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The Lego Movie: A Whole Lotta Awesome

by Ethan Alter February 7, 2014 6:05 am
The Lego Movie: A Whole Lotta Awesome

I adore The Lego Movie for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that directors Chris Lord and Phil Miller -- the team that proved there was a great movie that could be made out of 21 Jump Street -- are obvious fans of The Matrix. And I'm not just talking about the first film in that franchise, which provides this one with its central narrative spine, i.e. an ordinary guy learning that there are worlds beyond his own and that he may be the chosen one with the power necessary to defend them from extinction. I'm also referring to the lesser-loved (undeservedly so) sequels, which venture to narrative realms and traverse thematic ground uncommon for a spectacle of its type. Not to spoil anything specific here, but The Lego Movie has more than a few strands of Reloaded and Revolutions woven into its DNA, particularly as our tiny, yellow Neo stand-in Emmett (exuberantly voiced by Chris Pratt) grasps his way towards a rousing victory as well as a state of higher consciousness about his place in a carefully constructed multi-verse.

Frozen: She’s As Cold As Ice

by Ethan Alter November 27, 2013 6:00 am
Frozen: She’s As Cold As Ice

In 1989, an aquatic princess named Ariel lifted Disney out of its decade-long doldrums, ushering in a new period of creative and commercial success for the once-dominant brand in family animated entertainment. Two decades later, a well-coiffed royal scion named Rapunzel performed a similar feat, righting the Mouse House's course after it struggled to find its sea legs in a new (and largely computer animated) family entertainment landscape dominated by companies like DreamWorks, Blue Sky and, of course, Pixar. And so the hugely enjoyable Tangled beget the equally enjoyable Wreck It Ralph, which in turn beget Frozen, a spirited romp through a traditional Disney princess narrative that ultimately tweaks the formula in ways that make it exciting and new.

Monsters University: Graded on a Curve

by Ethan Alter June 21, 2013 6:00 am
Monsters University: Graded on a Curve

Once upon a time, when Pixar was still a relatively young studio as opposed to the family entertainment monolith it is today, it was decided by the powers that be at Disney and Pixar that Toy Story 2 -- the sequel to the 1995 smash hit that eventually made computer animation the industry standard -- would be a direct-to-video feature in the vein of such lesser Mouse House productions as Pocahontas II and Aladdin and the King of Thieves. But unhappy with the movie's creative direction, Pixar head honcho John Lasseter took back the reins of the sequel and once again steered it into theaters. I bring this piece of history up because Monsters University, the prequel to the company's 2001 romp Monsters Inc., feels like it too originated as a DTV production before being transferred to the theatrical pipeline.

Oscars 2013: The Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

We judge this year's crop of the animated shorts that are up for Oscar.

Rise of the Guardians: Keep the Faith

by Ethan Alter November 21, 2012 5:59 am
Rise of the Guardians: Keep the Faith

Kids movies generally try to be inclusive, but DreamWorks Animation's latest cartoon Rise of the Guardians is built on a faulty premise that excludes a healthy chunk of its audience from the get-go. Here's the set-up: long, long ago, when Earth was shrouded in darkness after the sun set (electricity still being a few centuries off), the bogeyman Pitch (voiced by Jude Law) -- as in Pitch Black -- held sway, striking fear into the hearts of little girls and boys. So the Man in the Moon decided to provide these tykes with some inner light in the form of the Guardians -- figures of myth and legend who represent all that is good in the world. As long as children put their faith and belief in the Guardians, they'll never be troubled by the bogeyman. But if that faith is ever shaken, the Guardians -- like another famous sprite whose life hinges on the belief of children -- are at risk of winking out of existence, once again allowing Pitch to infect young minds with his brand of terror.

Wreck-It Ralph: Ready Player One

by Ethan Alter November 2, 2012 10:01 am
Wreck-It Ralph: Ready Player One

Disney's new videogame themed animated feature Wreck-It Ralph may ostensibly be for kids, but the viewers who will probably enjoy it most are those who were children 30 years ago. At least, that was my experience when I saw the movie with my 5-year-old son; although he mostly enjoyed the misadventures of the title character (voiced to perfection by John C. Reilly), the designated bad guy in an 8-bit Donkey Kong-like arcade game called Fix-It Felix, Jr., it was my inner child -- the one who grew up playing those vintage '80s games -- that was really doing cartwheels. Throughout this delightful cartoon romp, director Rich Moore (making his feature debut after years of working on some of the past animated TV shows around, including The Simpsons and Futurama) pays homage to that formative era of gaming with such affection and wit, it'll make you want to get rid of your Wii and order an old-school, first-generation NES (or, if you're really splurging, a refurbished coin-operated arcade game) off eBay.

Fun Size: The Scariest Tween Comedy This Season

by Rachel Stein October 26, 2012 6:00 am
Fun Size: The Scariest Tween Comedy This Season

The only thing more clich├ęd than young ladies dressing ultra-sexy for Halloween are jokes about young ladies dressing ultra-sexy for Halloween -- and unfortunately for Fun Size, the latest PG-13 venture directed by The OC/Chuck/Gossip Girl mastermind Josh Schwartz, there's a new joke about how girls sure like wearing tight costumes every other scene. There is also a strange amount of gags about pedophiles, lots of horribly obvious product placement, several instances of 18-year-old girls existing only as sex objects and... Johnny Knoxville getting blown up by fireworks. You're not exactly going to see Seth and Summer 2.0 anytime soon, is what I'm trying to say. (Though there is a character dressed as Spiderman for 90 percent of the film.)

Won’t Back Down: If You Can’t Do, Don’t Teach

Won't Back Down belongs to a new genre of horror movie, aimed directly at parents of small kids, known as "Education Nightmares." Past examples of this peculiar breed include the documentaries The Lottery and Waiting for Superman, which, like this loosely dramatized version of real events, seek to terrify adults about the troubled state of American public education. And it's true that there are a myriad of problems confronting public schools in America, but those issues deserve better treatment than these fear-mongering features are willing to give them. With its melodramatic flourishes, simplistic black-and-white moralizing and general aura of studied manipulation, Won't Back Down is part of the problem rather than the solution.

ParaNorman: What To Expect When You’re Expecting

While it's often unavoidable, it can be dangerous to go into a movie with too many preconceived expectations. Case in point: I walked into the new stop-motion animated paranormal adventure ParaNorman expecting one kind of movie and instead discovered it was actually something quite different. Reconciling the movie that was in my head with what was onscreen took some time, especially when what was onscreen wasn't quite clicking. But I warmed up to the movie and its pint-sized, spiky-haired hero by the end and, thinking back on it, I admire a number of the creative choices that directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler made, even if their ambition sometimes outstripped their execution. To help other moviegoers (especially those with kids) avoid falling into the trap of expectations not being met, here are a few things you should know about what ParaNorman is... and what it isn't.

What Makes The Odd Life of Timothy Green So Odd

by Samantha Rullo August 16, 2012 3:29 pm
What Makes The Odd Life of Timothy Green So Odd

The Odd Life of Timothy Green opened on Wednesday -- you know, that Disney movie starring Jennifer Garner and a muddy kid instead of a red-haired Scottish princess -- and while kids probably won't like it, at least...well, actually, adults probably won't either. Garner and Joel Edgerton star as Cindy and Jim Green, a couple who find out that they can't have children and decide to do the most depressing thing possible for their situation: dream what their child would be like. And after making this even sadder by literally burying their dreams in the garden, they wake up to find a muddy boy in their house. And so begins the odd life of the titular Timothy.

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