Frozen

The story of the Canadian folk hero, a moose, and his best friend the snowman

The story of the Canadian folk hero, a moose, and his best friend the snowman

Frozen, the new Disney film based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, has been garnering rave reviews everywhere it goes and, to be honest, I’m struggling to see why. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it – it’s a perfectly entertaining film. It rattles along, has some laughs along the way, and has some strong female characters at the centre of it who don’t need to be validated by a man. It’s fine. It’s good fun. But nothing more. It’s not up there in the pantheon of great animated kids movies. For me, it’s a little behind Tangled, the 2010 retelling of Rapunzel, but it doesn’t get up there with the great films Pixar have produced (even if their standard has dropped the past couple of years) or the best of Disney from the past.

Still good fun though. Worth a watch.

B

Film length: 1hr 42mins – Feels Like: 1hr 50mins

Monsters University

It's like Animal House! For Kids!

It’s like Animal House! For Kids!

Monsters, Inc. is one of the most beloved Pixar animation films, but it is a long time since it came out. Twelve years, in fact. Pixar have shown they can do sequels to their standout films, with Toy Story 2 and 3 being excellent extensions of an already pretty brilliant movie, but in returning to the world of Mike & Sully, they’ve made a mistake.

Instead of taking the characters forward, Pixar have decided to head back in time to let the audience discover how Mike & Sully became the team we all know and love, but in doing so they have removed a key plank upon which the original film was based – the fun and joy of their repartee and banter. Instead the movie turns into a fairly cliched story of a bunch of rejects having to upset the odds with a lot of standard college type jokes, though toned down for the younger audience. I worry, though, that some/much of the college-based humour might be lost on the younger audience who have little or no knowledge of colleges.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, the film is fine. It entertains while it’s around but it doesn’t stick with you. You don’t walk out of the cinema grinning like you did after seeing Monsters, Inc. for the first time. It’s a thorough disappointment that drags in some places in the first half, before picking up a little in the second. It’s difficult to tell whether it is the weight of expectation that does for it or if the film is genuinely this average and bland, and I think it’s probably a little of both. At the end of the day it’s Direct to DVD quality and nothing more.

C-

Length: 1hr 43 minutes – Feels like: 1hr 50 minutes

Despicable Me 2

DESPICABLE-ME-2

My friends and I have a long standing joke (pilfered from elsewhere) about not seeing sequels if we’ve not seen the originals for fear of not understanding the film. It is always applied to ridiculous fare such as the Fast & Furious movies where no historic knowledge is necessary. I know, what a witty bunch we are. That brings me to Despicable Me 2. I had not seen the original, but that didn’t seem like an issue, especially after hearing a couple of glowing reviews. However, in retrospect, I think it might have a problem. Not with understanding the story – that was fine – but in terms of love and respect for the characters. Part of the journey of the film for me was learning why I should care about Gru (Steve Carell), his three adoptive daughters and the masses of yellow minions (who are styled on the insides of Kinder Eggs, so it seems), while everyone else was already well briefed on that side of things so could settle down and enjoy. And enjoy it I ultimately did, though not to the degree I had hoped I might.

The story finds Gru recruited by the Anti-Villain League (AVL) to hunt down a villain who has stolen a mutagen, which mutates living organisms into evil, aggressive monsters, as well as taking the laboratory where the mutagen was developed. The AVL has tracked down traces of the mutagen to a shopping mall and sends Gru in alongside an AVL agent, Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig).

The story is all pretty simple and straghtforward, pulling no surprises but being told in an amusing enough manner, but it’s really only the end sequence that elevates the film out of the middle ground of ‘a pleasant way to pass the time’ and towards the upper echelon of animated movies, of which there have been so many excellent examples in the last 20 years. Ultimately, Despicable Me 2 doesn’t have the depth of many of the Pixar films and with it, it loses some of the adult appeal, but you can pretty much guarantee it will be a sure-fire favourite with the younger members of the audience.

B

Wreck-It Ralph

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Ralph

A very quick review here – something you may have to get used to. They can’t all be 2,000 word essays like the Django one after all. I can hear you say woohoo.

Anyway, brief outline. Wreck-It Ralph is a Disney computer animated film produced by John Lassiter. However, it’s not a Pixar film, which is a bit strange. Pixar is clearly where the comparisons are going to lie, and specifically Toy Story.

Where Toy Story focused on the inner life of Toys when you shut the bedroom door, here we’re dealing with the secret lives on videogame characters (or, more particularly, arcade machines). The world is populated with a mixture of genuine VG characters (Rui and Ken from Street Fighter, Sonic, a ghost from Pacman all make an appearance) and those invented for the film – in the same way that Toy Story had real and invented toys. Our focus is Wreck-It Ralph (if you hadn’t guessed) – the bad guy form the 30 year old arcade favourite Fix-It Felix (invented for the film, lest you be confused).

[Sorry all for all the parentheses there]

Ralph has grown tired of being treated as a bad guy when he’s “off-stage” as well as in the game itself. Like a traffic warden, he’s just doing his job. Or to put it in the terms of the film:

Just because you’re the bad-guy, doesn’t mean you’re a bad guy.

When Ralph is left out of the celebrations of the game’s 30th anniversary he runs off on a quest to gain a medal in another game to prove he can be a hero too. He’s adventure takes him first to a Call Of Duty-style first person shooter (“Hero’s Duty”) and then to a Sugar Rush, a candy-themed racing game where he meets Vanellope von Schweetz a glitching character who wants to take part in just one race.

It’s a thoroughly entertaining film, good fun throughout, and will no doubt be enjoyed by both kids and the adults who take them (or, like me, go without any). There are plenty of in-jokes for gamers to enjoy, but nothing too nerdy to put off people who don’t play games.

However, the real question is where does it stand against Pixar? That’s always going to be the question with any computer animation. Last year Pixar couldn’t live up to their own billing with the good-but-not-great Brave, but it’s not like any other computer animation stood up to take the top spot. Wreck-It Ralph is a better film than Brave, if only because it doesn’t have a jarring plot twist halfway through, but it suffers by way of comparison to the upper echelon of Pixar classics – the Toy Stories, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Wall-E. That’s not necessarily because it’s story isn’t as fun and engrossing, but it lacks the depth of those films. Where the Toy Story films have a variety of things to say about growing up and about our relationships with our families, Wreck-It Ralph is what it is, no more, no less.

Great fun, but not quite great.

8/10 (4 stars)