I had a friend the other day say when I like a movie, my metric ranges from “good” to “coma-inducing.” Well let’s just say Disney’s Moana made it hard for me to wake up in time to write this review. Moana follows the story of a young girl on the island of Mata Nui. She’s the daughter of the village chief and will become chief herself someday. But ever since she was young, she has had a deep desire to explore the ocean. The villagers of Mata Nui live in paradise.
A couple months ago, I delivered my thoughts about DreamWorks Animation, a studio that’s grabbed the industry spotlight — not through any smashing successes this year, but because of their recent acquisition. I don’t want to go through that whole rigamarole once more, but some recent developments have grabbed my attention and deserve to be brought to the discussion table. First of all, some good news: Trolls seems to be doing very well in theaters. After two weeks, it’s brought in $226 million worldwide. With a budget of $125 million, it looks like there’s some profit in DreamWorks’ future.
Autumn is perhaps my favorite time of year. The gentle embrace of cool winds push away the harsh heat of summer and herald the coming ice. After late September the night overpowers day, and we spend the majority of our time in shadow for six months. In October we await All Hallows’ Eve, also associated with the Día de Muertos, as a way to connect with the departed and blur their world into ours. In November the trees have nearly shed their leaves, their green replaced with scarlet and gold; the harvests come in, covering fields in their own mosaic of colors set against the earth; and Thanksgiving punctuates the season with a grand feast that brings together family and friends.
I owe DreamWorks Animation an apology. Since February, I have been criticizing its upcoming movie Trolls. Between a strange visual style, a bland-looking synopsis and, worst of all, twerking trolls shouting “YOLO!”, I have not been looking forward to its release, and I still dread the day I have to review it. But I have been consistently framing it as a low point for mainstream American animation. Recently I’ve seen the error of my ways.
In 1951, Walt Disney Pictures released Alice in Wonderland, a tale of absurdity and surrealism that wonderfully demonstrated the unlimited realities that animation can create. In 2010, Walt Disney Pictures released Alice in Wonderland, a live-action film that is kind of a sequel even though it doesn’t follow Through the Looking Glass. It transformed the Mad Hatter into an emotionally tortured Johnny Depp, crammed Alice into a cliched “chosen one” journey and tried to insert politics, war and worst of all real life into a world where fantasy is supposed to dominate. Needless to say, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the 2010 remake, and it currently sits at 5.7/10 on Rotten Tomatoes. Nevertheless, it made enough money to warrant the remake of several Disney animated classics into live-action films. In the past six years, these remakes have included Cinderella, Maleficent and The Jungle Book (note that the 2016 Tarzan movie is not a Disney film, but a Warner Bros.
In an otherwise relatively lackluster year for film, animation has been doing very well for itself. Disney and Pixar put out incredible successes earlier this year, and Laika delivered a lovingly crafted epic tale. And now Warner Animation Group has stepped up to the plate with Storks. Written and directed by Nicholas Stoller, with Doug Sweetland also joining as director, this film is WAG’s second feature production. Their first, The Lego Movie, was a smash hit that frankly blew away my expectations.
One of my favorite animated films of all time is DreamWorks’ The Prince of Egypt, and one of my favorite animated sequences of all time is the opening song “Deliver Us.” Right from the beginning the movie delivers a powerful and visceral experience, adapting one of the most famous Biblical stories in a sincere way that captures its heart and essence. With beautiful music and visuals, it holds a special place in my heart. That’s why it pains me to admit that I have mixed feelings about DreamWorks Animation: I admire a lot of work that they’ve done, and I feel like they’ve impacted the industry in beneficial ways. At the same time, their missteps have been many, and I feel like they’ve been losing their edge for a long time. Given the fact that they’ve been making the news lately, I want to take this time to meditate on DreamWorks and their importance.
The Wild Life, alternately titled Robinson Crusoe, is an animated film coming from Belgium. Illuminata and nWave Pictures produced it, while Studiocanal and Summit Entertainment distributed. As its Belgian title suggests, it’s loosely based off of the classic book Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. I emphasize “loosely.” I must make clear that I’m not opposed to adaptations in principle if they’re done well. Heck, even the old Disney movies, which are infamous for botching up their source material, were at least good films in themselves that also acted as segues for people to experience the real stories later on.
For those not aware, Sausage Party was produced by Nitrogen Studios and released August 12 that made history as the first CGI-animated feature to be rated R. My last column already laid out my thoughts about the movie, and I won’t bore you with spelling them out again. As a brief summary, I liked more than I thought I would… but it’s certainly not the kind of film I would normally watch, and I have no desire to see it again. That being said, I had hopes that the film would end up setting a new standard for the animation industry. Unfortunately, that hope has turned into fear as more details of the production have come out. First, my positive expectations.
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.