Tag Archives: Disney

Six Underrated Kids’ Comedies

13 Apr

We are just much, much better than you.

Pixar owns animated kids’ movies. Metacritic.com provides a weighted aggregate score of all US critics’ reviews. Pixar’s greats get the following metascores:

  • Toy Story 1: 92%
  • Toy Story 2: 88%
  • Toy Story 3: 92%
  • Incredibles: 90%
  • Finding Nemo: 89%
  • Up: 88%
  • Wall-E: 94%

Pixar makes everyone else look bad. And yet they may never have one distinction: the honour of one of their films being known as underrated. The following films deserve that accolade, in my opinion.

Having kids means that I have watched each of the Top 6 films many, many times. Familiarity breeds contempt, and watching something too many times certainly tests the strength of a film. Shrek, for example, remains a great movie, but seeing it a dozen times reveals that it’s really only Donkey that holds it together. Shrek and Fiona are really quite annoying. Chicken Little is OK, and Zach Braff is a funny guy, but having seen it three or four times, I don’t feel like watching it again. So, if a movie is still funny after viewing 15 or so, it probably belongs on this list.

First, here are some slightly underrated movies you should consider liking if you also want to be cool.

Honourable Mention

Despicable Me (2010)

(Metascore: 72%)

This is one of my wife’s favourite kids’ movies, and so it must make the list even only for that reason. It is good, though a bit too much cutesiness for my taste, and for my money it is only the second best 3D supervillain-with-minion(s) movie  made in 2010.

Favourite moment: Vector: the nerd villain. Oh Yeah!

Gru: [after giving Vector the moon in hostage exchange] Now the girls.
Vector: Actually, I’m holding on to them a little longer.
Gru: No!
Vector: Oh yeah! Unpredictable!

**************

Gru: We stole the Statue of Liberty…!
[the minions cheer]
Gru: …the small one, from Las Vegas!
[the cheers stop]
Gru: I won’t even mention the Eiffel Tower…
Gru: … also Vegas.

Curious George (2006)

(Metascore: 62%)

Curious George is very much a young kids’ movie, but it is surprisingly all-round excellent. The animation has been carefully designed to feel true to the simplicity and charm of the book illustrations, while still appearing sophisticated and modern (the sequels on the other hand had no problem with looking and being cheap). The voice cast is strong too; Will Ferrell manages not to over-indulge himself, Drew Barrymore does her Drew thing, and David Cross is hilarious as the over-looked son trying to win his dad’s love. Jack Johnson does a sweet job of the soundtrack too.

Favourite moment:  David Cross’ little comic gems (Falls from a height: ‘Ow! My body. Hey look! A dollar!’ OK, so it’s funnier when he does it.)

Worst moment: Watching one of the exploitative soulless sequels.

The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

(Metascore: 87%)

With a score of 87% this is obviously far from underrated. Nevertheless, I didn’t like it overly much the first time, and I heard no one making a fuss about it. With a couple more viewings, though, it definitely grew on me. One of the better ones.

Favourite moment: Vicar confronting unseen intruder: “Hello? [Creepy music] Hello? is anybody there? [Loud burp] Mrs. Mulch?”

All of the above are deserving of your consideration if you have been ignoring them. The following are six gems that got a mixed reception from the critics, but get two hand-thumbs and two toe-thumbs up from me.

6. Megamind (2010)

(Metascore: 63%)

Why it’s underrated: This film suffered with the critics due to its release very shortly after Despicable Me, which obviously invites comparison (they both feature minions, as I said). Also, it stars Will Ferrell, which is asking for trouble.

Why it deserves more:  Was there ever a role more suited to Will Ferrell than an arrogant, grandiose semi-supergenius? He’s great in this, and there are plenty of genuinely funny moments. But the thing I appreciated most about Megamind was the amount of attention paid to physical comedy, to timing and gesture. I love the bit where Megamind in his huge mechsuit gets bored waiting for his new nemesis to turn up, and so starts playing with the cars on the street like toys. Megamind often manages to be funny without dialogue.

5. Ice Age (2002)

(Metascore: 60%)

Why it’s underrated: My initial thought was that the opening squirrel cameo — which was used to promote the film and is genuinely excellent — was was its only redeeming feature. That little short-film had raised expectations, and the slightly wooden animation and clunky performances (in parts) in the movie itself never reached those heights.

Why it deserves more: Much like Donkey in Shrek, multiple viewings improved the appeal of the sloth character. The DVD includes a background documentary that shows how much work John Leguizamo put into developing the voice and personality of Sid, and it translates into a quality performance. In spite of the fact that he’s meant to be an annoying character, it is played with outstanding sensitivity. It’s a movie-saving performance. If Sid the Sloth had been like Jar-Jar Binks, there would never have been a sequel, and Blue Sky Studios would never have survived to make…

4. Horton Hears a Who (2008)

(Metascore: 71%)

Why it’s underrated: It’s not that Horton was hated by the critics or that it deserves too much more than the 70% it has, but it was one of those kids’ movies that moved on without a fuss. Pixar movies get hype, chatter, DVD purchases. This one gets mostly ignored.

Why it deserves more:  It’s beautifully made. Granted, most are these days, but it is often really really pretty. It is a massive jump in technical quality in the six years since Ice Age. Secondly, it is an interesting story. It raises questions about the limits of knowledge, our place in the universe, moral responsibility, peer pressure, politics.

Gaaaaaaa

Thirdly, it takes risks. There is that yellow puff-ball character that is a little too left field even for me; and there is that scene where Horton’s imagination makes everything Manga, which is one of my favourite ever kids’ movie moments. It’s a charming, good-natured, funny film.


Emperor’s New Groove (2000)

(Metascore: 70%)

A Disney movie? So one of them is a princess, one is a mage, and they're all going to sing at some point.

Why it’s underrated: It’s a non-Pixar Disney movie, which means it’s likely to have musical numbers written by rhyming dictionary, and sung by a teapot. The word pageantry will be used on the poster, in the reviews, and probably in the musical number (but not at the end of a line, because almost nothing rhymes with ‘pageantry’… OK there ‘gadgetry’… and most adverbs…where’s my rhyming dictionary?).

Also, the title is stupid — they just had to go for an Emperor’s New Clothes tie-in, even though it makes no sense — and Sting was employed to write a schmaltzy stereotypically Disney theme tune. [Allow me to say at this juncture that Sting’s song, and the strange and brutal Tom Jones number at the end, are bizarrely mismatched to this movie, and are for me its worst feature.]

I hate Disney movies. Even the freaking Lion King. My wife bought the Lion King II for about R3 at the market; I don’t know why she hates me. I hear Matthew Broderick’s voice in all my nightmares. So this movie was meant to suck along with all the others from the 80s and 90s.

Why it deserves more:

It is possible that this film was a turning point for Disney. They might have employed someone who enjoyed Pocahontas II as much as I did, but they seem to be trying harder in the new millennium. Whatever happened, Emperor’s is really funny. Surprisingly funny. Nobody breaks into song. Nobody says pageantry. It has David Spade doing his David Spade thing and Patrick Warburton talking to squirrels.

It’s not perfect, and not every joke lands, but while the critics on metacritic.com gave it 70%, the user score is a whopping 88%. Those who watched it liked it.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

(Metascore: 66%)

Why it’s underrated: ‘Hey! Come see a movie with me. It stars Bill Hader and Anna Faris.’
‘The guy from Napoleon Dynamite? Yeah, I don’t know…’
‘No, that’s Jon Heder. Bill Hader was in Night in the Museum. As, uh, General Custer.’
‘Uh. Who’s the director then?’
‘Phil Lord. He did some of this series… called, uh, Clone High… And, um. Hmm… There’s this Julia Roberts thing on too?’

Cloudy stars no one you’ve ever heard of, unless you are a huge fan of Evil Dead movies or the Scary Movie franchise. When every other kids’ movie headlines with Tom Hanks or Jim Carrey, that’s not ideal.

Secondly, it was part of a herd of shiny, colourful movies at the beginning of the 3D fad that we’re currently living through. It is too dazzling — ADD as one reviewer called it — too dominated by the disaster-movie feel that takes over by the end. Superficially, it seems like it’s trying to preach about obesity or the environment or pet-issue whatever. (It actually isn’t nearly as preachy on ‘issues’ as critics suggested; I didn’t notice them taking any crowd-pleasing opportunities to lecture kids about environmentalism).

I took my daughter too see it for bonding time (she was about four). We had ice cream and then watched the non-3D verson. She sat bolt upright for 80 minutes, came out of the cinema and vomited.

Why it deserves more: Cloudy is a bit hyper, but also has ludicrous amounts of charm just below the surface. There are quotable catchphrases (you’d be surprised how often ‘Woah, Steve, no. We both know how you get around gummibears!‘ can be used in regular conversation’). My daughter walked up to me the other day, reached out her hand and said, ‘Mustache!’, before withdrawing her hand in shame (as the monkey does). That already makes it great, but it also has Mr T (‘You know what you are Flint Lockwood? A shenanniganiser!‘), and an outstanding number of comic details that present themselves on subsequent viewings.

Sam Sparks: Can you keep a secret?
Flint Lockwood: No.
[awkward pause]
Flint Lockwood: But this time, sure. Yeah.
Sam Sparks: [sighs] Ok. It was a really long time ago but… I, too… was… a *nerd!*
Flint Lockwood: [blankly] Too?

***********

Flint Lockwood: Do you like Jello?
Sam Sparks: I love Jello!
Flint Lockwood: I love Jello too! Oh, and peanut butter, right?
Sam Sparks: Oh, no no no, I am severely allergic to peanuts.
Flint Lockwood: Hey, me too.
Sam Sparks: So what’s it called?
Flint Lockwood: Peanut allergy.
Sam Sparks: No, the machine.
Flint Lockwood: Of course.


Flushed Away [2006]

(Metascore: 74%)

Why it’s underrated: The previous offering from the Aardman studio was Chicken Run, which was not particularly good, and so expectations were low. The trailer I saw seems to have been completed well before the main body of the movie, because there are key differences (e.g. it features characters that are cut from the actual movie), and it is largely based around the opening act in which the pampered pet rat is unexpectedly visited by a sewer rat. It comes across as a padded-out Town Mouse and Country Mouse story that relies on toilet humour. The trailer got a groan from me, and I watched it reluctantly (my wife rented it or something; don’t remember). I didn’t really recover from my bad attitude, although the sometime-screaming sometime-singing slugs at least got some laughs out of me.

The story is also adventure-based, lower-brow than Pixar epics, and it is British.

Why it deserves more:  Simply put, it is hard to think of any cartoon character that is quite as rich and funny and larger-than-life as Ian McKellen’s Toad (when you’ve watched it enough times to appreciate it). The interactions between Toad and his cousin le Frog (Jean Reno) are also outstanding. The movie hits top gear from the moment that le Frog enters by flip-flopping down a window like one of those stretchy sticky toys. Much of the humour relies on poking fun at the French-British relationship, but it is rarely done better than in Flushed Away.

Le Frog: We leave immediately!
[strides off screen]
Henchfrog #1: What about dinner?
Le Frog: [strides back on screen] We leave in five hours!

Le Frog: To action!
Henchfrogs: We surrender!
Le Frog: Not that action, you idiots! The kung-fu thing!

Because, you know, le War.

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The fastness of Disney Fast Play

14 Aug

Of course, what we’ve come to expect from Disney is non-stop quality. They’d never resort to endless straight-to-video spin-offs of everything that had a modicum of success. They’d never make cheap, thoughtless, computer-animated TV just because it’s lucrative. They’re not that kind of soulless machine.

But everyone’s prone to bizarre lapses in thinking, and in Disney’s case, that is their magnificent Fast Play feature installed on their DVDs.

Everyone (everyone except DVD production houses) recognises that the most annoying thing about commercial DVDs is the amount of time that it takes between sticking in the DVD and starting the movie. Disney’s Fast Play is not designed to do anything about that. But it’s name suggests that it does, and it’s name has absolutely nothing to do with the thing that it does do. Fast Play bypasses the need for you to press ‘play’ once you’ve reached the menu — not an especially strenuous stage — but Disney will be darned (and they will anyway) if they’ll let you get to that menu in good time.

Having just rented ‘Underdog’ (a good-ish Disney canine superhero pic), let me lay out for you what it is that you’ll be inflicting on your kids if you leave them in the caring hands of Disney fast play:

language menu1. The Language Menu
Right where the ‘Play the Movie’ menu ought to be, you’re given the option to choose your language. Why this couldn’t just be an industry-standard flag icon on the main menu, I’ll never know. Nevertheless, you the parent needs to do some choosing here, right before you flee whatever torture Disney has lined up.

2. The Warnings (12 seconds)
Here comes the important stuff. Warnings about who-knows-what that nobody ever reads. I’m sure it covers the studio in the case of something-or-other. Imagine if your software packages insisted on getting you to opt in to the T&Cs every time you started up. Imagine your mp3s were each prefaced with a lawyers voice telling you how naughty you would be if you gave copies to all your friends. Annoying? Why, yes, it would be.

3. There’s only one Disney (45 seconds)
For a full 45 seconds, Disney allows itself the indulgence of telling us how great it is. Perhaps they aren’t aware that I have seen The Jungle Book 2, The Suite Life of Zach and Cody, and My Friends Tigger and Pooh. Maybe the message that there’s only one Disney is supposed to inspire a sense of relief in us?

4. Fast Play Infomercial (10 seconds)
As the itchiness begins to set in, the viewer is given the opportunity to jump to the conclusion that clicking on Fast Play will end the madness and get you to the movie. Paradoxically, Fast Play gets you there slower. If you want to get there quickly, you have to choose not-Fast-Play, and click the menu button.

5. Enchanted trailer and various Disney odds and ends (3 minutes)

Enchanted
Having misinterpreted the Fast Play instructions, Disney now has its captive audience. The Enchanted trailer is both prefaced and followed by some more shameless corporate self-congratulation. It goes on for 3 full minutes.

6. Blu Ray Promotion (1 minute 11 seconds)
You’ve bought the DVD. Disney would like you to know that you really should have bought the Blu Ray. It’s much better (they show you how much sharper and more astounding it is than feeble DVD quality, even though you’re watching a DVD). Allow the dissatisfaction and envy to descend. It’s what it’s all about.

7. 101 Dalmations Trailer (1 minute 19 seconds)
You’ve seen it. You probably own it. But do you have the Platinum Edition?

8. Wall-E Trailer (1 minute 36 seconds)

Disney Logo animation. Pixar Logo animation (plus cute Wall-E interaction – Pixar is Disney’s only saving grace, isn’t it?). Wall-E trailer. Actually, this is probably an occasion on which Disney needs to display its logo yet again. I for one still cannot believe that the frequently appalling Disney are in any way connected with the uniformly outstanding Pixar. They need to keep reminding me of that.

9. National Treasure Trailer (1 minute 58 seconds)
Because kids really dig Freemasonry.

10. Disney DVD logo page (10 seconds)
If at this stage you’re still confused as to whether you’re watching a DVD that is made by Disney, a Disney DVD may be all the intellectual stimulation you’re ever going to handle.

11. Animated Disney Logo Page – the one with the castle and what not (35 seconds)
You have to watch out at this point. If you’ve been working the ‘skip’ button for this long, trying to find the movie, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that this is just another logo page. So you’ll skip it. But because Fast Play is such a wonderful idea, they’ve removed any division between the movie and the guff beforehand. So when you skip, you don’t find the useful stuff on the other side of the logo, you find scene 2 of the film itself, and so you have to skip back again to find out what happened in scene 1 (but not before you’ve watched the Disney logo again).

12. Spyglass Logo Page (15 seconds)
Spyglass gets its 15 seconds in the sun. Mercifully, Underdog has only one of these production pages. Some movies seem to have 5 or 6. By step 12, adding 4 more might have led to suicide, so they left it at one.

13. Tonight’s feature
Is anyone still watching? After approximately 11 minutes and 11 seconds since you selected your language (and where any sane person would have put a ‘Play the Movie’ button), the movie has begun.

Would you have called this DVD feature Fast Play? And you’ve been trusting your kids to people who do??