Trolls

November 4, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel
Directed by: Walt Dohrn (debut) and Mike Mitchell (“Shrek Forever After”)
Written by: Jonathan Aibel (“Kung Fu Panda”) and Glenn Berger (“Kung Fu Panda”)

Nothing says migraine-inducing entertainment like a neon-tinted animated musical voiced by the likes of Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake and Zooey Deschanel and co-directed by the guy that made “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.” Someone stab my eardrums with a broche, am I right?

Surprisingly, you’d be wrong. While there are a few moments that will probably be slightly irritating for anyone above the age of six, “Trolls” is a barrel-full of rainbows and sunshine and candy-corn flavored happiness. In other words, it’s pretty darn amusing (and, moreover, it doesn’t feature the voice of Jim Parsons, which is always a positive).

In “Trolls,” which is based off of the collectible plastic toy with Don King-like hair, the always-cheerful creatures are living a fulfilling life of singing, dancing and hugging. When an evil Bergen, which oddly looks like a Boxtroll from the 2014 animate film, finds their hidden village, she scoops up a handful of the trolls and takes the home for the Bergens’ annual festival where they feast on the half-pints (the only time a Bergen feels happiness). It’s up to peppy troll Poppy (Anna Kendrick), sullen troll Branch (Justin Timberlake), and some other less important trolls (the sparkly silver one speaks with an auto-tuned voice!) to rescue their friends before they end up as appetizers.

What “Trolls” has going for it is its cleverly placed musical interludes and dance choreography. Young audiences haven’t really been given a true animated musical since “Frozen” in 2013, so it’s exciting to get a movie that captures some of the delightful aspects of the genre. From songs like Timberlake’s “Cant’ Stop the Feeling!” to Lionel Richie’s “Hello” to even Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” the soundtrack is curated to perfection.

With a colorful and vibrant look and some interesting characters that are almost Dr. Seussian, “Trolls” isn’t going to top the likes of the best animations this year, but it’s easily one of the most fun.

Kung Fu Panda 3

January 29, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons
Directed by: Jennifer Yuh (“Kung Fu Panda 2”) and Alessandro Carloni (debut)
Written by: Jonathan Aibel (“Kung Fu Panda 2”) and Glenn Berger (“Kung Fun Panda 2”)

How do you make the third installment of an animated panda bear series even more adorable than the first two movies? Add a handful of fat baby pandas to the mix and give them plenty of dumplings to devour. Such is the case with “Kung Fu Panda 3” as hero panda Po (Jack Black) teams up once again with the Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross) – to defeat an evil villain set to run amok across China.

While the aforementioned cast does another fantastic job with their voice work, specifically Black as the clumsy leader whose on the job training as the Dragon Warrior is working out pretty well, it’s the new talent brought onto this sequel that really makes it memorable. This includes recent Oscar-nominated actor Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”) as Li, Po’s long lost biological father who finds Po and returns him to his panda roots, and Oscar winner J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”) as Kai, a villainous bull set on stealing the life force (“chi”) of anyone who gets in his way. Also, keep your eye out for the scene-stealing and hilarious Mei Mei (Kate Hudson), a female ribbon dancing panda bear who takes quite a liking to a less-than-interested Po.

The narrative is warm and light enough in “Kung Fu Panda 3,” although much of the story isn’t what anyone would really consider original. What still stands out, however, is the incredible animation DreamWorks has been able to create with this franchise. The world of “Kung Fu Panda” is even more visually striking than it was when the original film hit theaters in 2008. The animation studio’s perfect combination of computer generated and 2-D work is brilliant and each character, old and new, feels fresh and exceptionally vibrant. Some of the most impressive animated scenes, much like in the last two movies, take place when animators slow down the action right in the middle of a fast-paced fight sequence so audiences can see the finer points of the battle – the splintering of a wooden pole that just got punched or someone getting a roundhouse kick to the jaw.

An overall comparison between “Kung Fun Panda 3” and its predecessors would leave this recent animated movie lagging behind in storytelling, although the father/son messaging is pleasant enough, but there’s no denying DreamWorks is making a stand against powerhouses like Pixar and Disney. Just as long as they can stop producing schlock like last year’s ill conceived “Home,” DreamWorks will still be in the conversation when the big players are mentioned.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water

February 6, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom Kenny, Antonio Banderas, Bill Fagerbakke
Directed by: Paul Tibbitt (TV’s “SpongeBob Squarepants”)
Antonio Banderas: Glenn Berger (“Kung Fu Panda”) and Jonathan Aibel (“Kung Fu Panda”)

Making its second coming to the big screen after 2004’s “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie,” diehard fans of the long-running Nickelodeon animated TV series should be happy to see everything is working just about the same in “Sponge Out of Water,” a trippy and extremely silly adventure with a cast of characters one could only imagine were invented while dropping acid. Is it more insanely manic than first movie? Well, if over the last 11 years you’ve been able to scrape the image of a porous sponge and pink starfish riding on the shirtless back of David Hasselhoff in the ocean before he launches them like a torpedo from the center of his overly tanned pectorals , then, yes, it just might be crazier.

In this new journey under the sea, SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) must team up with the series bad guy Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) when Bikini Bottom finds itself in short supply of Krabby Patties, the delectable crabcake burger served at SpongeBob’s place of employment, the Krusty Krab. Things get apocalyptic (think “Mad Max”) when the secret formula for the Krabby Patty mysteriously vanishes sending SpongeBob, Plankton, and the rest of Bikini Bottom’s main players (Patrick, Squidward, Mr. Krabs, and Sandy) into a frenzy to get it back. This includes building a time machine and meeting an all-powerful dolphin that oversees the universe and shoots lasers out of its blowhole.

The live-action sequences of “Sponge Out of Water” don’t come until the third act of the film when the animated friends end up in the real world, this time a little more beefed up and ready to battle it out with Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas, who is also the film’s narrator), a pirate who has the secret formula in his greedy mitts. As Beard, Banderas is a hoot. It’s the type of exaggerated role he is obviously having fun with just like he did mugging for the camera in “Expendables 3.” This time, however, he can share in that childlike enjoyment while on screen with a washed-onto-shore sponge instead of a crew of washed-up action stars.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel

January 26, 2010 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Zachary Levi, David Cross, Jason Lee
Directed by: Betty Thomas (“John Tucker Must Die”)
Written by: Jon Vitti (“Alvin and the Chipmunks”), Jonathan Aibel (“Monsters Vs. Aliens”), Glenn Berger (“Monsters Vs. Aliens”)

Someone must’ve forgotten to tell 20th Century Fox just how terrible the 2007 original film really was. Someone at 20th Century Fox might’ve actually listened if the original didn’t reel in over $217 million at the box office. A film like “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” supports two theories about Hollywood: the mighty dollar is the old thing in the industry that matters sometimes and studios realize that good family entertainment is hard to find at the theater so packaging a few animated characters together and calling it a movie is a sure-fire way to lure in an audience full of five-year-olds. I didn’t think anything could be as annoying in 2009 as the gerbils in “G-Force,” but apparently the “Chipmunks” wanted to prove me wrong.

Monsters vs. Aliens

March 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie
Directed by: Rob Letterman (“Shark Tale”) and Conrad Vernon (“Shrek 2”)
Written by: Maya Forbes (“The Rocker”), Wallace Wolodarsky (“The Rocker”), Rob Letterman (“Shark Tale”), Jonathan Aibel (“Kung Fu Panda”), Glenn Berger (“Kung Fu Panda”) 

As 3-D technology becomes more and more visually satisfying with each retina it deceives, screenwriters are still kicking up dust trying to keep up.

I’m not talking about gimmicky offerings like the “Hannah Montana” concert movie or “My Bloody Valentine in 3-D,” which were a waste of perfectly good pairs of custom shades. Instead, it’s the animated family film that has been getting majorly digitized over the last couple of years. The latest of the bunch, “Monsters vs. Aliens,” is reasonably elaborate but falls under the same rating system all 3-D films should be judged. Ask yourself this: If you take away the 3-D graphics, can the movie carry itself on its own?

While “MvA” doesn’t fail as terribly as other recent 3-D animations like “Chicken Little” or “Fly Me to the Moon,” there’s quite a bit lacking in original ideas and overall story to make it anywhere close to out of this world. Think of this as a less-interesting version of what Guillermo del Toro was probably dreaming of when he was in pre-K.

In “MvA,” human existence as we know it is threatened by a ruthless alien named Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson), who plans to take over the globe with countless clones. To defeat Gallaxhar, the U.S. government recruits a band of monsters they have imprisoned over the years and sends them out as Earth’s last hope. The group is led by Susan AKA Ginormica (Reese Witherspoon), the newest of the monster clan who is transformed from a mild-mannered bride-to-be to a woman the size of a skyscraper.

Coming along for the epic battle: Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), the Missing Link (Will Arnett), and last but definitely not least B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), a one-eyed shapeless mass of blue goop who, along with the voice work of Stephen Colbert as the U.S. President, keep the laughs from dying out altogether.

Taking classic films like “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman,” “The Blob,” “Frankenstein,” and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” and churning them out for kids who thought Pixar’s “Monster’s Inc.” was scary, “MvA” is harmless fantasy sci-fi with a few attention-grabbing graphics wasted on some joyless (excluding B.O.B.) characters.

Kung Fu Panda

June 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: (voices of) Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman
Directed by: Mark Osborne (TV’s “SpongeBob Squarepants”) and John Stevenson (TV’s “Father of the Pride”)
Written by: Jonathan Aibel (TV’s “King of the Hill”) and Glenn Berger (TV’s “King of the Hill”)

Let’s not kid ourselves when it comes to recognizing the leader in animated feature films. Although Japanese anime like “Spirited Away,” has been a strong contender for the last few years, very few others can hold their own against Pixar Animation (DreamWorks Animation with their “Shrek” trilogy would beg to differ).

Since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences created a category to honor animated features in 2002, Pixar has won three out of the seven years and been nominated a total of five times (“Monster Inc.” and “Cars” failed to win during their respected years against “Shrek” and “Happy Feet”).

Leave it up to DreamWorks to revisit the fat, loveable character-driven underdog story to return them to grace after not so great showings with “Bee Movie” and “Shrek the Third.” In “Kung Fu Panda,” the animation company proves that Pixar doesn’t have a monopoly on the industry (even though deep down they are all really scared about how groundbreaking “WALL-E” might be later this year).

“Kung Fu Panda” tells the story of a lazy panda bear named Po (Jack Black) who would rather learn the secrets of his favorite kung fu masters than sell noodles with his loosey-goosey father.

Po gets his chance when Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), a wise, old tortoise choose him to fulfill an ancient prophecy over a group of real animal warriors known as the Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogan), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross). This happens much to the chagrin of their kung fu master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) who doesn’t understand why Oogway has chosen Po to protect them.

With the evil snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane) looking for revenge against the village, there is no time to waste training a fat, uncoordinated panda bear to fight a vengeful kung fu expert. Or is there?

The great work with “Kung Fu Panda” starts where it should with perfectly cast voice work by Black, Hoffman, and Kim. The humor ranges from flavorful jokes for adults and silly slapstick humor that doesn’t go overboard for kids. To top it off, animators pay special attention to the action and fighting sequences, which are high on energy and detail (the slow-motion animation is especially brilliant). “Kung Fu Panda” is a smart and funny homage to martial arts classics of the past and is the best animated feature so far this year and Po is definitely a character you can cheer for.