The Grinch Review

Special Order 937 from Illumination Entertainment’s upper management:

“Priority one. Ensure return of cash profit. All creativity secondary. Audience expendable.”

If that Alien reference was to crass or obscure for you, let me clarify. I’m catching on to Illumination Entertainment’s (the makers of Despicable Me, Sing, etc.) business model of putting financial gain before creativity and filmmaking passion. They actively strive to meet the animation industries bare minimum requirements for a passable mainstream picture. The character models and backgrounds they use are cheaply rendered and don’t have a lot of detail, all to save a quick buck. Their stories are average and likely to go for cheap sentimentality to appear emotional and deep.

Case and point, The Grinch.

I’m sure you know the plot to this classic Dr. Seuss story. It takes place in the town of Whoville, inhabited by a group of jolly people that love the Christmas season. Yes, everyone loves Christmas, all except for the mean old Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch) who lives atop a mountain with his pet dog Max. Harboring a hatred for all things Christmas, The Grinch devises a plan to steal Christmas by thieving the Who’s holiday gifts and possessions.

A fun, stylish children’s book that rejects consumerism and materialism around Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! becomes a little more relevant with every passing year. This 2018 interpretation of The Grinch doesn’t take much of a stance on anything, and its reason for existing is questionable. Nothing added is new to the story and therefore is quite predictable and bland. It’s the cinematic equivalent to a rice cake. You eat it because it’s filling and not too unhealthy, but it’s still bland and not very tasty.

The Grinch himself isn’t very “grinchy”. He’s more just a slightly irritable jerk than the ultimate antithesis to Christmas joy. Less mean-spirited, more goofball. Heck, The Grinch smiles more than probably every other incarnation of The Grinch put together. I think Illumination did this so that his character would appeal more to young children, but in the Chuck Jones animated version The Grinch looks menacing, and kids love that TV special. And to top it all off, they had Benedict Cumberbatch voice him, which really baffled me. They thought, “Hey, Cumberbatch is a big star that audiences like, have him voice The Grinch!” The problem there is that he doesn’t fit the character well, completely wasting his acting ability.

It’s tragic because there’s some decent voice acting from very talented actors throughout The Grinch, including Cumberbatch. Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, and even Pharrell Williams (who provides the narration) lended their voices for the film. It’s too bad their roles in The Grinch didn’t allow them to utilize their unique acting abilities. All except maybe Kenan, who really gets to be vocally expressive in his role as an obnoxiously jolly individual.

Overall, I believe young children and parents may enjoy the bright colors and “in your face” slapstick humor, but the reality is that this film had so much potential to be something more. Illumination has the talent, money, and resources to pull off something exciting, something magical that is truly memorable for all the right reasons. But with films like The Grinch they play it safe, making a film that’s so sanitized and cautious that there isn’t a truly new idea in sight. And sooner or later their shortcuts are going to reflect in their box office revenue.

I’m fully aware that studio films must be made with a financial profit in mind. Period. But with animation companies like Disney, Laika and DreamWorks there’s at least some give and take with money vs creativity. They take some gambles and put their all into making something people won’t only want to see, but something they can come back to years later and still enjoy. Bottom line, a clear artistic vision is always present with these studios, even if the film isn’t very good. I still go back and watch movies like Coraline, Beauty and the Beast, and Shrek 2. Unfortunately, I can’t see myself going back to view Illumination’s The Grinch ever again.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint





Isle of Dogs Review

After the critical success of his 2009 film Fantastic Mr. Fox, Director Wes Anderson decided to give animation another go with another smashing hit titled Isle of Dogs.

In a (hopefully) distant future, dogs have become the societal scapegoat of Japanese culture. Suffering from overpopulation, dog flu, and numerous other ailments, the Japanese government chooses to exile all dogs in the country to Trash Island. A very literal name for an island formed completely out of garbage.

Here we enter the twelve-year-old orphan Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), who manages to travel to the island in search of his banished dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). Along his journey Atari meets a gang of dogs on the island, led by a particularly stubborn dog named Chief (Bryan Cranston). As Atari and his new friends attempt to locate Spots, they must avoid capture by the Japanese government, who seeks to end the canine problem once and for all.

Everything about Isle of Dogs is in some way fast-paced. The quippy jokes, bizarre exposition, and hasty story all come shooting at the viewer like lightning, surely catching many by surprise. Even the speed of the animation itself felt like someone backstage hit the fast-forward button before the film began. All the characters move with such immediacy and deliberateness that it captivates the viewer almost automatically.

This is in no way a hindrance to Isle of Dogs and is in part why this film works so well. The quickly dished out jokes give it a distinct, dry sense of humor; and the exposition is rushed simply because there’s so much to get through. Nonetheless, it doesn’t throw you through a hoop and the backstory is actually quite fascinating.

The rapid animation, coupled with Wes Anderson’s unique style and imagery, keeps the story moving in even its slowest points. While Isle of Dogs is mostly stop motion, many of the shots are set up to appear on a two-dimensional plane. And when the camera and characters do slow down, it nicely emphasizes that the scene you’re watching is important. Usually this is done to build the relationship between Atari and Chief and is actually very effective.

So, with that in mind, it isn’t hard to believe that the characters that inhabit Isle of Dogs are incredibly memorable. Each with a unique voice performance from many prominent actors and actresses. A few of the most noticeable voices were Bill Murray, Bryan Cranston, and Edward Norton, who all acted so delightfully you’d have thought they were born to voice a bunch of dogs.

This canine dystopia is, first and foremost, intriguing fun. Telling a heartwarming story about man’s best friend and poking harmless fun at totalitarianism all in the process. The minimal use of music, clever storytelling, and crystal-clear vision of Anderson make for an unforgettable film experience.

I had an exceptionally great time watching Isle of Dogs and will surely return to watch it again.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

The LEGO Ninjago Movie Review

It was obvious from the get-go that The LEGO Ninjago Movie would be the least inspired installment of the continuing LEGO Movie franchise. Based loosely off a children’s cartoon series (which in turn was based off a preexisting toyline), The LEGO Ninjago Movie tells the story of Lloyd Garmadon (Dave Franco), who lives in a metropolitan city constantly threatened by the evil Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux). Lloyd happens to be the most despised individual in the entire city, mostly because of his relation to Lord Garmadon.

Luckily, Garmadon never comes close to ruling over anything, because the LEGO city is protected by a secretive ninja force led by Master Wu (Jackie Chan). And, unbeknownst to just about everyone, Lloyd happens to be one of those very ninjas. He, along with the rest of his ninja friends, is about to embark on a dangerous quest to stop Lord Garmadon for good.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie features many bizarre creative choices that I found to be quite delightful. The tone and the genre of the film, for example, are ever-changing and seem to be a blend of many ideas.

This film should’ve come with a hyperactivity warning, as there are very few breathers for the audience. Not only are the scene transitions quick, but entire plot points fly by at a rapid pace. What felt like five minutes of watching LEGO Ninjago turned out to be an hours’ worth of the film.

Sadly, most of the characters didn’t have any depth or personality to them. Other than the lead antagonist Garmadon and Master Wu, none really stood out as being interesting. I noticed multiple talented voice actors behind the little brick figures, but I guess the script didn’t call for utilizing their full potential.

Probably the best aspect of the film was the clever humor poking fun at popular action/adventure genre tropes. In one scene, they mock the overuse of the popular sound effect dubbed the Wilhelm Scream (heard in Star Wars as well as Indiana Jones). In another hilarious scene, they comment on how the wise character in action/adventure movies always withhold incredibly important knowledge until they’re in the process of dying. Very funny.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie had plenty of comedic, fun-filled moments, yet unfortunately lacked the charm of its LEGO predecessors. There are a plethora of scenes attempting to teach kids very simple and valuable messages. But where these scenes came off as cute in LEGO Batman and The LEGO Movie, here they’re just sappy. Those looking for a fast-paced children’s comedy won’t need to search any further. However, if you were expecting anything more than that, you may find yourself disappointed.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

The Lego Movie Review

I’ve recently decided to review one of my personal favorite animated films of all time, The Lego Movie.

The Lego Movie takes place in a universe, you guessed it, made completely out of Legos. It stars Chris Pratt as Emmet, an ordinary Lego construction worker who never seems to make an impact on anyone. Emmet accidentally gets wrapped up in a plot by the master builders (Lego people who think outside the box) to overthrow the villain, President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) who likes to maintain order and do things by the instructions.

The Lego city Emmet lives in is, quite hilariously, straight out of 1984. I would even go as far to label The Lego Movie as a great political satire. President Business runs the ultimate totalitarian government and has all the characteristics of an abusive leader. In this Lego universe, everyone conforms to listen to the same music, eat the same foods, and overall be the same in every single way. Citizens are urged to follow the directions and to not step out of line. All forms of creativity are punishable by the law. The Lego Movie a cute little critique on capitalism that I found very humorous in the film.

The voice acting in The Lego Movie was fantastic. We get a wide variety of talented actors and actresses voicing a diverse group of characters. All the actors fit the roles perfectly too, I didn’t really notice anyone who felt out of place here.

The Lego Movie is mostly CGI, but is able to reflect the movements of stop motion extremely well.The first time I saw The Lego Movie I actually thought the whole film was stop motion, that’s how good it is. The animation is very fast paced and is pleasing to the eye to watch. A lot can be happening on screen at once, so every time I watch it I notice something completely new.

The fast paced animation makes The Lego Movie pretty nonstop entertaining. I can’t think of one slow moment in the entire film. The Lego Movie moves along pretty fast, and if you blink you might miss something important.

I have seen this film many times and it keeps getting funnier every time I see it. Perhaps I am just easily amused, but I think The Lego Movie is comedic genius. The personality that the voice actors give the characters adds a lot to the humor. Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson, and Chris Pratt all specifically come to mind as the funniest in the film. The way they can deliver their lines makes what they say all the more comedic.

The climax to the film is something I totally did not see coming. I won’t give anything away for those who have not seen it but it is a very moving scene. It has some laughs, as well as some more touching moments. I loved every bit of the ending and think it was a great way to send our characters off.

The Lego Movie is an enjoyable experience for everyone in the family. I have yet to meet a single person who openly dislikes The Lego Movie. I can’t emphasize enough just how delightful and enjoyable this film is. The animation is great, satire is perfect, and voice acting phenomenal. If you are someone who missed The Lego Movie the first time around, or have ever thought about building a double-decker couch, go watch it.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Sing Review

When I first saw the previews for Sing, all I could think in my mind was ‘Zootopia ripoff’. This was going to be a cheap cash-in off the popularity of Disney’s movie about talking animals just this past year. However I have enjoyed most of Illumination Entertainment’s films so I might as well give it an honest try.

After watching Sing, I unfortunately found that some of my preconceptions had merit.

Sing is all about a Koala named Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), who owns a failing music theater. Broke and at wits end, Buster decides to hold a singing competition for a grand prize of 100,000 dollars. In reality Buster only has about a grand. From here we are introduced to a diverse group of animals (pigs, porcupines, gorillas, etc.) looking to win big in the music business. Will the theater be able to stay open and be successful? Or will it be destined to crash and burn?

First with the bad news. I felt that Sing was definitely a cash in off of Zootopia. In Zootopia, it made sense that all the characters were animals. The movie told a story of racism between animal species and the bias they had against animals they labeled ‘predators’. The filmmakers also cleverly utilized the suburbs of where each animal species lived within the city. In Sing, they’re just animals for no particular reason. This doesn’t necessarily make it bad, it just sets up the film to be uninspired.

Also, this films plot was one of the most predictable plots I’ve seen in a while. I was able to guess exactly where each scene was going and how the movie would end. It took a couple of creative twists and turns but other than that extremely predictable.

The pacing was off too. I think Illumination tried incorporating too many main characters, because there is a lot of needless jumping from character to character. Time is split up so much between them that we don’t get the individual focus we need devoted to each character. Some characters are developed well with distinct personalities, some are left extremely flat.

The humor for this film was a little hit and miss for me. Some of the reoccurring jokes I found more and more hilarious as the film went on. Other attempts at humor I found very forced and embarrassingly bad. The audience in the theater I was with was pretty diverse in age, and they seemed to respond the same way I did to the humor. Sometimes everybody was laughing, other times there was just awkward silence.

The music (a major part of the film) was hit or miss for me as well. I liked the original song a lot written by Stevie Wonder and Ariana Grande. The other pop songs used were okay but I don’t think were integrated very well into the film.

This all being said, I found Sing to be very entertaining. The animation was as good as any other Illumination Entertainment film. The mood was distinctly happy and bright, even at Sing’s saddest moments. Even though the characters were underdeveloped I still found myself invested in them. I wanted these people to succeed and I wanted  to see them happy in the end.

I must also mention my favorite part of Sing, which would be John C. Reilly. He plays this weird and lazy sheep that got me laughing every time he was on screen. The way he enunciated his lines and the way the sheep was animated made for some great comedic material.

If your someone looking for an entertaining story despite its predictable plot, I would check this out. If your a fan of cutesy characters and happy stories, than Sing should be a pretty harmless treat. Overall I think Sing is a movie that many people will love, even though it wasn’t my cup of tea.

-Zachary Flint