Rango Review

Rating: 8/10

Plot: A pet lizard finds himself lost in the desert after his tank flies off of the back of his owner’s car. He arrives at a town called Dirt where water is scarce to say the least. He plays himself up as a hero of the west to the local townsfolk, and after (accidentally) saving them from a hawk. Because of his feats, he’s given the title of Sheriff by the mayor. Taking the name of Rango, he enjoys his newfound respect and admiration but when the situation gets dire in Dirt, he’ll have to pay up or shut up.

Breakdown: I was never a fan of westerns, unless you count space westerns. And despite being interested in this movie when it was first released, mostly because Nickelodeon promoted it quite a bit (They produced it, but it’s hard as hell to find their name on it) I never got around to watching it until now. Too bad too because this is a pretty damn good movie.

Admittedly, the story is completely overdone. Some guy pretends to be something he’s not only to eventually get ousted and then gather up the courage to return and set things right. Been there done that. And yes, the awkwardness of the continuous lying does irk me quite a bit.

However, I really love the writing of the dialogue, the timing of the jokes, the characters and the style. I can’t really compare this to any other animated movie that I can think of. It’s pretty unique in its own right, at least barring the story.

One of the ways this movie stands out is its art and animation. Rango was produced by ILM (Lucasfilms) and it is absolutely gorgeous…..I think I drooled a little.

Excuse me, I really should say it’s butt ugly, but it’s meant to be gritty and kinda ugly. It’s a western with a bunch of desert animals like rats and lizards. Even the love interest, Beans, that’s her actual name, is pretty blech-looking. But my god, the details. They are fantastic. From the littlest drops of water and the hairs and scales on the animals to the town of Dirt and the vast desert. It is all just deliciously…..Ugligorgeous. What’s even more incredible is how they integrated the human world into their own world. The cars and lights look fantastic, we’ve got a huge cityscape, and even stuff like the items in Rango’s tank are beautifully detailed.

Then we see one human character briefly, The Man With No Name; IE A Clint Eastwood ‘Spirit of the West’ character who guides Rango back on his path. And not only is he also incredibly well-detailed, but his part is probably the least cliched because he doesn’t do that lame ‘just believe in yourself blah blah’ speech. He gives a realistic speech that a Clint Eastwood character would probably give. Sadly, however, they did not get Clint Eastwood to play this part, but he was well-performed by Timothy Olyphant.

They also didn’t dumb down most of the scenes for the sake of the children. Characters get shot, they die, they swear (to a degree), they describe several gory situations and the dialogue is perfectly suited for older audiences as well as young ones. Which is weird because somehow this movie managed to grab a PG rating.

In regards to characters, they’re all kinda stereotypes, but they’re done in a fairly unique and memorable manner. Johnny Depp (hey, you broke away from Disney and Tim Burton for five seconds! Congrats!) plays our titular character, Rango. Interestingly, his real name, the one he would’ve been given by his owner, is never mentioned, which kinda makes him a legit ‘man with no name’. He named himself through the traditional means of reading it off of something he saw.

He’s a bit of a delusional chameleon who longs to be a big popular hero, but he’s lived all of his life in a tank with no one to interact with except a wind-up goldfish and a barbie doll torso. It’s actually a little sad to think that his owner might be devastated over losing his pet, but Rango never mentions it or seems to care.

Rango’s one of the most uncomfortable characters to watch because he’s lying through most of the movie, and he plays up his lies as much as possible in order to fully create a heroic sheriff persona, but he really is a good guy who wants to help the people of Dirt.

Beans isn’t all that interesting. She’s a typical ‘no non-sense’ female lead whose only schtick is her defense mechanism. Beans is a desert iguana and she has a defense mechanism that essentially causes her to freeze up and be completely unaware of her surroundings. Problem is, this ability sometimes springs up without warning or trigger. She’ll just be talking and then boom. Then she just transforms into a doting girlfriend at the end, and it’s actually a little annoying.

Priscilla, the cactus mouse, steals several scenes with her odd habit of being incredibly and painfully blunt about situations and going on small tangents about frightening or gory situations.

Then there’s the mayor who is about as transparent as humanly possible. It’s obvious that he’s behind the water shortage in the town yet it takes Rango to finally figure it out and call him out on it. He’s not much of a villain, but there is someone who actually earns the villain title; Rattlesnake Jake.

As you can guess, Rattlesnake Jake is a rattlesnake. A huge rattlesnake….with piercing almost glowing orange, yellow and red eyes, huge fangs…..and that’s about it…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh there is his KICK-ASS MACHINE GUN TAIL. Oh my god, I never knew I needed a movie with a rattlesnake with a machine gun for a tail in my life, but that part of me has been fulfilled now. He is a big, badass, looming bastard of a snake. Though the reason I really like him isn’t just how badass he is, it’s that he actually has some sense of honor. By the end, he’s basically an anti-hero.

The fact that everything looks more or less real along with stuff like guns and animal threats such as hawks really makes the movie much more intense.

And might I commend the movie for having the best end credits sequence I’ve seen in ages? The art, the direction, the style, the music; they were all awesome for that segment.

Bottomline: Even if you don’t like westerns, I’d say definitely give this movie a shot. It’s cleverly written, has a great realistic feel to it, is gorgeously detailed, has some fantastic music, intense action sequences and while it’s not the most unique story in the world, you never once feel bored while watching it. I had a lot of fun with this movie, and I’d gladly watch it several more times.

Recommended Audience: Mild swearing (hell, damn, maybe an ‘ass’ I can’t remember), guns, smoking, some people get shot but I don’t think anyone dies from a gunshot wound, a bird dies from being crushed, an armadillo ‘dies’ from being run over by a car (and ew they closeup on his squished body, even though, oddly, there’s no guts or gore, it’s like someone flatted a balloon filled with flour) ‘scary situations’ maybe. 10+

Episode One-Derland (Cartoons): Slugterra

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Plot: Will Shane is a respected man of justice in the world of Slugterra – a world miles beneath the surface where people battle using slugs with various powers. While combating the evil Dr. Blakk, he is met with Blakk’s newest creation – corrupted slugs. One of them opens up an interdimensional void that sucks Will up, but not before he sends his faithful slug, Burpy to the surface world to notify his teenage son, Eli, of his fate. After Eli learns of his father’s fall, he follows the instructions on a letter he left behind to finally go to Slugterra and earn his rightful place as a shane, if he wishes it and only when he turns 15.

On his 15th birthday, Eli heads down to Slugterra and follows his father’s directions to find a place to live, a mode of transportation and some starter gear. However, he’s aggravated when he learns that Slugterra has been taken over by thugs in the years of the shane’s absence. Since Eli has no formal training and only one slug, he is quickly tossed aside when he tries to enforce law and order.

In order to help him out, a seeming burglar of his father’s hideout, Pronto, tells him to earn respect and training by winning a local tournament. Eli is pumped to finally start fighting, but since he’s just starting out can he even win a qualifier?

Breakdown: Okay, I really need to start paying more attention to Disney XD because they seem to get way better shows that whatever they sling on cable.

Slugterra didn’t look like much to me when I first glanced at it, but I was surprisingly intrigued by this show….they shoot animals out of guns at each other and they transform in mid-air into awesome monsters! Out of context, that’s seemingly a hair below animal abuse, but it’s actually really cool!

In just our starter episode, part one no less, we are introduced to all sorts of interesting slugs, creatures and characters that get you amped up to see more.

I even enjoyed the cel-shaded CGI animation and art, and that’s very rare for me because I have a really hard time enjoying CGI cartoons.

I do have some bones to pick, though.

First, the pacing is kinda break-neck. We go from Will’s battle to his fall to Eli learning of his fall to him being 15 and going to Slugterra in just a handful of minutes. I think we could’ve made this a bit smoother considering this is indeed a part one.

Second, Eli’s response to his dad ‘falling’ (IE Dying) is uh…less than emotional. I swear, he looks sad for about a second then gets pumped when he learns of the letter his dad left, instructing him on how to start his shane training and how to get to Slugterra. It’s really offputting. The families of soldiers and law enforcement officers are also prepared for something bad to happen to their loved ones, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have an expected emotional response to it happening. Especially when Will seemed like a single dad.

This lack of emotional response is even more offputting when he gets to Slugterra and has the gall to complain about the vehicle his dad left him. Gee thanks dead dad for leaving me full instructions on how to get to this awesome fantasy world and leaving me a place to live, new clothes, a blaster, a powerful slug etc etc. But this vehicle’s a hunk of junk. Pft.

It’s somehow even worse when it’s revealed that the vehicle in the hideout wasn’t even the one he was talking about and Eli’s real ride is super cool. You don’t deserve a cool ride when you’re a spoiled brat.

Third, for seemingly being the hotshot of the tournament, Shockwire’s battle with Eli was kinda lame. If it’s so well know that his slugs can misfire when they’re overworked, surely this crowd favorite would know about it and not shoot off his slugs willy-nilly. And after one hit by Burpy he surrenders? Come on, dude.

I do commend Eli for asking which of Shockwire’s slugs wanted to go with him instead of just taking one. That shows a level of respect for both the slugs and the world that no one seems to have.

Finally, I hate to say it, but the overall plot is cliché city. From the dead dad to the upstart son to the evil bad guy of badness who is named, of all damn things, Dr. Blakk, and the corruption that puts the world at risk. I’ve seen more creativity on the nutritional value chart on my multivitamins.

Overall, however, this is a very fun and engrossing show that I will be glad to continue. Sadly, this show seems to be in limbo because no new episodes have been made since October 2016.

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I hope to God this show didn’t get canceled on some horrible incident involving a small child, a gun and literal slugs. I don’t know what would happen in the solution to that equation, but I imagine something terrible….and slimy.

Pixar’s Lamp: Toy Story

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Rating: 9.5/10

Plot: In a world where toys are alive, yet pretend to be inanimate around humans, a boy named Andy’s favorite toy, a cowboy named Woody, feels threatened by the presence of a new toy, a space ranger toy called Buzz Lightyear. Andy slowly starts playing with Buzz more than Woody, and in his jealousy Woody accidentally causes Buzz to fall out the window. When Woody ends up getting lost as well, he and Buzz have to work together to make it back home and back to Andy.

Breakdown: It’s Pixar’s turn with their first baby; Toy Story and I LOVE TOY STORYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!

*cough* Sorry.

It’s one of my favorite movies ever. I’ve become fairly good at removing my nostalgia goggles when it comes to things that I used to love when I was a kid, but Toy Story holds up extremely well as still being entertaining, fun, funny, heartwarming and exciting. Best of all, it’s a movie that parents and kids can enjoy together; not a movie that you turn on just to humor your kids.

The characters are all unique and lovable. They all implement various parts of their designs into their own specific brands of humor. Even the minor toys get their own little times to shine and be memorable. Woody and Buzz in particular have great chemistry both as enemies and friends. They bounce off of each other with plenty of entertaining banter and they are really a joy to watch.

The story is fairly unique and never becomes boring or cliché (Also I never knew Joss Whedon worked on this.) Jealousy’s not really a new thing, but they implement it in a way that doesn’t come off as tired.

Love or hate Randy Newman, I love his songs here. He was perfect to do the music for this movie.

Art and animation wise, the designs are unique and memorable. The animation is believable and really brings the toys to life in more ways than one. I will say that the animation, usually involving the human characters and Scud (whose eyes are just weird), is sometimes not quite as polished as what we’ve come to enjoy from Pixar movies today, but this is hardly noticeable and nothing major. Besides, they were just starting out here anyway.

……Oh wait, no. I can never forgive the nightmare fuel that is Molly. *shudder*

It even does product placement right. It puts a bunch of existing toy brands with allusions to real brands with toys made specifically for the movie and manages to market all of them. I still, to this day, wish I had gotten that creepy baby doll robot spider from Sid’s room. That kid may have been a serial killer in the making, but that toy was cool. (Seriously, his parents just let him buy rockets, play with matches, blow up his toys and get an ‘I ❤ explosives’ bumper sticker on the wall and don’t suspect a thing?) I did have a big Buzz Lightyear toy that I actually still have in my closet somewhere with his rocket (non-cardboard version).

This movie stands up really well and never ceases to be entertaining and heartwarming to me. It is a very fitting opening to Pixar’s prestigious career.

Recommended Audience: There’s toy violence when it comes to Sid as he really likes torturing and blowing up his toys through various means. The final scene with Sid would also be insanely frightening if shown without context in any other movie. But eh, come on. 5+

Dreaming of Dreamworks: Antz Review

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Rating: 7/10

Plot: Z is a worker ant who feels like a nobody. Part of a huge colony where hardly anyone has a real identity or personality, Z wants to break away from all of them and be his own ant. The colony’s princess, Bala, also wants to break away from her boring duties as princess to have some ‘fun’ with the workers and meets Z at a bar. They hit it off, but are torn apart by the horrific norms of society. However, when a general, Bala’s fiancee, has a terrible secret plan to wipe out all of the workers and create his own colony with soldiers, it’s up to Z, Bala and his friends to save the colony.

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Breakdown: Going through all of Dreamworks’ productions this time, and Antz is first on the list. A lot of people are quick to dismiss Antz because so many people saw it as a blatant rip off of one of Pixar’s first babies, A Bug’s Life. I can see that, given the fact that both take place in ant colonies and both have a ‘different’ and ‘weird’ main character who falls in love with their colony’s princess. I can also easily see this since even the studios were arguing over who was really copying who. In addition, their productions were going at at the same time. Antz actually debuted a couple of months before A Bug’s Life, so I kinda wonder why Antz is labeled as the rip off if it came technically before A Bug’s Life.

Pixar did make more money off of their movie than Dreamworks did, but Pixar also had about 20 mil more in their budget to work with than Dreamworks. They seem to be pretty square in their releases and productions yet A Bug’s Life is always seen as the triumphant one. Let’s differentiate these two.

At face value, this plot is actually quite a bit different from A Bug’s Life in that there’s no dictator-esque group of people squeezing the colony of every bit of their food….but there is a nazi-esque general who believes that the worker ants are useless and wants to kill them all in order to make a new colony with the princess and the soldiers.

There’s no circus group that helps out, but the main character does lie to a bunch of people in order to feel good about himself and gain support.

The main character’s not an awkward outcast inventor….but he is Woody Allen….take that as you will.

There’s plenty that is different with this movie. Some different good (No annoying child ants!) and some different bad (Z is not very likable, in my opinion. Also the artwork is weird to me sometimes.)

I guess that is my main problem with this movie. I never grew to like Z. Maybe because I never liked Woody Allen, but he is just so damned annoying, and he really is just Woody Allen as an ant. Z doesn’t like the fact that he seems to be insignificant and this is only reinforced when people….reinforce it.

There is a hive-mind way of thinking in the colony, as expected. There’s no individualism, no free thinking, no real choices; just doing what you’re told to do and doing it for the sake of your colony. A Bug’s Life worked in a similar manner, but they were far brighter and upbeat about the situation like everyone was in their roles because they wanted to be not because they didn’t know any better.

Z’s so different because he actually thinks for himself. Ooh what a rebel. This wouldn’t be that bad if he wasn’t so…..vocal about his character being mindless robots….He’s a goth kid without the black is what I mean. Always prattling on about how everyone just does what their told and never thinks for themselves and–

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Yeah that.

Not that he doesn’t have a point; they don’t do anything but what they’re told. But it’s just thrown in your face so blatantly. And of course Z setting one example causes a huge shift in everyone’s mindsets and causes everyone to revolt against their work. Thing is, the scene where they showcase this makes it seem like individualism=laziness. They were told to do nothing but work, but their work had a point – to help the colony. Yet the instant they’re like ‘hey we can think for ourselves’ no one wants to work or help at all anymore.

The colony really is a bunch of, forgive this term,…sheep. They change their attitudes so quickly back and forth that you nearly get whiplash at how quickly they turned on their almighty hero Z in order to follow the antagonist.

The art and animation were also…..blech-ish. I didn’t mind the character models all that much. The ant designs were also much different than what we see in A Bug’s Life. In fact, that’s a bit of a gripe I have with that movie. I know black and red aren’t really appealing colors to work with, but blue ants? Bright blue ants? Really?

Anyway, the ants here have a much less cartoony design than Pixar’s, and they’re colored in a more realistic brown color. It works okay, but that art, especially where Weaver was involved, looked claymation-ish. Or almost unfinished. I get that Dreamworks was just starting out with this but still, not grade A work. The animation is good, though. A little on the stiff side. There never seemed to be any moments where it seemed funny or unnatural….Well, okay, the human scene was weird. You never see his/her torso and the walking just seems so slow.

In the end, it was a pretty enjoyable movie that kept my attention, but I don’t think I’d ever have a reason to watch it again. Despite having enough to stand on its own merit and not be compared to A Bug’s Life….A Bug’s Life is just a more enjoyable movie to me.

Recommended Audience: Another fairly significant difference between this movie and A Bug’s Life is that this has more adult humor in it. A good chunk of the jokes are really jokes for older audiences and there are several instances of swearing and some allusions to sex. Nothing major, obviously, though. 7+

AVAHS – Niko 2: Little Brother Big Trouble (A Christmas Adventure)

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Plot: Niko has been spending a lot of time with his father, Prancer, since last year. However, his mother’s none too keen on Prancer letting him stay out late or trying to go Santa Speed. Despite this, Niko still wishes for and believes that his mother and father will get back together some day. When Oona reveals to him that she is indeed interested in bringing a father figure back into their family, he is ecstatic since he believes his mother is getting back together with his father. However, he’s quickly crestfallen when he discovers that not only are both Oona and Prancer uninterested in getting back together, but the father figure Oona had in mind was a reindeer named Lenni.

Niko is clearly upset at this news and becomes even more devastated when he learns Lenni has a young son named Jonni. Not interested in gaining a new dad or a new little brother, Niko pushes both of them away as much as possible. But when he tries to ditch Jonni during a game of Hide and Seek, Jonni gets taken away by eagles who are working for Black Wolf’s vengeful sister, White Wolf, and it’s up to him to be a good big brother and get Jonni back.

Breakdown: Last year I talked about how Niko and the Way to the Stars was a welcome surprise in the holiday movie genre. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable little family movie for Christmas.

Niko 2 is also a perfectly enjoyable movie, but it’s only barely Christmas-y and it’s not really as good as the first one.

Much of the movie focuses entirely on a plot that has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. In fact, the Flying Forces and Santa and Christmas as a whole seem really tacked on. Prancer and Oona butt heads, but they never settle things between them. Niko and Prancer only spend the first scene together and then nothing.

They never would have revisited the Flying Forces or Santa’s Fell again after the first act unless two stupid things didn’t occur. First, White Wolf decided to get to Niko through his father, which is why she and the eagles attacked the Flying Forces. Piss poor excuse to get them involved. It’s really such a bother to catch one flying reindeer fawn who can’t even go Santa Speed so target the Flying Forces?

Second, Julius decides to lie about Jonni being taken to Oona by saying Prancer and Niko decided to spend time with Jonni, basically pinning responsibility for the whole thing on poor Prancer, a guy who is seemingly trying to be a good dad to Niko but keeps getting the short end of the stick. (And, what’s dumber, Julius basically becomes an honesty advocate and head shaker towards Lenni and Niko for continuing the lie HE made in the first place)

Not to mention, Santa’s Fell somehow feels even worse this time around. It never seemed too fantastical, but the factory is a lifeless toy factory with literally no one in it. No elves, no nothing. It’s self-running and maintaining equipment apparently. Santa makes a brief appearance cloaked kinda in shadow just to say hi to Niko and reunite with Tobias. And Niko visits his dad all the time but it seems like Santa hasn’t seen Niko in ages.

Well, if Christmas isn’t a big highlight, I guess the only thing we can bank on is the main plot. As a whole, the main plot isn’t that bad. It’s a predictable cliché from start to finish, but it isn’t that bad. I never felt bored or annoyed for the most part, and it’s totally harmless. However, I have to call out some laziness in the conflict.

First of all, the antagonist being the sister to the antagonist from the original movie, wanting revenge for their death; wow, that’s Disquel levels of unimaginative.

Second, the eagles are a total joke. At least Black Wolf and his pack were kinda threatening in the last movie. The eagles are just complete comic relief. The only reason White Wolf even has eagles as a posse are to get to Santa’s Fell without going the same long route Niko took in the last movie. And yes, the eagles carry her like a fish to Santa’s Fell. It’s a bit ridiculous.

Third, White Wolf is in no way scary or threatening. She’s a ‘hands-off’ ‘let my minions do everything’ villain. At least Black Wolf was proactive for the entirety of the first movie. White Wolf just sits in the shadows of the eagles’ domain and commands them to do things for half the movie. She’s not even commanding the eagles out of respect or fear, she manipulates them because they have a crush on her and later because the Flying Forces banned them from the skies for no given reason. Her eyes don’t even constantly glow like Black Wolf’s. Guess that trait wasn’t genetic.

She also wasn’t taken care of in a decent manner. She’s basically tied up and that’s it. I guess she’ll just die of starvation or else the plot really isn’t over since eventually she’ll get out of those ties and go after Niko again, even more fiercely.

Lenni and Jonni are both perfectly fine new characters. I was really worried they’d make Lenni out to be a secret jerk and then Oona and Prancer would get back together or Jonni would be an annoying little brat and I’d end up wanting to play reindeer games with his face, but they’re both perfectly nice characters.

If anything, Oona’s the one I’m more annoyed with this whole movie. She obviously sees how much Niko loves his father and wishes they got back together, so what does she do? Instead of sitting him down gently and explaining that she and his father will never work and he should learn to love their slightly disjointed family and maybe learning to lay off Prancer and then later leaning into ‘hey I’ve been dating this new guy….’ what does she do?

One day, out of the blue, after essentially leading Niko to believe that she and Prancer will be getting back together by leading the conversation and not disclosing who she’s talking about, she reveals that she’s been dating Lenni behind Niko’s back for some time now and that he’ll be moving in immediately. Oh and also, he has a young son, he’s Niko’s little brother now. Deal with it.

Then she pretty much expects Niko to be instantly fine with all of this, even though it’s clearly bothering the hell out of him. She briefly speaks with him about it, but it’s, again, basically just expecting that Niko is fine with everything.

When Lenni lies to her about the situation with the boys, he says he wants to go up to Santa’s Fell to confront Prancer and she’s all ‘whoo! I’ll go with you and give my two cents!’ Whoo yeah, he needs a talkin’ to what with his mild leniency with Niko; having fun with him and spending time with him and training him in flying and whatnot. What an ass.

Also, the reason Lenni and Jonni suddenly moved in is because she’s pregnant with Lenni’s kid. They give ‘subtle’ hints at it throughout the movie, but it’s obvious she’s preggers and both Lenni and Oona know and have known for a while. And she never tells Niko. She had to have told him some time between the final climax of the movie and the birth of the kid at the end, but she doesn’t mention it before then. Mother of the year.

We get another new character in the reindeer, Tobias, who is a pretty old reindeer living by himself out in the wilderness. His schtick is Mr. Magoo. He’s blind as a bat and frequently does silly things because he can’t see well. Also, he’s kinda looney. I went back and forth with liking Tobias. On one hand, he can be funny, but on the other hand his schtick is horribly cliché and one-note. On one hand, his backstory is kinda interesting and his life at the moment is a bit sad, but on the other hand his backstory kinda doesn’t make sense and is a bit dumb.

Last note, the thing with Niko attempting to go Santa Speed is arguably the most predictable part of this movie. It’s completely obvious that he will be able to do it by the end.

Ranting over with, the art and animation are about on par with the original movie’s though the lip-synching is noticeably worse.

The voice acting is alright, though, again, the emoting and vocal volumes need work.

The music is completely forgettable and we don’t even get a song from Wilma to spice things up.

Bottomline: I have more problems with this movie than I did the last, but it is a perfectly fine movie. If you were a fan of the original, give it a shot. If not, skip it. Also skip it if you’re looking for a fun Christmas movie. Despite the tagline being ‘A Christmas Adventure’ there is a staggering lack of anything really Christmas-y. If anything, it seems to purposely skip out on it and the stuff they do include seems really forced.

AVAHS – Arthur Christmas

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Plot: We all know that Santa delivers presents to all the little girls and boys at Christmas, but what really goes on at the North Pole? ‘Santa’ is actually more of an inherited title than it is one singular person. Generation through generation, new Santas take the helm of the sleigh, and it’s nearing the time for a tech-savvy calculating man named Steve to finally take the reins. Figuratively speaking, of course, since Steve has turned the North Pole into an ultra-high-tech hub for Christmas preparation, and the old sleigh has been replaced with an equally high-tech air ship named the S-1.

Steve’s little brother, Arthur, works in the letters department and loves nothing more than any and all things Christmas. He greatly admires his father, the current Santa, and he also strongly believes in his brother to become the next Santa.

His faith starts to waiver, however, when the ultra-efficient Steve somehow misses a girl named Gwen. He tries to convince both his brother and father to go back and deliver her present, but they decide against it, leaving Gwen in the ‘margin of error.’ Arthur won’t accept that, and is recruited by his grandfather, the grandsanta, to take his old sleigh and reindeer out to deliver the present themselves, accompanied by an energetic wrapping elf named Bryony. Can they manage to deliver the present on time, or will one little girl end up thinking that she’s the one kid Santa forgot?

Breakdown: Alright, now we’re talkin’ newer holiday traditions. Ever since I first watched this movie several years ago, I have watched it every Christmas. It is one of the very few newer Christmas movies that manages to fill me with the Christmas spirit.

Arthur Christmas introduces an interesting concept behind Christmas. Instead of Santa being one immortal being with woodworking elves, a sleigh and reindeer, it is a title that is passed through the generations (and is kinda magic considering they seem to live much longer than normal people) with a high-tech command center directing thousands of elves to deliver presents in whole towns at a time…..And Santa maybe puts down a present or two.

Like Steve mentions, the current Santa, whose real name is Malcolm, is more of a figurehead than anything. He loves the title, he enjoys being loved by the children of the world and he enjoys the fame brought on by the elves, but he does little to nothing besides go through the motions. Steve and the many elves in the North Pole handle quite literally everything. From monitoring the children to ensure they don’t wake, to delivering the presents to going through complicated maneuvers to prevent alerting dogs or setting off alarms, and even piloting the S-1. Like I said, Santa is basically escorted into like one house per town, does nothing, then when they’re about to leave, they let him set down a gift.

Steve is all set and ready to rumble for the job of Santa, and he seems more than qualified given everything he does, but he’s also not anymore fit for the job than Malcolm because he doesn’t seem to care about kids at all and sees Santa as a glorified title above all else.

Arthur is more than content working in the letters department. He loves reading the letters from the various children of the world and responding back to them. His office is like a giant shrine to all things Christmassy and Santa. I really appreciate that they didn’t have him be some bitter character who, despite loving Christmas and seeing the meaning of Christmas far beyond any of the living Santas, is angry about not being offered the job of Santa despite being a Claus. They could’ve easily gone down that route, but they didn’t.

Arthur is a lovable Christmas dork, and he is my kindred spirit. I love everything about Christmas. Let me loose in any store with Christmas decorations and clothes and whatnot and, if I had it my way, you wouldn’t see me until closing. And you bet I’d wear they hell out of Arthur’s cute little light-up singing reindeer slippers.

There is a lot to love about Arthur, especially in how he’s willing to brave every frightening aspect of this journey to make sure Gwen didn’t feel left out on Christmas. And there’s a lot to worry about with him. He’s a worrier as it is, but he’s also fairly clumsy and doesn’t understand a lot of the mechanics of both the old and new Santa devices. It does not help that he’s accompanied by Grandsanta, who is equal parts crazy and absentminded. There’s a plot twist with his character that I never saw coming, and I think it works very well in the flow of the story. Let’s just say that forgetting the true meaning of Christmas didn’t start with Malcolm.

The fact that Arthur basically lives in a delusion, believing just as much in the fantasy version of Santa as most children on earth, leaves you worrying as well. You know the poor guy’s going to have his whole world crash around him eventually, and you’re just sitting there getting more and more anxious the closer he gets to the truth. It is almost as painful as watching someone tell a little kid that Santa doesn’t exist. (Spoiler alert) When that plot twist with Grandsanta is revealed, it’s the first big blow to his belief system since he believed Grandsanta was the only one who wanted to uphold the old traditions and keep the spirit of Christmas alive.

He also has Bryony with him, a female elf who is a wrapping extraordinaire and can wrap any present with three pieces of sticky tape. Despite just being a wrapping elf, she is extremely skilled and knowledgeable as a field elf who helps Arthur along the way. She gets a ton of great lines in both her quirkiness and her whimsical bluntness. I loved her, especially her punk rock character design.

I will admit, you can see where a good chunk of the movie is going from the get-go, and I didn’t much care for the ‘alien’ sub-plot with the government. I mean, I guess it adds to the gravity of the situation, but it’s mostly treated as a joke (Plus, a wooden painted air craft with people singing Christmas carols saying they come in peace, shooting oranges and chocolates is blown up with a missile and they’re all proud of themselves) But the story adds plenty of its own originality and writing to the table to keep you more than entertained throughout the whole movie.

This movie was a product of Aardman Animations. Yup, the claymation Aardman. Except here they’re bringing claymation style to full CGI animation. And it works incredibly well. While I have my problems with the facial designs, for the love of eggnog, who cares? The details are gorgeous. From the hairs on their heads, to the stitches of Arthur’s sweater (even including those little furry hairs some wool sweaters have) to the cities and vehicles and houses, it’s just amazing. This is the second time that Aardman has done a full CGI feature (Flushed Away being their first – co-produced by Dreamworks), and they definitely prove without a shadow of a doubt that they can maintain their talents throughout the mediums.

It is especially prominent in the characters themselves. While I’m not fan of claymation, I have always greatly respected how much tender loving care Aardman puts into their character work to make them seem not only alive but like they’re truly people who exist. Arthur Christmas is definitely no exception. All of the characters look, move and sound like they’re real people (okay, they don’t look realistic in regards to looking like you and me, but they look like actual living beings). Those looks on Arthur’s face when he thinks about Gwen getting her present are just beautiful.

They also interact with each other and their environments like real people. They definitely feel like a real family with familiar family problems and squabbles as well as the love and respect that is sometimes covered by those issues.

I even loved how they interacted with the elves. I feel a bit worse for the elves this time around because elves get little respect and love by the children during Christmas as it is considering they do all the work of making the toys and doing whatever else needs to be done during the rest of the year yet Santa delivers the gifts and gets all the glory. It’s like giving the UPS guy a holiday. Here, not only do the elves do all the background work like making the gifts and wrapping them etc. but they do most of the delivering too; yet they still have to live in the ever darkening shadow of a Santa who does little to nothing.

And then, like Arthur, they don’t seem to care. They just want Christmas to go perfectly for all the kids of the world. And, like Arthur, they are completely appalled when they find out that not only Santa forgot a kid, but they also aren’t going to go back to deliver the present. While it’s obvious that none of the Santas really respect the elves at all (Grandsanta’s treatment of them, Bryony included, is most terrible), it’s also apparent that they respect how they see them, much like how they respect how the majority of the children of the world see Santa. It’s only when the elves express how horrible it is that a child has been missed that the current Santa even tries to do anything about it.

Since Arthur is basically an elf himself, he is friends with most of them, despite knowing that some of them mock him behind his back for being so dorky and clumsy. I legitimately had a pang in my heart when I saw them cheering on Arthur through a video feed. They also just care about keeping up the magic of Christmas and Santa to the children, and Arthur’s the hero they need for the job.

If I’ve gushed enough, this movie has some flaws, but it is a phenomenal Christmas movie and just a fantastic movie period. I watch it every year, and I may watch it again before the holidays are over. And this is coming from someone who never believed in Santa. If you need a holiday pickup, this is one of the more recent movies to bring that warm Christmassy feeling, and maybe a little magic, to your heart.

Recommended Audience: E for everyone!

Episode One-Derland (Cartoons) Storm Hawks

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Plot: In the treacherous world of Atmos are Squadrons meant to protect the land and skies from all threats. Each Squadron is lead by a Sky Knight, and consists of several pilots of land vehicles that can transform into flying vehicles both meant for combat. Aerrow and his team, Finn, Junko, Piper, Stork and Radarr are aspiring to be a real Squadron since Aerrow is now and official Sky Knight, though their application is rejected due to their age. When an old threat, Cyclonis reappears and attempts to take the main powering crystal of Atmos, the Storm Hawks gear up to try and take her down after the only Squadron left suffers from a betrayal and defeat at the hands of their own leader.

Breakdown: This plot follows a hell of a lot of formulas of kid shows. Team of kids are great at something and passionate about it, but the adults keep treating them like kids so they take on a big bad to prove themselves as worthy of the titles they desire. Over the top evil villain who seems to shop at the nearest evil outlet store. Energy crystals that are essentially macguffins. Fairly perfect if not somewhat cocky main lead who gets all the best stuff (IE, a special move that is only given to Sky Knights). Wacky animal sidekick. Etc.

It’s not breaking any major ground here.

That being said, I did enjoy it more than I first thought I would. The premise is simple and somewhat tired, but it makes it fun with the air battles, vehicles and even some of the weapons. They even have lightsaber-like battles. Seriously, blades of light that make almost the exact same sound when being swung. Though I really don’t appreciate the whole ‘leader gets a special super move when his teammates don’t have much to show off’ thing.

As a first episode, it’s fairly messy. They explain the world kinda well, and the same goes for the Squadrons, but they don’t explain what a Sky Knight is, why and how Aerrow became one, why they get special powers, where these crystals come from and why they’re so powerful, who Cyclonis is or what Cyclonia is.

In regards to characters, we get good intros to each one. Aerrow is a bit too much of a typical leader character. He seems to have few flaws, is really talented and strong against people way older and experienced than him, and has that good ol’ never give up attitude.

Finn is comic relief in the form of an ego-maniac, but he seems to mean well. Despite his ego trip, he never seems to talk down to people or seem more important than the mission.

Piper….I’m going to refrain from calling her the token girl, because she hasn’t shown any signs of being anyone’s love interest, not even Aerrow’s, and she seems like a very capable strategist. I am a little miffed that she doesn’t seem to actually have any fighting moves, though. I don’t want to see what could be a good female character in a kid’s action cartoon relegated to ‘support.’

Junko is kinda funny. He’s the big dumb guy of the group, but seems capable and nice enough.

Stork is also fairly unique in that he seems equal parts dark humor and paranoid ramblings. His green character design makes him stand out, and I can see him being a favorite character, even if he is slightly mean sometimes.

Radarr is like a weird weasel rabbit thing that acts as Aerrow’s co-pilot and engineer. He doesn’t talk, and I found his antics to be a bit too over the top.

Many of the other characters are mostly unimportant for now, but I do have to address Cyclonis….who gave her that voice? I know she’s probably pretty young, being the granddaughter of the first Cyclonis, but she sounds way too young. It’s like some kid playing dress-up. The ridiculously stupid outfit does not help matters either. She has a hood that actually separates into several long skinny spikes around her head….

The art is….fine. Fairly simple and craggy designs that stand out but aren’t very detailed at all. The animation is stilted and awkward a good chunk of the time, though the budget and focus seems to be put on the battles, which is really where it counts most here. When scenes are slow, though, the animation really just gets weird, however.

The music is actually pretty nice. Orchestral scores that usually fit with the scenes just fine.

Overall

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I was on the fence about this for a while, but I decided that it was worth continuing on for a bit anyway. I did get some laughs here and there, and I didn’t experience any points where I wasn’t enjoying myself. It’s just not the most original thing ever. And really, that’s a hard point to make in today’s originality drought.

Recommended Audience: Some mild violence, but nothing I would call bad at all. 5+

Episode One-Derland (Cartoons) BattleTech

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Plot: The inner sphere is a federation of numerous planets. While they lived in peace for many years, the planets within their borders have waged centuries of war against each other. During the midst of the wars, the entire federation was attacked by a new enemy who call themselves the clans. Adam Steiner, a man of royalty and high military ranking from the planet Somerset, seeks to wage battle against the clans after they take over his home planet.

Breakdown: The first episode does a meh job of introducing you to the world in which this show takes place. We’re thrown in the middle of the invasion with no idea who anyone is or what’s going on until about four minutes into the show where we get our plot breakdown via the always helpful pre-opening song narration.

After that, it still doesn’t do a great job of introducing us to the main characters. The most prominent ones I remember are Adam, who apparently maybe got a free ride in the military due to his vague royal status on a low ranking planet. He’s seemingly a noble guy who merely wants to save his home planet and he’s a responsible soldier as he still refuses to pass one of his friends in a mech piloting test or give her a second shot at the test since she showed she didn’t have the right frame of mind to pilot them.

Kylie is the student who was failed, and she’s headstrong and a little bitchy. She blames Adam for not passing her or giving her another chance even though she stupidly failed the simulation and got herself virtually killed because she wanted to be a show off. She seems to stay on the Somerset liberation team as a Banshee (plane) pilot…..However, I don’t quite get why she’s good at that but not mech battles. The same mistake she made in that test could easily apply to battle planes.

Then there’s a red headed guy named Ciro who’s just a complete asshole, a guy who is hella into his job as an officer named Hawk, another asshole who was a smuggler turned ally named Sakamoto, some chick with goggles who’s basically there to spout out information and plot developments and that’s about it.

We get no information on the bad guys outside of the fact that they have weird green tattoos on their faces, glowing red eyes sometimes and are evil.

The cast I’ve seen so far is actually incredibly diverse. While some depictions of certain races can be seen as a bit racist, mostly what are meant to be Japanese people, this show is really diverse……Then again, you have to keep in mind that no matter how diverse the cast is, the main character is still a pretty white guy.

The story itself is pretty generic. War with evil invaders and whatnot. We get some mechs which are nice and some cool action scenes given the environment that they live in. They’re really trying to stake their own claim in this genre, but there’s just not enough differentiation as far as I’ve seen.

Art and Animation: I will start by saying this show was a pioneer in combining CGI with traditional animation, and I commend them for that. However, that doesn’t mean that either animation style has stood the test of time. The traditional art is merely passable looking like it belongs more in the mid 80’s than the mid 90’s, and it really didn’t age well. The animation is filled with coloring errors, odd shifts in body parts while talking and is just not very nice to look at. The CGI has not aged well at all. It’s on par with Reboot’s art and animation, which makes sense because Reboot came out right around when this was made. It’s not so much melded with the traditional art and animation, the scene shifts from traditional scenes to scenes made entirely in CGI.

Voices: Half and half. Much of it is pretty good, actually. Others are just flat or kinda stereotype-y, though I can’t fault the actors too much for that since it was the dialogue and direction that made it that way.

Music: Completely forgettable.

Bottomline: I can see how someone would like this and have nostalgia for it, but I don’t see a point in continuing this series. It’s pretty short at 13 episodes, but I believe it’s too predictable and cliché to clinch my attention for further episodes.

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Recommended Audience: Some violence, implications of death but nothing outside of that. 5+

AVAHS – Niko and The Way to the Stars/The Flight Before Christmas

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Rating: 7/10

Plot: A young reindeer named Niko has always been told by his mother that he was the son of one of Santa’s flying reindeer in the flying forces. Because of this, Niko has always held the belief that he would fly, but has always been unsuccessful. He’s a bit obsessed with his flight training, and one day ends up accidentally leading a pack of fierce wolves to his herd’s location while practicing in an area he was told to stay out of. In order to finally fly and avoid the rejection of his herd, Niko and his father figure, a flying squirrel named Julius, travel to the mysterious location of the flying forces and Santa, Santa’s Fell, to find his father. However, the wolves are hot on his trail and intend to eat him as well as the flying forces and Santa himself.

Breakdown: This was a pretty nice surprise. I honestly didn’t think much of this movie from face value, but it’s a pretty nice Christmas movie. It’s not hilarious or particularly heart-warming, but it is fun, has a pretty solid story and doesn’t try too hard to be anything more than it is.

Niko is a pretty generic character who reminds me a whole lot of Tarzan. Outcast because he’s trying to be something he’s not, but he’s doing this because of his mysterious past, ends up screwing up everything and putting his family in danger because of it so he tries his hardest to achieve his dreams and find a place to belong.

I find it a little weird that his backstory is actually that his mom, Oona, had a one-night stand with one of Santa’s flying forces and just never saw him again. I mean, they don’t say it, but she met him once, never met him again and had Niko.

Julius actually has the most interesting backstory that I’m surprised they didn’t balk on. See, early in the movie, Julius makes a squirrel out of snow and pretends it’s his Aunt Sally to help Niko lie and get out of trouble. Later in the movie, he makes three snow squirrels and explains to Wilma, a weasel, that these snow squirrels are actually representations of a family he actually had. He had a wife, an aunt and young son. One day, he went off to look for food and when he returned his family was gone. After seeing wolf tracks in the snow he realized that his family had all been eaten by wolves. He took in Niko as a kind of surrogate son since Niko also had no father, which serves as one of the bigger conflicts in the movie.

Wilma was a great character. She was a lot of fun, and I loved her song at Santa’s Fell. That was legitimately funny. I am kinda weirded out that she’s made out to be Julius’ love interest, though. Why don’t animated movies find inter-species mating to be weird?

I also appreciate that they didn’t make out Santa’s flying forces to be a bunch of jerk-offs. While they’re not the smartest nor the humblest reindeer alive, they’re not that bad and they’re perfectly nice to Niko throughout. Would’ve been nice for Niko’s father to have fleshed out a bit more. He really doesn’t stand out anymore than the others.

I found that Niko’s relationship to his mother and love interest, Saga, weren’t fleshed out enough either. Saga’s whole role is, in a Faline fashion, to be the love interest and nothing else. She’s at the beginning and end of the movie to be simply that.

Finally, the antagonists of the wolves, in particular Black Wolf (guess what color he is) are…..fine. They’re really just terribly generic and their plan makes no sense. I mean, finding the herd of reindeer makes sense because they’re their main source of food. However, planning a terribly dangerous mission to Santa’s Fell to eat Santa’s reindeer and Santa as well as every little girl and boy that they will visit on Christmas? Plus, Black Wolf’s eyes, which are yellow, literally glow throughout the entire movie.

The fact is, he’s more focused on killing Niko, also for no real reason. He has no idea who he is or where he’s heading, he just wants to kill him for existing.

Along with the wolves is a pink poodle named Essie, who also really serves no other purpose than to be a love interest for one of the wolves, Specs, who is basically an example to prove that not all of the wolves are all bad….even though the rest of them are shown to be bad. I actually kinda liked their relationship…it’s much more fleshed out and interesting than Niko and Saga or Oona and Prancer…..Uh…err….spoiler alert.

This is actually a Finnish movie with an English dub, and you can tell with the various accents that pop up. It’s like they were trying to hide their accents half the time, but were inconsistent with it. Most of the voice acting is decent enough, but my god the VA for Niko is just awful. He can’t emote worth a crap, nor can he raise his voice. Everytime he yells it’s like there’s someone in the studio reminding him to use his ‘inside voice’.

The animation is….good. It’s kinda like a mix between Dreamworks and Sony. Trying to be realistic with the backgrounds and snow but wanting a more cartoony look for the characters. I think it works well enough, though I still can’t decide if the snow effects were that good.

All in all, a surprisingly good movie. It’s not forcing some ‘true meaning of Christmas’ down our throats nor does it follow too many cliches. While not doing anything grand or fantastic, it’s still a fun ride.

Recommended Audience: E for everyone!