviewed: Spring Breakers (2012)

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So… YOLO, Skrillex, wiggas and guns – an incredible combination of elements that I distrust, loathe and flat-out don’t understand. I was all set to hate this movie for its frank portrayals of the Spring Break scene that it capitalises on yet I was drawn to it because when James Franco gets it right (Oz The Great and Powerful does not qualify), liquid gold spews forth from every orifice and sanctifies everything around him.

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The story follows four young girls who want to experience Spring Break for all it’s worth but don’t have the cash so they resort to holding up a restaurant to fund their trip. The robbery goes ahead without a hitch and they soon find themselves at their destination experiencing all they could ever hope for and more. Everything is going great until a house party gets raided by cops and they find themselves behind bars for their crimes.

Local personality and up and coming thug of the year Alien (Franco) sees their plight and decides to bail them out in the hope that they’ll run with him for a while. Selling them the magic bean of making Spring Break last forever, three of the four stay on with him and enjoy the rollercoaster that is his life.

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This film is morally grey; it presents us with a world of sex, drugs and sun in a stylish and uncompromising manner. There are no real consequences for our Spring Breakers and life is what they make it. And yet, as real as it feels there’s an underlying dreamlike quality to it all. It’s hyper-real. Like a trip. And for that reason it’s great.

Director Harmony Korine has previously been responsible for cult favourites Gummo and Kids. If you’re a fan of these, you may understand what you’re getting yourself into. It’s also got ex-Disney kids Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens trying their darndest to push away from the wholesome careers that got them where they are today. Gomez is well suited to her part but Hudgens disappointingly doesn’t give us much more than something pretty to look at.

Kids, don’t do drugs. Maybe just watch this movie instead – it’s just as good.

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Reviewed: Monsters University (2013)

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God damn it, Pixar! What the hell happened? It seems that every second film these days is a sequel (I know this is a general Hollywood trend but shut up and let me finish – I’m in rant mode here). Cars 2?! Honestly, the first one was the dumbest thing ever! And don’t get me started on Planes (admittedly not a Pixar production but John fucking 3-trick Lasseter is behind it)!

Disney Producers: We need something that kids will really get in to.

Lasseter: How about inanimate objects that… talk?

Disney Producers: You’re a genius. Here’s a bunch of money.

Lasseter: I can do this for years if you like.

Disney Producers: Here’s more money. Make stuff that we can easily sell as toys for kids. We’ve done toys so that’s out.

Lasseter: What about cars?

Disney Producers: He’s the messiah!

Lasseter: You think that’s good? I reckon we could do the same thing with planes.

Disney Producers: What are you going to call these films?

Lasseter: I’ll come up with something better later.

He didn’t. And okay, yes. I’m getting a little too worked up over kids’ movies but I’ll tell you why. Pixar promised to be a new frontier for storytelling, picking up where Disney dropped the ball. They’ve been responsible for some genuine classics (the first Toy Story film is one of them but fuck, we don’t need all that energy spent revisiting the same tired world again and again and again…) Wall-E, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc.

Actually, I really enjoyed Monsters Inc. It’s a great buddy movie with heart and a wonderful fantasy/science fiction twist that works perfectly as a stand alone story (if you choose to disregard this little conspiracy that connects all the Pixar films into one universe). There was no need for a sequel.

So what do they do? A fucking prequel! Way to Lucas it up (you can use this expression for any time someone screws with your favourite universe continuity).

Luckily for us, they did a decent job of it. Monsters University tells the story of how Mike and Sulley met to become the dynamic duo they are in Monsters Inc. Many of the original cast make an appearance but it’s the supporting cast of new characters that help this be an entity in its own right (the members of our protagonists frat house in particular).Monsters-University-In-The-CarThe film follows Mike from early childhood where he first discovers that he wants to be a scarer and the bulk of the plot covers his time at university and the struggles against all odds faced in the attempt to graduate. He’s got the brains but that’s it. Sulley however is a bit of a jock that rides the coat-tails of his family name to get to and through university. He doesn’t apply himself anywhere near enough and through unlikely circumstances the pair are unwillingly thrown together and must resolve their differences if they want to succeed.

There’s nothing particularly new story-wise but enough to keep one interested. That, and the animation is sublime but may make a revisit of Monsters Inc feel a little visually stale (but that’s the nature of rehashing a 10+ year old idea).

Look, you know this will be good. John Lasseter’s nowhere to be seen so his schmaltzy half-arsed ideas have not tarnished a pretty damned decent script and very fun concept of the meeting of the dynamic duo who we grew to love in the original.Pixar Post Monsters University Art Jump