The summer box office is the cinematic equivalent to a gladiator battle. Studios put out their best work and compete for millions of audience dollars. It is no different in the animation realm. Over the course of the past few months, we have seen a vast offering of animated releases from both major and minor players. Each studio took their best shot and put out some great movies … and some real stinkers.
On June 8, Finding Dory hit theaters. The sequel to the acclaimed Finding Nemo comes 13 years after the original, with Andrew Stanton returning as director and writer. Viewers were excited, but nervous, to see how the adventure would continue. Luckily, Pixar delivered a solid movie and a worthy successor to the original. The animation is excellent, as one can always expect from Pixar. Meanwhile, the plot delves deep into Dory’s story as she seeks her family. It has a Memento-like feeling as Dory pieces together her past from the characters she runs into and the scattered bits of memory that well up in her mind. The film speaks to parents and caregivers of children with mental handicaps, with an emotional payoff. Now, Finding Dory certainly does have a couple of flaws: A few characters were wholly unnecessary. The conclusion felt drawn out, with a Return of the King-style of “Is this the ending? Nope, there’s more!” feeling. However, most of the new characters felt necessary, and if I have to reach to a story’s pacing to find a transgression then I think it’s a strong film. On the whole, Finding Dory bodes well for the upcoming string of Pixar sequels.
Next: The Secret Life of Pets, released July 8 and the latest installment from Illumination Entertainment. For those unfamiliar, Illumination is most well-known for their first film, Despicable Me, and the minions that have since flooded toy aisles and social media. Secret Life was a test for Illumination: since 2010’s Despicable Me, they have not put out a fully original animated film. Hop was mostly live-action, The Lorax was an adaptation and since then they’ve milked Despicable Me for all it’s worth and more. A lot rode on Secret Life, and … it did alright. It certainly lacks the charm of Illumination’s first movie, it’s not particularly original and sometimes the characters’ actions make little sense. On the whole though, it was energetic and mainly painless to watch. It offered a fair share of fun laughs and on the whole the execution went well. The animation had just the right amount of style. Illumination proved they can hold their own — but they also proved they’re not displacing Disney any time soon.
On July 22, Ice Age: Collision Course hit theaters. If you haven’t been keeping track (and I don’t blame you), bear in mind that this is the fifth Ice Age movie from Blue Sky Studios. This was also the worst animated film to be released this summer by far. The franchise has been steadily declining in quality for some time now and, true to its name, Collision Course hit rock bottom. The charm of the original has been traded for jokes so low-brow that they’ll make a 12-year-old groan. Instead of a compelling plot, we have so many parallel arcs that I have to pause and count them. My current count sits at six, not including the compulsory Scrat filler. Yet, with so much going on, nothing really happens. One arc only gets two scenes — the introduction and conclusion — and has no other screen time; the characters involved in it make no effort to resolve it, and yet it’s solved for them. Many characters are entirely useless and annoying. The physics of the environment make the Looney Tunes seem realistic, and while the animation on the whole is technically well-done, the visuals sometimes delve into the downright horrifying. One character uses poison ivy as a tissue, and the results were so unpleasant to see that I had to look away. With a relatively poor box office performance, we can only hope that this is the end of the franchise.
On Aug. 12, we had a very unusual release: Sausage Party, directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon. While there have been R-rated animated films in the past, we haven’t seen a popular adult CGI film released and produced on this scale. Sausage Party is the brainchild of Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Evan Goldberg, and it shows. Starting from the double entendre title, the movie never lets up with its crass and crude humor. About 90 percent of the gags revolve around the premise of “Haha, cartoon food is cursing and having sex!” Now, it may be my tastes, but I found this flood of vulgarity inherently dull. F-bombs aren’t a magic bullet to inject humor into any situation — unless of course, you are targeting middle schoolers. That being said though, the film was far more enjoyable than I anticipated.
The storyline actually held together and was well-crafted. The animation was nothing special, but it certainly flowed smoothly and got the job done. Most surprisingly, the movie had a critique of religion that went beyond “Religious people are stupid!” The move was not completely intellectual, but it made a couple of valid points that I pondered for a day or two. While I wasn’t won over by the obscene humor, there were some gags that I found clever, including a fourth wall joke at the very end that had me rolling with laughter. In the end, I was shocked to find myself liking the movie more than I disliked it. Please keep in mind that this is coming from someone who detests things like South Park and Family Guy. Certainly it was hard to stomach, but there’s something of value underneath. If you’re keen on political incorrectness, and if lewd food sounds like a hilarious punchline, then by all means Seth Rogen has what you’re looking for. Otherwise, you can pass on this film and not really miss much.
On Aug. 19, Laika Entertainment released Kubo and the Two Strings. Laika is still relatively new to the animation field, and has previously released Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls. They’re well-known for making quality stop-motion films, giving them a unique flair that makes them stand out. And sure enough, I’d declare Kubo the best animated film of the summer. The story focuses on Kubo, a young boy, trying to avoid the grandfather who stole one of his eyes. From there the plot follows a traditional hero’s journey à la Joseph Campbell. Kubo brims with a poetic atmosphere, and the visuals are breathtaking. The plotline is neat and tidy, the characters well-built and the conflict intense and real.
In any case, summer 2016 brought strong performances, major slip-ups and a couple of big surprises. Unfortunately this run-down doesn’t count in The Little Prince, which got a release on Netflix, and which I haven’t had a chance to see yet. Nevertheless, the industry chugs on!
David Gouldthorpe is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Guest Room will appear periodically online and in print throughout the semester. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.