The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

Was I the only one who was excited when this movie was announced? Sometimes I really feel like I was. I guess, in a lot of ways, it makes sense. In the US, this movie actually had a lot going against it.

1) it is based on a comic that is insanely popular…. In Europe.

2) it was motion capture, which, I do admit, looks a bit creepy (they look like people but not? Why not just CGI it!) and

3) I actually feel like the name probably kept a lot of people away from it in the US (the secret of the unicorn? What boy is going to want to go to that?).** The only thing in the US this movie had going for it? Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson were attached. Seriously. That’s it. 

 This movie, as expected, did insanely well overseas. Here in America, not so much, for the reasons listed above. I’m just happy it did well enough that it’s going to get a sequel. Because it’s good. It’s like indiana jones for kids. It’s still wonderful for adults. 

 So I’m going to assume most people reading this haven’t seen this movie, and they have also no idea what Tintin is or its influence on Europe. Let’s start with a little history lesson, shall we?

 The Adventures of Tintin or Les Adventures de Tintin was a series of comic albums drawn and written by a belgian cartoonist named Hergé, and star a belgian reporter named Tintin as he works to solve mysteries. When Tintin was created, Hergé worked for a relatively fascist, right-wing catholic Journal called Le XXe Siecle, in which he was put in charge of the children’s component, Le Petit Vingtieme. He invented Tintin, which started as a way to push propaganda to the Soviet children. In his early years there were some very questionable subjects (including the now deemed racist Tintin in the Congo). 

 During World War II, Hergé could not return to his previous job and found one at Belgium’s most popular newspaper, Le Soir. At this time it was run by German troops and so Tintin became less political and focused more on Tintin as an explorer. After the war, he was invited to write and publish Tintin adventures under his own magazine, Le Journal de Tintin. Here Tintin stayed, and Hergé produced Tintin comics up until his death in 1983.

 Tintin has been translated into 70 different languages and his adventures have sold more than 200 million copies. It is simply one of the most popular comics in Europe for the 20th century. 

 There we go. There’s history. So how in the world do I know about Tintin? You can blame my freshman year french teacher in high school. He was actually from france, and he had us read the comics in french. In fact, that’s pretty much all we read. So yes. That is how I know Tintin. And that is why I was excited when the movie came out.

 So what’s the movie about? It really is a good introduction to the characters, and is actually a mix between a few of the Tintin comics: The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941), The Secret of the Unicorn (1943), and Red Rackham’s Treasure (1944). 

 The movie starts with Tintin buying a model of a ship, the Unicorn, from a dealer on the street. After a man named Ivan Sakharine tries to buy it off of him, and another man telling him he doesn’t want to buy the ship, that only bad things will happen, he returns home, curious as to why someone would say that. His dog, Snowy, gets in a fight with a cat and breaks the ship’s mast, causing a small vial to fall out and roll behind a dresser. Snowy sees, but Tintin doesn’t. Anyway, a few more things happen, and Tintin comes back to his flat to see the ship was stolen. He then finds the vial and opens it, revealing a small old piece of paper with part of a message written on it. He visits Sakharine, where he finds another ship just like his, although this mast isn’t broken. Apparently there are 3 of these ships floating around.

 

Eventually Tintin gets captured and brought on board a cargo ship, where he breaks out and meets the ship’s captain, Captain Haddock, who has been locked in his quarters. He’s a drunkard and keeps shouting “mutiny,” but eventually he and Tintin break free and find where the ship is headed and who is behind the mutiny (hint: It’s Sakharine!). They escape and in a few random turns of events, find their way to Morocco where Haddock sobers up enough to remember about his ancestor, Sir Francis Haddock, the captain of the Unicorn. He was a pirate who lost the ship in a fight to another pirate named Red Rackham. It sank, along with all his treasure. Finally, we know what Sakharine is after and what the notes on the vials mean: it’s a way to the treasure of the Unicorn.

 The third and final piece of the puzzle is where Sakharine was headed. The third ship is owned by a Moroccan, and through a pretty amazing scene, he manages to get the third vial. Tintin, Haddock, and he fight to get the three scrolls. However Sakharine gets all three, and Tintin wants to give up until Haddock persuades him to continue. 

 I’m not going to give away the last scene, because it has a few twists that are worth watching. Let’s just say that it’s a kids movie, so you can guess how things end. But I must admit it’s pretty intense.

 Ok. So let’s talk about the good things. For a first movie, this was really well put together. Although it is an amalgamation of three different adventures, you’d never know it unless you looked it up or were a fan of the comics (or the short lived tv series in 91-92 for that matter). It’s well done, and it honestly doesn’t feel like there’s too much going on that you can’t follow.

 Tintin and Snowy are also great. Jamie Bell (the kid from Billy Elliot) provides a good voice for our hero. It’s an upbeat, excited voice for an upbeat, excited character. Tintin himself is a great character. There’s a reason he was so popular. Take Indiana Jones and make him younger and make him a reporter instead of an archeologist, and you have Tintin. He’s excited about what he does, can’t wait to get to the next story. He’s insanely smart and resourceful, but not overly serious. He’s also not a clown. He’s super nice. Then there’s his dog, Snowy. He’s some type of white terrier, and snowy is awesome. He’s like a lot of other sidekicks in these types of situations who never talks: he knows what’s going on sometimes before the other characters. He’s super loyal and willing to get into anything to save his person. He’s brave and smart. Snowy’s just awesome.

 Captain Haddock is a bit entertaining. I’ll be honest, as a fan of the comics, I forgot he started off as this insanely blubbering drunk. Throughout the comics, he changes into a competent friend of Tintin. But this is the beginning, and I must say, he IS entertaining, but it’s almost hard to watch. They portrayed him being a drunkard so well. Maybe it’s just because I know what he becomes, but he wasn’t my favorite character. He’s well done, and he does have a few funny lines and scenes, but mostly he was a bumbling idiot that Tintin could have done without.

 I didn’t mention them in the synopsis, but we are introduced to Thompson and Thomson, two detectives who often work with Tintin. They are insanely incompetent and look like twins, although they are not, and their names are spelled differently (in french it’s Dupont et Dupond.) They offer more legitimate laughs than Haddock does in my opinion, just because they are so scatterbrained. It’s a good intro to them, and I’m excited to see how they’re going to be involved in the next adventure.

 The last character I’m going to talk about is the Villain, Sakharine. As villains go he’s… ok. His evilness definitely ramps up as the movie goes along, and I believe this was done on purpose. In the end he becomes the villain I almost wanted to see during the whole movie: insane, maniacal, completely irrational. I wanted more of that. Because it was awesome.

 The only problems I really had with this movie was that it ran a bit slow, and the Motion Capture took a little while to get used to. If you have young kids, they probably wouldn’t sit through some parts of this movie. While it does have a ton of action and humor, there are some dramatic moments that are a bit dragging. Again, that may actually be the difference between European movies and American ones. I find that a lot of british movies move more slowly. It takes some getting used to. It’s not boom boom boom. At the same time, that’s refreshing. Just be forewarned.

 About the MoCap. It does look a bit strange at the beginning, and you have to get used to it. I’ve seen the movie now probably 4 or 5 times, and it still takes me a while to get used to it. It’s so different from regular CGI, but it does look cool. They did do a good job on the character designs (they honestly look exactly how Tintin et al would look if they were real) but that’s what I wonder about. Should they have just gone full CGI and made it look like a cartoon? Part of me thinks yes, instead of going hyper-realistic. I don’t know. It’s not a distraction, but it does take a bit of time to get used to.

 A few more notes that don’t warrant a full paragraph:

  • I said that this is a good intro. It is, but I would suggest that you should go watch some of the tv show (it’s on netflix!) or read the comics to full appreciate these characters. Tintin, Snowy, and the Twins are already well established.
  • The opening credits are really fun. It reminded me of Catch me if you Can, another great Spielberg movie.
  • I know this was shown in 3D, but I refuse to see any movie in 3D. That being said, the camera movement in this movie is INCREDIBLE. Seriously. It probably would have been twice as good in 3D, but as it is it’s amazing.
  • This is Nickelodeon’s highest grossing picture. I didn’t know they still made movies.

 One more thing. I noticed this when I watched the opening credits and I pretty much screamed. MOFFAT!!!! You must forgive me. As I mentioned in the Coraline review, I am a MAJOR Whovian. If you don’t know what Doctor Who is, just skip this paragraph. Because I’m going to go majorly off topic. Steven Moffat, the head writer of the immensely popular British TV show Doctor Who, was a writer for this movie. He actually LEFT this movie because he got the head writer job in 2010. I know he can be splitting, but I adore him and I’m glad he did. Ok I’m done.

 To wrap up, I would suggest Tintin for anyone who enjoys movies like Indiana Jones or other family friendly detective/adventure movies. There’s a reason this guy is immensely popular in Europe, and I’m sad this only got 77M in the U.S. It deserves more. It is perfect? No, not by a long shot. But it’s good. It’s fun, and it’s worth watching just once.

 I give The Adventures of Tintin (2011) 3.25 out of 5.

 Next up: Antz (1998). That’s right folks, we’re in Dreamworks country!

 

 ** edit: apparently it actually is only called “The Adventures of Tintin.” I could swear it was called “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.” Maybe it was in development or something. This was a good change, seeing as anything with the mention of a Unicorn would keep boys away like the plague

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The Iron Giant (1999)

“I am not a gun.”

 

When I first brought up the idea for this blog to my husband, he was all for it. He’s supportive of pretty much everything I do, and I’m lucky to have that. He was, however, curious about one thing. “What movies are going to get perfect scores?” he asked. It seemed like a relatively easy question, much like “what’s your favorite movie?” but in reality it is so much harder to answer once you actually stop and think about it.  

It’s true: I do like a LOT of movies. I tend not to be overly critical, and can see the good in a lot of really crappy movies that a lot of people just really don’t like. I am, however, VERY picky about what movies get the coveted “perfect” score. It’s more than just my opinion. It’s more than just the characters or the plot. My perfect score is going to occur when a movie comes along that has amazing characters, an amazing plot, humor, drama, connection, values, lessons, and above all, heart. It’s just going to be a feeling. I know that seems rather silly in talking about it, but a movie really has to hit me hard PLUS have all those things to get a perfect score. It almost has to change the way I see movies. 

 So why am I talking about this now? Well, when my husband originally asked me, I started going through our movies, quickly pulling out ones I could see myself giving a 5/5. This movie was the first one on the list that even had a shot. So after watching it, how does it rank? Is it the recipient of my first perfect score? We’ll see….

 This movie is really strange to bring up to people. First off, half of the people you mention this to have never heard of it. Another quarter have heard of it but thought it was made years ago, like in the 80s or something. Another sixteenth might tell you they heard about it but never watched it because it looked kinda boring. But you get that one person left in that 1/16th who, when you mention this movie, starts going on and on about it. They say it’s the best thing they’ve ever seen. They say they can’t believe it wasn’t bigger! They say they can’t believe no one has ever heard of it. Yeah. I’m that person normally. It IS gaining in popularity I feel, but this is as much of a cult classic as you are ever going to get. (although it is one of the top 5000 movies on imdb. Hmm. I guess us fans know good movies.)

 It’s pretty amazing that the man who would go on to direct The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol started here. That’s right. This movie was written and directed by the ever wonderful Brad Bird. Now a household name to anyone who loves Pixar, this was actually his first adventure in feature film, having only worked on tv (a few episodes of the Simpsons and misc. Stuff). He is an amazing writer and director, so it makes sense that this movie has everything his other movies have. So why do people not know about it?

 I was thinking. Maybe it’s because of when it came out. I did a little digging, and my goodness 1999 was an amazing year for movies. We had Star Wars Episode I, which everyone was drooling over. We had the 2nd Austin Powers movie. We had the sixth sense, American Beauty, Toy Story 2, The Matrix, and Tarzan, just to name a few. No wonder this poor little movie by a then not known man faded into the background. I mean, this thing technically was a flop! It only made about half the amount of money back that it cost to make! This is ridiculous!

 Ok, so why do I keep blabbing on and on about this movie? Because it’s THAT good. Because everyone needs to see it at least once. Because on the surface, it seems like a movie about a boy and his pet giant robot, but it’s so much more. So so so much more.

 Our story centers around a boy named Hogarth Hughes (yeah, we’ll talk about characters in a sec), who is the type of kid who keeps bringing animals home to his hard-working single mother Annie. It’s the cold war, and everyone is paranoid about nuclear war and missiles and crap like that. One day after hearing a story about a giant alien robot creature in the forest, goes out and finds it, saves its life, and befriends it. Meanwhile, the government is getting involved because people have been reporting strange goings on and whatnot. Hogarth tries to hide the giant but eventually the government finds out what this thing is, as well as what it is supposed to be doing here. All hell breaks loose and we end in an amazing climax that involves a nuclear weapon and a lot of crying on my part. 

 That plot is so bear bones because most of the explanation really comes from the characters themselves. Because alone, that plot sounds similar to E.T., or Super 8, or any other alien/strange creature movie. And in all honesty it is. On the surface, it’s a plot we’ve seen before. The brilliance is in the details of the story and in the characters that have been created. Let’s jump right into it.

 Hogarth is our main character, and man oh man, he is one amazing kid. I would actually love to have a kid like this. His first scene in the diner his mother works in shows you exactly what type of kid he is. He brings in a shoebox, asking his mother if he can keep the new pet he found. Naturally, the chipmunk that was in the box has now escaped, and he calmly and cooly attempts to find it before anyone else in the diner does or before his mother realizes what he did. He does this by locating said chipmunk and sits down and has a conversation with the guy whose booth he’s hiding under, trying to get him to understand the predicament. Eventually all hell breaks loose and he goes running out, but you get it. He’s smart, he’s persistent, he’s friendly. He’s creative. He’s a kid, and a believable one at that; possibly the best written kid I’ve come across so far in a movie. He gets scared at horror movies (and watches them alone even when his mom told him not to), wants to play superheroes, and gets annoyed when he’s told to do something he doesn’t want to. He’s so real you’ll swear you’ve known someone just like him. I could go on and on about this kid, but there’s much more to talk about. just do yourself a favor and watch the movie to see how awesome he is.

 The other characters we get to know in the town are his mother, Annie, and a scrap yard owner/artist Dean. Again, both are so interesting even though their parts may not be all that involved. Annie is protective of her son but at the same time we can tell she’s a working mother who is just trying to make ends meet. She worries about him but is willing to listen, unless he just disobeyed her. She’s strict out of love, but isn’t that annoying mom so many other movies have. At her opposite is Dean, an artist who owns a scarp yard that Hogarth ends up using to keep the Giant happy. He’s in on the whole secret and you can tell he doesn’t like that, but won’t break a promise to this kid to do so, because he can tell it’s really important to him. He even grows to like the Giant. He’s sort of a hippie/cool dude, but at the same time seems to understand and even tries to tell Hogarth that this is bigger than he thinks. 

 Our villain is this crazy insane agent named Kent, who not only acts as the villain but also as a bit of comic relief. He will literally stop at nothing to get to the bottom of what’s going on, and has paranoia coming out his ears. He finds Hogarth’s beebee gun at the site where the giant was spotted, and spends the rest of the movie being that stupid annoying guy who just hounds and hounds him to try and give it up. There’s even this really creepy scene where they’re sitting in their rooms across from each other (Kent stays at his house due to his mother having a room to rent), each refusing to be the first one to fall asleep because they know that’s when the other will take off to go after the Giant. I mean… who does that? Half this shit Kent does or says nowadays would be conceived as child abuse or something. He’s creepy and insane and that doesn’t stop until literally the last few minutes of the movie. He’s not a scary villain, but he’s unpredictable, and to me, that’s even more disturbing.

 Finally, we have the titular Iron Giant. This guy is so much more interesting than E.T. He comes from another planet, but on his descent, he falls and hits his head and basically has amnesia about why he was sent there or what he can do. Through his friendship with Hogarth, he learns to talk and learns about superheroes and villains, and good vs. Evil. Hogarth always emphasizes that he is good; he’s not a villain, he’s like a giant superhero with amazing powers. The giant learns to love this boy who has taught him everything and has shielded him from harm. It’s only when they’re playing in the scrap yard one day that the Giant’s instincts take over once a fake gun is pointed at him. He changes and suddenly becomes a destructive monster, firing lasers and almost destroying his friend. He pulls himself back, almost not believing what he had almost done to the person he loved. Not understanding, Dean as well as the village flee for their lives, while Hogarth tries to get him back, knowing that deep down he’s not a villain, and being the only one who realizes that he only acts defensively.

 This is what I mean about movies having more depth in the characters and the details. Now this movie isn’t just about an alien and the government trying to get him. It becomes personal. It’s Nature vs. Nurture. This Robot has been planned to be destructive, but a boy’s love told him he doesn’t have to be like that. There’s an amazing scene where the giant and Hogarth come across a deer, only to watch it get shot a few moments later. They have a talk about death, and suddenly the Giant becomes very emotional, wondering if he is going to die, and wondering how people could kill like that.  Hogarth tells him that killing is bad, but that if you do die, a part of you always lives on; your soul.

 This movie is so deep. It knows how and when to have fun, but it really knows how to do the emotional stuff well. It’s about making your own choices and not being what society sets you up to be. It’s about not passing judgement on others, whether it be a hundred foot giant or a sloppy hippie/artist. It’s about being free to make your own choices, and how one little boy can save the world.  It’s about being tolerant. And it is a story about love. The love between a boy and a robot. The love between a mother and a son.  It does this all so well.

 I’m not giving away the ending. It’s too good to tell. All I have to say is if you watch it and don’t at least well up, then you don’t understand this movie. It’s sad, but happy and hopeful at the same time. It’s honestly just so perfect that words just can’t describe it.

 I tried and tried and tried to find something wrong with this movie, but I couldn’t. I tried looking at it and being overly critical, and I still couldn’t. It’s a movie that is almost so perfect I can’t stand it. Did it change my life? No. But it is the type of movie that makes you stop and think about things. Sometimes it just helps to look at it through a kid’s eyes.

 This movie is great for anyone, although some scary war stuff at the end might be a bit too intense for really little ones. But it does deal with some ideas like death and free choice. These can be hard for kids to understand, but it’s done so well that I think this would honestly be a great way to introduce these things to them. It’s a wonderful movie that really deserved so much more at the box office. I only hope that more people will watch it and fall in love with it. I know I did.

 I’m giving The Iron Giant (1999) my first 5 out of 5. Great movie with amazingly fleshed out, real characters. Every family animated movie I subconsciously measure up to this. Go see it. NOW!

 Next up: The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Mrs. Fox: Excuse me? Am I being flirted with by a psychotic rat?

 

Oh Wes Anderson. I feel like you really have to be a fan of his to like any of his movies: The Royal Tennanbaums, Darjeeling Limited, the Life Aquatic, and this (I’m sure I missed a few in there…). He is a very gifted film maker, but I feel it takes a very special person to truly understand what he’s about. Hint: I’m not that person.

I’ve seen a few of his stuff. Of most of his movies, I probably like the Royal Tenanbaums the best. He paints these strange pictures of melancholy families or love or slices of life. Fantastic Mr. Fox is no exception.

This movie is based on a Roald Dahl book of the same name, and to be honest, that’s why I was interested in seeing it. As a kid I was a big Dahl fan, and seeing a stop motion movie based on one of his books sounded like fun. Besides, it wasn’t Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (seriously, let’s get some new Roald Dahl movies… like the BFG or Boy). And the movie is…. Ok. Again, I think the reason I’m not a bigger fan is the Wes Anderson factor.

The movie does, for the most part, follow the plot of the book, although artistic liscences are taken and more emphasis is given on the relationships Mr. Fox has with his wife and his son. It’s about a family of anthropomorphic foxes that live in a tree on a hill. Mr. Fox is a burglar and acquires his food and (according to him) his purpose in life by stealing from 3 farmers: Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. They get upset at him for stealing their food that they go to whatever extremes necessary to get rid of the fox, including using explosives, tractors, and guns to destroy his home and force him underground.

It doesn’t sound like much and honestly? It’s not. That’s pretty much the story. The foxes spend a good chunk of the book trying to avoid the farmers and end up with the entirety of the woodland creatures living in the sewers because they are afraid to go to the surface. Oh, and Mr. Fox goes on a rampage to try and get back his tail, which was shot off by one of the farmers who now wears it as a tie. But yeah, that’s it. It doesn’t sound like much, and it’s not. Not really.

Like I said, this movie, unlike the book, focuses more on the relationships between Mr. Fox and his family. In the movie we learn of his backstory with burgaling and his wife asking him to stop. He does until they move into the tree, and he just can’t help himself. Mr. Fox’s relationship with his son is also interesting. Ash is a typical kid living in his parent’s shadow who isn’t quite as good. He tries to get into his parents good graces and really wants to go with his father to steal chickens and whatnot, but he will have none of it because he believes his son will just slow him down. To add to Ash’s belief that he is unwanted is the sudden arrival of his cousin, Kristofferson, who is everything that he’s not. He’s athletic, he’s smart, he’s sly. His father apts to take him and not his own son, which adds to the strain.

Obviously this is all resolved by the end, and Mr. Fox learns that Ash isn’t just a wimpy loser, and Ash learns not to get upset at Kristofferson, and Mrs. Fox learns to appreciate everything her husband does for her, and Mr. Fox learns when to take it easy. 

Alright, so let me get onto the parts of this movie that I think are actually really cool. The plot doesn’t do much for me and honestly the characters are “meh.” what I LOVE about this movie is the animation and the cinematography and stuff. This movie is just so unique. It is stop motion just like coraline, but it was shot at a lower frame rate, so things seem “jumpy.” It’s a bit annoying at first, but you get used to it and actually I find it really awesome now. The design of the puppets they used is also very cool.  You can see every hair on their bodies and see it move as they do. Again, it’s unique.

We also get a lot of scenes that are set up like diaramas. In other words, it’s like a side cut out, almost like an ant farm. This makes sense because a lot of this movie takes place under the ground, but it’s an interesting way to depict it and the way it’s done is just really cool. You can see all the characters in different places and you can see the three farms with everyone below it. I don’t know why I find this cool, but I do.

One last thing about the artsy part of this movie that I adore are the colors that are used. I’m not going to lie, I very rarely pick up on any type of color stuff a director did on purpose to portray something interesting, like a message or an emotion. Typically, I figure this stuff out by looking through facts on the movie and then going “oh… yeah I guess that does make sense!” This movie, however, I picked up on right away. The entire movie is fall colors: reds, browns, oranges and yellows. It gives off a very warm feel and a very natural feel. Then, you have Kristofferson. He’s always dressed in blue! He’s so different than anyone else in the movie I feel like this had to have been done on purpose. He’s not from that area of the forest; he’s visiting. Ash resents him, so he’s always sort of like an outsider. So they put him in a different color. He sticks out like a sore thumb in the movie because he’s supposed to. I think that’s cool.

Most of my issues with this movie come from my issues with almost every Wes Anderson movie. The plot drags – it feels like anything takes FOREVER – including the delivery of lines. The humor is extremely dry. If you weren’t paying really close attention, you’d miss half of the jokes. This is a bit of a shame because these jokes are, for the most part, extremely funny. Unlike some of his other movies, these characters don’t really have much to them. Other than our family of foxes, we see a few other side characters, but there’s no build up of character. They’re just…. There. 

And again… this movie moves so. Freaking. Slowly. 

I don’t know if there’s much more to say about this movie. It’s ok. It’d be fine for kids, but they’d probably think it was boring except for the few scenes where the farmers are blowing up the tree. They won’t get the jokes. Is it worth a watch? Eh. Maybe once. I don’t know if you really need to see this movie multiple times, unless you are a Wes Anderson fan. Then you’d probably love this movie. I’m glad I saw it to say I saw it, but it might be one that’s in the stack to sell the next time we go to Half-Price Books. Decide for yourself.

I give Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) a 2.5 out of 5

Next up: The Iron Giant (1999)

Coraline Jones: Wybie’s got a cat like you at home. Not the quiet Wybie, the one that talks too much. You must be the Other Cat.

Cat: No… I’m not the other anything. I’m me.

I’m going to start my review a bit backward today. This movie, despite the fact that it’s an animation and stop motion, is NOT a movie for young children. I would probably start a kid on this movie at age 10, or even above. That being said, this is a good, maybe even a great movie. It’s a creepy movie, but at the same time extremely endearing. It’s a great movie for older children as well as adults. So what makes this movie so mature? Lots of things

Coraline is based on a novella of the same name by the ever wonderful Neil Gaiman. Something I’ve found is that people are either fans of Neil Gaiman, or really dislike him. In case you aren’t familiar with Mr. Gaiman, he is a british writer who has written graphic novels, novellas, and novels, typically of the fantasy/sci-fi or morbid nature. Possibly his most famous work is “Sandman,” which I honestly have not read but a boyfriend of mine in high school was obsessed. He’s also written a few (2) episodes of Doctor Who, including the very popular “The Doctor’s Wife.” (side note: I am a major Whovian. Any time I can tie a movie back to this amazing show, i’m going to take it)

Ok, enough about Mr. Gaiman. Coraline was a novella written in 2002 to generally good praise. The book (and the movie) focus on a young girl named Coraline, who moves into a multi-family home only to discover a secret doorway to another world exactly like hers, but with some minor tweaks. Instead of her parents being busy-bodies obsessed with work and have no time for her, they cater to her every whim. The neighbors are the best versions of themselves, or what they used to be or what they want to be. One minor difference with this “other” world is that everyone in it has buttons for eyes. Cause, you know, it needs to be creepy.

And creepy it is. The stop motion on this movie is morbidly beautiful, and the creepy vibe you get throughout the movie begins with the opening credits. It’s not scary in a horror movie way, but instead in a “you don’t know what’s going to happen next and did that really just happen” way. The “other” world at first seems perfect and wonderful, but there’s an atmosphere about it that makes the watcher realize that it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It was shot in such a way that we understand before Coraline does, even though the hints are there.

That’s who Coraline is. She’s a brave, independent little girl who lives for this world because it’s everything hers is not. Her parents are nice and pay attention to her. They play games, sing songs. Her neighbors aren’t creepy old fat has-beens, but instead they’re stage stars and trainers of circus mice. She’s sucked into this world, and I believe many children would be as well. THAT’S where the scariness of this movie comes from. All kids have been there. EVERYONE has been there. Everyone wishes they could change things about their parents, their friends, or people they’ve known. But should they?

That’s the lesson that Coraline learns in this movie: the people she has in her life may not be perfect, but they’re real and they’re hers, and they care about her, regardless of what she may think. She’s a typical kid, and they made her very believable. She’s a wonderful protagonist, and the movie is worth watching because of her. She’s strong-willed and speaks her mind, but has a kindness to her. You feel her pain dealing with her parents because they did make her parents very annoying. You want her to be happy. At first, she thinks the only way to be happy is to be in this “other” world.

All that changes when the “other” mother asks her to stay, and to do that must sew buttons in her eyes. All at once Coraline understands, and subsequent visits reveal the “other” world for what it is: an elaborate trap laid by the “other” mother to ensnare children much like a spider ensnares an insect. Now, her goal becomes not only escaping this place, but rescuing her real mother and father, who have been taken.

This movie has a wonderful plot, and the characters are even more so memorable, making it a bit win/win for me. I’ve already talked about Coraline and mentioned her annoying (but realistic) parents. Along with them are Coraline’s “friends,” an annoying boy named Wybie (short for Wyborn – yeah, that’s awesome humor), and a mangy old black cat that hangs around him. For the most part of the movie, Wybie actually annoys Coraline. He’s the grandson of the woman who owns the building, and isn’t allowed to set foot in it due to his grandmother’s crazy idea that it’s haunted (her sister was taken when they were kids from the house).

Wybie brings in most of the backstory for the house and we get the idea that this has happened before. He mentions that typically she doesn’t rent to families with kids. Why did she make an exception this time? It’s never answered, and that was something that annoyed me a bit. Did she think Coraline could get to the bottom of it?

Wybie was made up for the movie, and in all honesty I’d love to hear from someone who’s read the book as to how all this stuff moves along without him. I’m guessing it’s through the black cat, who has a small part in the movie but I’m guessing a bigger one in the book. This cat and Coraline don’t get off on the right foot and for half the time she wants nothing to do with him. However once she realizes that he can travel from their world to the “other” world and there he can talk, he becomes a source of information on who runs the show and what exactly she’s like. He’s been going there for years and acts as a mentor and friend to Coraline when she needs him the most.

I’m not going to give away the ending because like I said, this is a good enough movie that it’s worth at least a one time watch. Let’s just say it involves games, ghost children, and more insanely amazing stop motion graphics. Seriously. It’s so beautiful it’s hard to believe it’s not CGI.

My few qualms with this movie probably come from me never reading the book. Apart from the question I posed earlier about why the grandmother would NOW allow a family with children when she never did before, I only have little issues. I would have loved to get to know the “real” neighbors a bit more (we have 2 old stage performers and an overweight russian man who swears he can train jumping mice). I mean, I’m trying to do this without looking stuff up and I don’t even remember their names. They’re interesting and memorable, but a little more with them would have been nice.

My only other issue is the way that the movie ends. I won’t give away anything, I promise, but there’s a point where you think the movie has ended, but then it keeps going. The book apparently does the same thing, and I honestly don’t really understand why. Maybe it’s just to pound into everyone’s head that this creature from the “other” world is really gone and will never come back to haunt Coraline, but it just seemed unnecessary. It had a good ending then… just kept going….

To sum up, this movie is definitely worth a watch. It’s got the creepy morbid Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman vibe to it, so if you’re fans of that type of thing, this is going to be right up your ally. Again, I would not recommend this for children younger than 10 (although these days I’m learning kids go see lots of scary movies much younger… I’m trying to keep them kids). It is scary and the movie itself plays into things that are very real nightmares for kids. It would be best to wait until they can actually understand and appreciate what’s going on.

I give Coraline (2009) a 3.95 out of 5. Pretty good, but it does have some flaws and honestly these movies aren’t really my thing.

Next up: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Coraline (2009)

Commercial Break

Hey y’all – 

just had to insert this here seeing as it is a very fitting place for it. My husband and I recently saw “Despicable Me 2” in the theaters (actually yesterday). He asked me if I was going to review it, but I said that I’m only doing movies we own (although by Christmas i’m sure this one will be owned as well). HOWEVER…. I feel I must give my 2 cents worth of initial thoughts.

All in all, it is a very good sequel. Did I think it was as good as the first? No. This is no Toy Story 2. That being said, it is charming, extremely as funny as the original, although at times it can be extremely predictable.

The thing I was the most worried about was that they would overuse the minions after they became so popular. I am happy to report this is not the case. If anything, they actually worked them into the story. And I mentioned how it’s predictable, but there was a point where i truly didn’t know what was going on. I thought it was all figured out, then it wasn’t, then it was. Gah! good job, movie.

If you’re a fan of the original, I would suggest seeing it. It’s funny, heartfelt, but a little less of everything than the original. I’m not reviewing it yet, so it doesn’t get a score. 

Despicable Me (2010)

“IT’S SO FLUFFY!!!!!”

 I don’t… *sigh* I don’t even really know what to say about this movie. I’m sure a lot of people have seen it, and it’s my first movie I’m reviewing that I didn’t see as a kid, because I wasn’t a kid in 2010. I don’t have that naive way of looking at it anymore. I have to look at this movie as an adult but at the same time I’m going to try and look at it from a kid’s perspective. We’ll see how this goes.

 What I do remember very well was the trailer for this movie. It turned out to be the first few minutes of the actual movie, with a group of rednecks visiting the pyramids, a kid getting over the security tethers, and falling into the pyramid only to reveal that it was a blow up. Someone had stolen the pyramid! Then the credits flashed with a ton of celebrity voices, and that song came on. My husband and I both looked at each other, having wiped away our tears from laughing so hard, and pretty much both went “we have to see that!”

 Luckily, it turned out to be a movie that delivered. I don’t know what I was quite expecting from an actual movie based on that trailer, but I do admit I didn’t expect the story that we got. If anything, it was much more grounded than I thought we were going to get. I think I was more expecting some type of PG rated Apatow equivalent comedy. You know, extremely immature jokes, etc.

 The story centers around a notorious villain named Gru, who’s from some country that I still can’t decide on. Seriously, where is that accent from? Anyway, he’s getting shown up by some new villain who has just stolen the pyramids. To stay on top, he decides to attempt to steal the moon. After he is denied a loan from the “Bank of Evil,” he finds out that the guy who stole the pyramid and is showing him up is a nerdy kid named Vector. Gru goes to steal a shrink ray (the bank told them they’d reconsider if he could get that), but vector steals it. After spying on Vector for a bit trying to figure out how to get it back, he sees 3 orphan girls getting let in selling cookies. Struck with an idea, he poses as a doctor and adopts the three girls, Margo, Edith, and Agnes. Capers ensue at home while he adjusts to having kids, and they unknowingly help him steal back the shrink ray. More stuff happens, he gets to know and love the girls, and loses his focus. The girls are dumped back at the orphanage by his 2nd in command, and he goes to steal the moon. Will Gru be reunited with the girls? Will Vector make things difficult? Well, you just have to watch and find out…

 Sure, it’s a plot that’s been done before (we sort of saw something similar just a few movies ago with All Dogs Go To Heaven), but there’s just enough different that this movie is just endearing. For once, the kids don’t get upset he’s an evil villain. In fact, they embrace it. Like Gru, they’ve also been the kids that just don’t fit in. They, like him, have always been “weird.” I mean, when Gru uses a fireball machine to win a carnival game, the girls react by screaming how cool that was. That’s the kind of movie this is.

 The best thing this movie has going for it is really the humor. I don’t remember the last time I laughed as hard as this the first time I saw it. It’s joke after joke, and they are sight gags, sarcastic one-liners, and involved scenes. The rest of my review could just be me explaining my favorites, and it would be a few pages long. This movie really is that funny. A big thing that contributes to a lot of the jokes succeeding is the wonderful work the voice actors did. We have the ever funny Steve Carrell as Gru, Russell Brand as Dr. Nefario (Gru’s 2nd), and Jason Segal as Vector. Carrell is hilarious. “Why? Why are you so…. Old…?” that’s the best line uttered by him, and written out it’s not funny. But the comedic delivery is so perfect. Every joke he makes is perfect. If they had gotten someone else to be Gru, it wouldn’t be the same.

 I also can’t mention the humor of this movie without mentioning the minions. These are little yellow pill-like creatures that worship and work for Gru in his underground lab. They don’t speak english but some kind of random jabbering. They take care of most of the sight gags, and again, they are SO FUNNY. You don’t sit there going “what are those things? How are they real? How do the girls not freak out when they first see them?” because they’re just so cute and funny and good natured. They channeled Carlie Chaplin. They have the minions do extremely random things. They use them readily as test subjects and send them inadvertently into outer space. They dress them in drag and dump them in the middle of a wal-mart. They put their all into their work, and they offer to help pay to make the rocket. The little yellow things with big hearts and not a ton of intelligence. You can’t help but love them.

 The characters I’m honestly just going to brush over, because they’re not horrible, but they’re not incredibly deep and complicated.  Sure, you connect to them, but not as much as a lot of other movies. Gru plays the villain well but he’s more of a good-hearted guy who lives next door who just happens to think he can take over the world (with mixed results). He’s almost like the bumbling villain, and it is kinda fun to watch. Dr. Nefario is old and hilarious. The girls, Margo, Edith and Agnes all have distinct personalities and quite honestly I adore these kids. Margo is responsible and a bit disillusioned and untrusting. Edith enjoys gross things and likes getting into everything, and Agnes is a cartoonized little kid who likes candy, unicorns, and will hold her breath until she gets what she wants. As I mentioned, all three of these kids are a bit “odd” and you can see it well. That’s why they get along with Gru. 

 Vector as a villain and our main antagonist is quite an interesting one. He’s a nerdy geek who really wants to be thought of as a maniacal villain, but apparently has no instinct for this stuff (turns out his dad who runs the bank of evil is the one who has been helping him). He’s the bratty little kid who is still doing what daddy wants him to do, in the meantime inventing things like squid launchers and keeping a shark below his family room. He’s gullible and very child-like. He’s not an extremely evil villain until the very end. He’s funny. Normally I wouldn’t enjoy this (I seem to always want extremely evil complex villains), but in this movie it works, and I love it. A really evil villain would just detract from the humor.

 A few of the jokes are immature. I would have liked to delve a bit more into this world. I also feel I would have enjoyed it if the movie didn’t end in a freaking dance number (seriously… are we still doing that? Stupid Shrek…). I would have liked more… I don’t know. I always feel like this movie is missing something, but I can never put my finger on it. 

 I don’t really have much more to say about Despicable Me. I feel like this is a movie you almost have to like. I’ve never met someone who despises this movie. They may not find it as funny as me or my husband, but they admit it makes them chuckle. And the best part is I’ve seen it probably 6 or 7 times, and it’s still hilarious. It still makes me laugh. Sure it’s not the most deep or most thought provoking movie, but sometimes you just need to laugh. And sometimes you need to root for the bad guy.

 It’s an ok movie for kids. I don’t know how many jokes they’ll get, but they’ll think Gru is funny and Vector is funny and the kids are funny. There’s nothing too scary in it. Really, the more I think about it, the more I think this is a great movie for kids. It would at least be entertaining. 

 If you haven’t seen it, see it. See it on a day you’re feeling blue. See it on a rainy or showy day. I guarantee you it will at least put a smile on your face. And you will start quoting it nonstop if you are anything like my husband and I.

 Oh, and the bedtime stories are the best. “This is literature?” hehehe. 

 I give Despicable Me (2010) a 4.15 out of 5

 Next up: Coraline (2009)

Ice Age (2002)

Sid: I bet he’s hungry.

Manny: How ’bout some milk?

Sid: Ooh, I’d love some!

Diego: Not you. The baby.

Sid: Well, I ain’t exactly lactating right now, pal.

Diego: You’re a little low on the food chain to be mouthing off, aren’t you…

Manny:  ENOUGH!

I’m just going to start out by saying that I adore this movie. If I had to list my top 20 movies of all time, this one might squeak in at #18 or so. A lot of people though apparently didn’t really like this movie. I understand why. It’s not perfect. It does have a lot of flaws, but personally, I’m willing to see past all the flaws and the familiarity because of one thing: the characters.

 I’ve said before that good characters are really what get me hooked into a movie. The plot can be familiar or confusing or crappy, but if the characters are good, I’m going to at least enjoy it more than most people. This movie is a superb example of that. Oh these characters. They’re awesome. But more on them in a bit. What’s this movie about?

 If you’ve ever seen the 80s movie “Three Men and a Baby,” then you know a big chunk of the plot, except replace the people with ice age animals. It’s migration season and a sloth named Sid gets left behind by his family, only to meet up with a moody mammoth named Manny. After Manny saves his life, Sid sticks around, much to the chagrin of Manny, who just wants to be left alone. They soon run into a woman drifting down a river with her baby, and just as they rescue it, she disappears. Turns out her village was attacked by Saber toothed tigers, and the rest of the kids tribe is moving on, having thought that the woman and the baby were lost. Enter Diego, our saber-toothed tiger friend, who was told to bring the baby to his leader for the ultimate revenge. Seeing through his guise, Manny tells Diego that he’s going to lead them to the pass where the humans went. After that it’s a road trip movie, with our characters dealing with the human baby, the elements, other creatures, eventually reaching the kid’s family. In a nutshell, that’s Ice Age.

 Now let’s get back to those characters. There is so much good stuff here. The way these characters are developed and their relationships with each other is so real and so good, it makes you want more. 

 Let’s start with Sid, the sloth. The biologist in me really wants to point out that sid looks NOTHING like a real Megatheria. He is not the right size or shape, but I’m willing to look past it. We first meet Sid when he falls out of a tree, realizing migration has started and that his family has completely ditched him. Turns out he’s incredibly annoying, so it makes sense. But of course he doesn’t get this. He’s the annoying guy who doesn’t know how bad he is. He’s also not that smart, and throughout the movie is the main source of humor. That being said, he has a good heart and you do feel sorry for him that his family just left him. 

 Diego, our saber-toothed tiger, is a good “bad guy turned good” character. He starts the movie by attacking the human settlement with his pack, and promises his leader he will get the baby no matter what. He then promises them to also deliver a mammoth, but then begins to have second thoughts upon seeing the selfless nature of Manny and realizing that these two really are good, loyal creatures. He also grows to know the baby, and I don’t know why, but a very strong bond seems to form with the kid and Diego. The cat’s sarcastic and serious, but eventually learns to lighten up.

 Then there’s Manny the mammoth. He’s brought forth as being quiet, cranky and reserved. The first time we meet him he’s going the opposite direction as the other animals migrating, and the first words out of his mouth are an insult. Turns out he has a reason to be this way. We find out about 3/4 through the movie that his family was actually killed by humans, including his young child. While this is sort of a big reveal, the writers give clues to this throughout the movie is very subtle ways, which I think is part of the greatness of this character. He makes off handed comments about being loyal to the ones you love. Once the baby arrives, he makes comments about how he can’t believe this little thing is going to grow up to be a great hunter. He refuses at first to take it back to the humans, suggesting that death is a better option. As a first time watcher you might get the idea that he lost someone, but not to the extent that he has. It scars him, and this kid, along with Sid and Diego, help to pull him back to the world of reality and realize that connecting with other creatures is actually good for you.

 And that is what this movie does the best. It has a LOT of heart. It has a lot of laughs too, but where it gets me is in its drama, and in some of the interactions between its characters. These things are written so well. You can’t help but tear up. This movie seriously tugs at your heartstrings. I’ve mentioned that Manny’s past gets brought up and that we learn his wife and kid die. The way they do it is so unique and so memorable and so… perfect. There are no words. It’s done through a series of cave drawings, sound effects, and music that just has to make you tear up. It’s the moment you realize Manny is justified for his actions, and it’s also the moment he realizes it’s ok to get connected to the little human, despite the fact his relatives killed the ones he loved. I like to think that at that moment he even understands the father of this kid and what he must be going through, thinking he lost everyone. That’s when Manny becomes determined to return the kid. It’s just so well done. 

 The other part of this movie that really makes me cry is at the end. *spoilers ahead.* At one point, Diego sacrifices himself to save Manny when the other sabers are attacking, showing he is, in fact, a good guy. Knowing he’s left for dead and that if he limps along they won’t make it to the humans in time, he tells the others to go. The kid is all upset, having grown really attached to the tiger. Anyway… yeah that’s a touching scene and all, and it does make me tear up, but the real tearjerker is the end when the kid is being reunited with his family. The father’s hesitation at a mammoth approaching, then joy as he see his child is indescribable. The understanding the father and Manny seem to hold for one another. Then, as the father and the baby are leaving, the baby peeks back one last time to say goodbye, and there’s Diego, limping up and making sure he gets to say goodbye. The look on the kid’s face as he knows Diego was ok… the kindness in Diego’s eyes and his wave goodbye. It just gets me. I cry every single time. Because you understand the connections between these characters. You believe them because they are so real. They are so great.

 While the dramatic stuff really did surprise me the first time I saw this, the humor is what this movie is known for and what it was marketed as. And while the humor is good and funny and I do chuckle, I feel as if this is what the execs capitalized on when it made all the sequels and forgot to put in as much heart. They tried, but could somehow never produce another one quite like the first one.

 Ok, so about the humor. A LOT of it is puns on the time period. While some of them are funny (“Come on kids, you can finish playing extinction later”), it just gets to be a little much. Especially when 80% of these puns come literally in the first 5 minutes of the movie. We didn’t need that many. But once they get it out of their system and the story starts rolling, we don’t get many of those puns anymore. Instead we get weird situations, weird characters, and very random tie ins to things that people know. 

 For example: during a montage, the main four pass stonehenge, and manny goes “modern art – it will never last.” ok, that’s kinda funny. In the same montage a bit later, Sid takes a rest in a hole, and the other two count down, and it erupts, leaving Manny to go “it sure is faithful.” haha… old faithful, get it? Yeah. That’s what I mean by tie ins. These two things are nowhere close to each other on the earth, but they put them on the journey because hey, it would be funny, right? Eh…

 The one scene I simply adore (although I’m sure a lot of people actually despise this part), is the scene with the Dodos. Yes, this is completely not realistic. Dodos weren’t around in the ice age, and they lived on a tropical island cause Mauritius, and became extinct because humans killed them. For once, I don’t care that this is completely wrong, because they’re Dodos, and everyone makes fun of Dodos. Anyway, they come across the Dodos preparing for the Ice Age, and everything about them is just stupid. They have 3 watermelons to get them through the whole ice age. They lose their last female in a fight to reclaim one of the watermelons. They’re just…. It’s immature, but man, it’s so funny. 

 The last thing I want to talk about is how this movie is actually put together. I remember when this came out I thought that the animation looked horrendous. Granted it’s not from some huge animation company (it’s 20th Century Fox), but even in 2002, I expected it to look better than this. Then I realized that this is stylized. While every other animation company was working really hard to try and get their animation to look real, Ice Age knew it was an animated kids flick and didn’t bother to make it look real. The backgrounds are choppy. There’s not a ton of detail. But that’s ok. It still looks great. If anything, it makes it look like an old-timey cartoon.

 Along with this animation style, they incorporated something else that I have to admit is very interesting. That’s scrap, the little squirrel who really has nothing to do with the main characters or the story, but is placed in between scenes almost as a break. It’s strange, but at the same time it really works. Scrap starts out our movie, and throughout the whole thing he’s there, and all he’s trying to do is get an acorn. But of course he never can. He is occasionally in the same scene or place as our characters, and they do interact once, but other than that he’s on his own. It’s like they used him to go from scene to scene, and added little shorts in between. He is hilarious, and I know kids really liked him. It just makes me wonder if this movie is a perfect example of how our attention spans have deteriorated. Eh… I won’t get into that, I just wonder if they didn’t have scrap if kids would like this movie still as much. (and no, he never does get that acorn.)

 I really enjoy Ice Age, and I would suggest it to families with kids, or even teenagers or adults who tend to like family movies. It’s definitely got enough in it to keep everyone happy, and I do believe it to be a bit underrated today. It still holds up very well. I don’t own any of the others, so I can’t review those. I did own the second one at one point, and while it was good, it lacked the heart of the first. I sold it, but it is still a fun movie in itself. I just wish they would have realized that the humor wasn’t the only thing that made Ice Age so good.

I give Ice Age (2002) a 4 out of 5. It has its flaws, but it’s a movie I always enjoy watching.

 Next up: Despicable Me