Movie Review: Stand By Me Doraemon (2014)

January 30, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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Doraemon was probably the first manga and anime I was exposed to as a child, so it made sense for me to choose Stand By Me Doraemon — the first 3D computer animated Doraemon feature — as my three-year-old son’s first cinematic experience.

It’s a good choice, because unlike other Doraemon feature films that depict standalone adventures, Stand By Me Doraemon is an origins story that takes us right back to the beginning and features some of Doraemon’s best known gadgets. While there are original elements, many of the subplots, including the ending, are borrowed directly from the manga/anime, though due to time constraints some classic chapters were condensed into montages.

For those who don’t already know the story, it’s about a loser kid named Nobita who is in the very bottom percentile in terms of both intellectual and athletic ability. To change his fortunes, Nobita’s great-great-great-grandson from the 22nd century sends him Doraemon, a lovable robot cat with a pocket full of handy futuristic gadgets. With Doraemon’s help, Nobita sets out to alter his future and win the affections of Shizuka, the perfect girl-next-door, while also fending off his friends, the bully Gian and the show-off Suneo.

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It’s a good-looking movie, with smooth 3D computer animation that pays homage to the simplicity of the original anime. As such, there aren’t many eye-popping images, though old fans should be content with the faithful transition from 2D hand-drawn animation to 3D CGI.

As a cynical adult, I have a few problems with the story’s logic and its underlying messages, some of which could be construed as shallow. As a kid, however, all I cared about was how cool Doraemon’s gadgets are and how much I wish I had them, so I’m not too concerned about my son being led astray.

Ultimately, notwithstanding the complexity of all the time travelling, Stand By Me Doraemon is a story that’s easy to follow and like if you enjoy rooting for the underdog. I don’t know if it’s the nostalgia flooding back, but I was actually very moved by the movie in the end. The final message teaching kids to be independent and that having a kind heart is the best attribute of all is something even adults can appreciate.

My son loved the experience and I had a pretty good time too. We’re already counting down the days until the next Doraemon feature.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Frozen (2013)

January 14, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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I’ve always been a little biased against cartoon movies, even when I was a kid. I like the classic stories and cute characters, but for some reason I just prefer movies with real people. There are exceptions, such as Toy Story and Up, but these are clever modern tales, whereas the Disney ones, while enjoyable, don’t have quite the same effect on me.

Frozen is Disney’s latest adaptation of a classic tale, this time The Ice Queen from Hans Christian Anderson. Like the previous effort, Tangled, it features a blend of CGI and hand animation techniques which I think works very well and probably saves a lot of time and money too. The cast features Kristen Bell as Anna, the sister of Elsa, the Ice Queen, played by Idina Menzel, plus Josh Gad as Olaf, a magical snowman.

The plot is fairly straightforward. Elsa has special powers like the Iceman from X-Men, making her afraid that she will hurt the people she loves, such as her sister Anna. One day she loses it and unwittingly unleashes an eternal winter on their home land of Arendelle before running off to live on her own, forcing Anna to go look for her so things can be returned to normal.

As an animated feature, Frozen is done very well, with beautiful animations, likable characters, wild action sequences, and some of the best songs Disney has done in a very long time (who knew Kristen Bell had a set of pipes on her?) and I’m sure Oscars are in store. It’s arguably the best classic animated Disney film in years, and it is no surprise to me that the film has been a hit, especially with the kiddies.

On the other hand, the film is undoubtedly formulaic and doesn’t offer anything we haven’t really seen or felt before. There’s the beautiful princess, the charming and handsome love interest, the nasty villain, and of course the cute sidekick (which in this case is the snowman). The story, however, was lacking in my opinion, and more importantly, I didn’t find the film that funny — an amusing moment here and there, but the jokes are more obvious and less edgy than that from other recent animated films such as say Monsters University. 

This is probably my bias creeping through again so I’ll stop now. Objectively, Frozen is a delight, something both children and family should enjoy, though for me it’s just an above average animated film that doesn’t stand out among some of Disney’s more famous classics.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Smurfs (2D) (2011)

September 24, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

La la la la la la, la la la la la!

I practically grew up watching The Smurfs cartoons, but I was sceptical when I heard they were making a film version — in ‘please rip me off’ 3D’, no less.  Nonetheless, despite my better judgment, I decided to check it out.  It wasn’t easy finding a 2D session, but I managed to squeeze one into my busy schedule (damn you 3D films!).

I have to admit I rather enjoyed The Smurfs.  The voices weren’t quite what I remembered (Katy Perry as Smurfette?) but it was a fun trip down nostalgia lane.  The jokes may be targeted primarily at children, but it was good to see that many jokes were also self-referential and tongue-in-cheek.  Some fell flat but even one laugh was more than I had expected from the film.  Great to see director Raja Gosnell (who has a pretty dodgy resume with films such as Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Big Momma’s House and Scooby-Doo) not completely stuff this up.

The premise is recycled and doesn’t require familiarity with the old comics or cartoons.  It uses the formula laid down by Enchanted, where the cartoon characters live in their cartoonish world but are magically transported into the real world.  The Smurfs’ human ally in the real world is none other than Doogie Howser himself, Neil Patrick Harris, who I never seem to get tired of.  Harris is not bad but is completely overshadowed by the true star of the show, the villain Gargamel, played masterfully by Hank Azaria.

Ultimately, The Smurfs really isn’t all that different from your typical kiddie holiday film in that it has a formulaic plot and relies on childish jokes and a lot of silliness.  I thought I’d be rolling my eyes every couple of seconds but I ended up liking it more than I expected.  I’m just glad my favourite Smurf, Brainy, was given one of the more prominent roles amongst the Smurfs (I always like the dickhead characters).

Interestingly, despite lukewarm critical reviews, audience reception of The Smurfs has been pretty good, especially amongst the younger demographic.  A sequel is already being planned for 2013.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)

March 5, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is an all-time classic.  Animated garden gnomes are deliciously cute.  Elton John’s music is sensational.  James McAvoy and Emily Blunt are both likable Brits.  But the culmination of all of these things, Gnomeo & Juliet, is one of the worst animated films I’ve ever seen.  And it’s in pointless 3D.

I had reasonable expectations for this one for the above reasons, and the fact that the promotional campaign made it look like a fun, funny, musical spectacular with an all-star voice cast (including, apart from McAvoy and Blunt, Jason Statham, Stephen Merchant, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Ozzy Osbourne, Patrick Stewart and Hulk Hogan!).

But somehow, Gnomeo & Juliet turned out to be painfully unfunny and entirely uninspiring.  How could this be possible?  The garden gnome jokes were essentially exhausted in the first few minutes, and the rest of it was repetitive and unclever.  Yes, the garden gnomes were cute, but that alone wasn’t enough to carry the film.  I actually had a couple of micro naps during the film, which has not happened since Van Helsing.

Worse still, Elton John’s music was criminally underused.  How they managed to screw up something with so much potential is beyond me.

The worse part is probably the lack of heart.  I wasn’t moved at all by the story or the characters.  Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks are light years ahead when it comes to creating a cartoon that connects with audiences.

And yes, once again the 3D served no purpose other than to rip people off.

1.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Tangled (2010)

December 25, 2010 in Movie Reviews

Disney, animation, fairytale.  You really can’t go wrong.

And so we get Tangled, Disney’s latest animated feature — a spin on the Rapunzel story.  You know, the girl with the really long hair.  As per usual, there is a heroine princess, an animal sidekick, a potential romantic partner, an evil witch, love, action and plenty of singing — an old and trusted formula that has succeeded time after time (this is Disney’s 50th animated feature!).

As you can probably tell by now, for me, Tangled is nothing special — but that doesn’t mean it’s not pretty good.

I watched the film in 2D (thankfully) and it was visually impressive nonetheless, with an intended ‘oil painting’-like quality to the animation.  The music and songs (led by Mandy Moore, who voices Rapunzel) flow effortlessly as you would expect from a Disney cartoon, and of course, the jokes appeal to the young, old, and everybody in between.

It’s just that Tangled felt very much like just another regular Disney cartoon, like say Disney’s last full-length feature, The Princess and the Frog.  Don’t get me wrong — whether in terms of story, music, humour, heart or overall enjoyability, Tangled is very good, but just not outstanding.  Perhaps I’m just so used to Disney making great traditional animated features that simply being very good no longer does it for me.

But Tangled did apparently take 6 years and $260 million to make, so obviously the film was intended for great things.  I’m just not quite sure it gets there.

Ultimately, Tangled is good family movie that will make a worthy addition to any DVD cabinet, but is unlikely to be remembered as a classic in the vein of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast.

3.5 stars out of 5!

 
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