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 Emoji Movie: The Death of Creativity

The Emoji Movie takes everything selfish and wrong with our technology-obsessed generation and wears it like a badge. The film, which revolves around smartphone emojis, exists for the sole purpose to appeal to the masses, with zero attempts at creativity made. Films like The Emoji Movie are my least favorite kind of film to watch, ones that indulge in overused tropes and treat the audience like brainless idiots.

The plot is the same boring animated adventure that you see in every sub-par kid’s film nowadays. An emoji named Gene (T.J. Miller) is sad because he is different from all of his colleagues, so he embarks on an adventure to become like everyone else. Along the way, Gene meets a couple other outcasts who show him that it’s okay to be unlike everyone else. From here, I’m sure you can easily deduce how the rest of The Emoji Movie plays out.

Rather than crafting well-timed jokes that fit into the plot, The Emoji Movie instead hits the audience with a never-ending barrage of one-off puns. Painfully bad emoji-related jokes that are fired in rapid succession throughout most of the flick. Within the first five minutes there were at least twenty emoji puns associated with Shrimp, Christmas trees, and yes, even poop.

Everything about The Emoji Movie is an animated atrocity. It’s unoriginal, uninspired, mediocre, boring, manipulative, and downright asinine. The few clever ideas that the film displays are blatantly stolen from movies like Wreck-it Ralph and Inside Out, which are both more intelligent, entertaining, and heartwarming to watch. With nonexistent characterization and absolutely no laughs, The Emoji Movie is a cynical, trendy product that I took no pleasure in viewing.

The Verdict: F

-Zachary Flint

Despicable Me 3 Review

The Despicable Me series returns with its fourth, and regrettably most tired, film in the franchise. Full of hackneyed protagonists and uneven writing, Despicable Me 3 struggles to rise above mediocrity.

The film takes place shortly after the events of the previous installment, as we see Gru (Steve Carell) and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) attempt to foil the evil plot of Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker). Upon failing this mission, Gru and Lucy are fired from their jobs at the Anti-Villain league. So instead of reverting back to a life of villainy, Gru decides to travel to the island of Freedonia to meet his long lost brother named Dru (who is also voiced by Steve Carell). After a somewhat rocky reunion, the two brothers embark on a mission together to take down an all new supervillain.

The plot itself is, overall, pretty predictable and typical for an animated movie this far along in its franchise. With no curveballs or deviations from a standard kid’s movie plot, I believe most adults and children could easily predict the entirety of this film.

The villain this time around, again named Balthazar Bratt, is a rather bizarre character stuck in eighties culture. Bratt enjoys playing cheesy music, using eighties themed gadgets (like deadly Rubik’s Cubes), and participating in dance fights, all of which is to the delight of the audience. Being voiced by Trey Parker (creator of the show South Park), his character gets a lot of laughs from his line deliveries alone. I think it’s safe to say that Trey Parker voicing Bratt was my favorite part of the whole film, and is easily the most memorable.

The rest of the cast, particularly the Minions, are sadly at their most tired in this flick. The humor involving the Minions just isn’t where it should be, and manages to be more annoying that it is funny. Scenes that should’ve been hilarious received almost no reaction from the audience.

The conclusion of the film, while fairly action-packed and engaging, leaves multiple loose ends that don’t really get addressed. Situations and characters that are clearly set up as important in the first half of the film are completely disregarded by the end. This leaves me to assume that either Illumination Entertainment forgot to add in a few scenes, or just got lazy.

Despicable Me 3 is lighthearted, upbeat, and will of course be adored by its usual fan base. So while the film is relatively harmless, its entertainment value is really only skin-deep, as the true purpose behind the production of these films feels as prevalent and cynical as ever. The creative aspects of Despicable Me 3 come across as “focus group approved” gimmicks. Utilizing by the numbers thinking as a cheap way to get viewers into the theater, instead of genuinely entertaining audiences with new, original material.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint

Cars 3 Review

In the past, I’ve made it no secret that I highly dislike Disney Pixar’s Cars and Cars 2. While most people either find the films passable or okay, I cannot stand watching even a second of them. Coming from the creative giant Pixar, we should’ve gotten a film much more imaginative and unique than something like Cars, which looks more like an idea Blue Sky Animation would conjure up. The first film is an unoriginal mess, with an all too predictable plot and lame characters. Unfortunately for audiences, Cars 2 was even worse, with an incredibly bizarre plot involving spies. So, when going in to see Cars 3, I had already established some pretty low expectations for what I was about to watch.

And to my honest amazement, I thought the film turned out pretty great. Not only did Pixar course correct some of the issues of past films, they managed to make an all-around quality movie people of all ages can enjoy.

The film follows the fleeting racing career of Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), as a new generation of advanced racers begin replacing cars like himself. In a last ditch effort to continue racing, Lightning looks to his new coach named Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) for help. And despite a rocky start, the two embark on a journey of self-discovery, learning a lot about themselves and each other.

Our main cast gets another major update for this picture, and this time for the better. All the characters, new and old, are written much stronger, with a lot more personality. Not only does Lightning McQueen get a fulfilling story arch, but Cruz Ramirez and a few other minor characters get good payoffs too. This time around I actually found myself invested in the story and the protagonists, and I wanted to see our characters succeed in their endeavors.

In the previous Cars films, most of the camera angles and shots are boring, with little variety. Cars 3 on the other hand does a complete one-eighty, constantly shaking things up with great new angles that really captured the excitement of the movie well.

The camerawork is complimented nicely by the fast-paced, crisp animation, making Cars 3 much more visually appealing than its previous installments.

The only major downside to the film is the villain, who is just your standard one dimensional bad guy with no redeeming qualities. I feel that with how strong the morals are in Cars 3, they could’ve had a better antagonist that really hit the messages home. Instead, we just get a young, generic hot-shot who occasionally hurls insults at McQueen.

While I believe the Cars movies are among Pixar’s worst, I’m happy to say that Cars 3 is a real winner. There are some fun characters, an exciting story that moves along quickly, and even a really good message about aging. Cars 3 doesn’t break new ground in any sense of the word, and it stills has its issues. However, it does excel at being a fast-paced, family-friendly adventure that is infinitely more enjoyable than its previous two installments.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint

Captain Underpants Review

DreamWorks has never been the company to stray away from a strange idea, hence their most recent major release, Captain Underpants.

Based on the book by the same name, the film follows the story of two mischievous elementary school kids named George Beard (Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch), who spend hours a day writing comic books together. Sadly, George and Harold go to an authoritarian elementary school, where their mean Principal named Benjamin Krupp (Ed Helms) wants to separate the boys into different classrooms. In a last ditch effort to save their friendship from certain demise, George and Harold hypnotize their Principal, turning Mr. Krupp into one of the boys’ comic book characters, a superhero named Captain Underpants. Now it is up to George and Harold to keep the kindhearted but dimwitted Captain Underpants under control, as he attempts to fight crime with no actual powers.

Captain Underpants is one of the most diversely animated films I’ve seen in the past few years. Sprinkled throughout its runtime, Captain Underpants utilizes countless styles of animation to help tell its story. This works extremely well, as the visuals are always delightful to look at and will be able to keep most people engaged in the story.

The majority of the film is animated using a style similar to Mr. Peabody & Sherman and The Peanuts Movie, both exceptionally good flicks. This form of animation fits nicely for Captain Underpants too, using bright colors and smooth images to make everything really pop.

Films like Captain Underpants are why I admire and respect DreamWorks more than any other animation company working today. They’re willing to take a risk on an idea that may ultimately blow up in their face. They think outside the box and go with concepts most companies wouldn’t dare dabble with. This is very different compared to a company like Pixar, who makes high quality films, but time and time again plays it safe with stories they know will be a big hit.

So was Captain Underpants high art? No. But it was entertaining, and did its source material a great justice. Captain Underpants has some funny gags and humorously written characters, and will mostly appeal to the goofy middle schooler demographic. Fans of the book are sure to love every bit of the film, and I think that’s what DreamWorks was going for here.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

The Muppets Review

Everyone’s favorite puppets make a triumphant return with this clever and inspired reboot.

The story revolves around not one of our usual Muppet pals, but a new character named Walter, created just for this film. Walter has a human brother named Gary (Jason Segel), whose taking his long time girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) on a vacation to Los Angeles. Walter being a huge fan of The Muppets, Gary decides to invite his brother along on his vacation so that he may visit Muppet Studios. Upon arrival to the studio, Walter discovers that The Muppets have long since disbanded due to low popularity, everyone going their separate ways. Not only that, Walter also unveils an evil plot to destroy the studio. Determined not to let the studio be destroyed, Walter meets up with Kermit the Frog, and together they decide to reunite the gang and put on one last show.

The Muppets is probably one of the most self-aware films I have ever had the chance to see. On many occasions, the characters make reference to how they’re explaining an important plot point, or how they might be boring the audience. I’m usually not a huge fan of this self-referential style of humor, perhaps because it isn’t utilized well in modern cinema. However, in the case of The Muppets, they specialize in this sort of thing.

Staying true to The Muppets usual comedic antics, the film uses lots of slapstick and self-aware puns. The Muppets excel at making you chuckle at even the most lame of jokes and ideas. I constantly laughed throughout the entire film, probably more than most children would.

The villain of the film, an oil baron named Tex Richman, is so hilariously clichéd that I couldn’t help but love him. Just from analyzing his name, you can tell how over-the-top sinister and ruthless he is going to be. There is even a really funny scene where he coaxes his evil partners into chuckling by chanting the phrase “maniacal laugh”.

The filmmakers clearly knew exactly what direction this reboot needed to take. The entire film poked fun at the concept of how The Muppets are no longer popular, and are seen as something of the past. This is a very clever and surprising route for the film to take, one that certainly benefited them in the long haul.

The amazing thing about The Muppets is how timeless they remain. Parents, kids, just about anyone, can enjoy this reboot of the beloved classic. I had a lot of fun with this film, and laughed the whole way through. Not only do we get reintroduced to all our favorite Muppets, but we get new and well written characters added to the roster.

This film serves as a perfect tribute to previous films of The Muppets, and also stands on its own as a unique installment to the series. It’s creative, comical, and full of corny music that anyone can enjoy.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Born in China Review

This most recent installment of the Disneynature documentary series, titled Born in China, was directed by Lu Chuan and narrated by John Krasinski (The Office).

Born in China follows the interesting lives of various animals native to China. These animals include a Panda named Ya Ya, a Snow Leopard named Dawa, and a Monkey named Tao Tao. We the audience get taken on an adventure to see these animals at their highest, and lowest moments in life.

I was surprised at how well Born in China was able to tell a cohesive narrative with these animals. It seems that all the cards fell perfectly into place for the filmmakers, as these animals all live incredibly fascinating lives. They dealt with matters pertaining to family, growing up, death, and the struggle for survival. Overall, everything in the film flowed very well, and kept my attention easily.

Dealing with animals that live in remote parts of China, Born in China served as a good learning tool for the audience. We learn about the vast open landscapes of China, as well as the harsh realities that nature has in store. Having limited knowledge about these animals, I really enjoyed the educational aspect of the documentary.

There were occasional line deliveries from the narrator that came off as awkward and completely unnecessary. At times where we should’ve been just observing the animals interacting with one another, we had to listen to ignorant comments made by the narrator. These comments were cute once in a while, but for the most part just annoying.

Despite the issues in the narration, Born in China remains an atmospheric and educational little documentary. Just like the other Disneynature films, it was entrancing to watch and delightful to experience.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint