The Lego Batman Movie, 2017

Directed by: Chris McKay

Starring: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson

IMDB

I probably set my expectations too high for The Lego Batman Movie. The marketing made it look like a non-stop joke fest, with tonnes of Batman and other pop-culture references, while keeping the super fast pace of The Lego Movie. The movie I actually saw was actually pretty good, but I did feel like it was lacking in a number of respects, unfortunately.
My main criticism would have to be with the characters. They’re set up well and are all likeable, but every single one of them was completely one-note. Batman is arrogant, Alfred is the concerned father figure, Robin was the wide-eyed innocent youth and Barbara Gordon was the responsible police-badass. Batman was given a lesson to learn: learn to let others into his life, but the process of this actually happening happens over the course of about two minutes in the third act via Deus Ex Machina. Watching Batman make the same mistake and continuously not learning from it is much like watching a puppy be confused by his own reflection in the mirror: at first it’s hilarious, but after an hour and a half it’s exhausting, and you start to question the mental health of the puppy.
I also feel like the comedic timing was just slightly off. I feel like they were expecting laughs, so left pauses in so the audience wouldn’t miss the next line. It came off as a little disjointed in the relatively quiet cinema I was in.
One last thing I’d like to address is the use of references. The film uses a copious amount of pop culture references, many of them being completely seperate to Batman (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who etc.) Unfortunately the film falls into the trap of thinking that acknowledging a thing exists counts as a joke. It does not. For examples of other films that fall into this trap, turn to any of the ‘Scary Movie’ or ‘Movie Movie’ franchise. Serial offenders.

Overall, if you’re a child or a nerd, you’ll enjoy The Lego Batman Movie, but it’s not as good as the Lego Movie.

Moana, 2016

Directed by: Ron Clements, Don Hall

Starring:  Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House

IMDb

The fact that I’ve spent nearly two weeks forgetting to write a review about Moana probably says something about the impact it left on me. It was actually pretty good, and I’ve caught myself humming a couple of the songs, but I can’t help but feel a lack of ambition in its production. I suppose it just felt a little ~too~ by the numbers, with its only real stand-out feature being its setting and cast. I mean good on them for going for such a little represented setting and for casting appropriately, but that alone wasn’t really enough to make Moana feel special as a whole.

I know it has excellent ratings, but I’ve always found the current ‘Walt Disney Animation Studios’s films to be a little overrated [i.e. Frozen, Big Hero Six, Zootopia]. The truth is, everything in Moana is enjoyable, but I don’t see myself buying the blu-ray or anything. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s definitely worth seeing at least once. Definitely show it to your kids, they’ll love it. I, however (just like every Disney Princess ever) was left wanting more.

Kubo and the Two Strings, 2016

Directed by: Travis Knight

Starring:  Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey

IMDb

Kubo and the Two Strings was amazing. It took full advantage of the stop-motion medium, creating some of the most breathtaking shots I’ve ever seen, in terms of both scope and beauty. The story is rich, it has wonderful characters and it left me with a grin on my face from start to finish. I highly recommend it, if you can find it still playing anywhere.

Finding Dory, 2016

Directed by: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane

Starring:  Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill

IMDb

Finding Dory far exceeded my expectations. It took the concept of making a sequel based on the annoying but popular comedic relief character (i.e. Minions) and made it really work. The way they achieve this is by reframing Dory’s short term memory from a running gag into a serious handicap, treating it like a mental illness. The reason the film works is because you really sympathise with her character. The new characters are all memorable and funny, and it’s difficult to fault any aspects of the animation or voice work. There are problems with the movie, but certainly not enough for me not to recommend it.

Also, as per usual for Pixar films there’s a short that plays just before the film. It had the most stunning animation I think I’ve ever seen, and was intensely cute.

Zootopia, 2016

Directed by: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush

Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba

IMDb

So I’m super late to the game on this one, but I just watched Zootopia and I have opinions. I probably wouldn’t be posting a review for it had there not been such an overwhelmingly positive general response to it.

It was good, although I feel like the response can probably be tied to just one attribute: the social commentary. Before I get too critical, let me just state that the social commentary is good, and I believe it provides a good message to have in a kids film. This one attribute, however, does not make a great movie, nor does it warrant its prior 100%, current 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It also has a pretty fatal flaw.

Ok so now to the nitty gritty. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the film focusses heavily on the theme of discrimination, particularly discrimination by race, which I interpret as mirroring contextual anxieties towards middle easterners and muslims in the west. The film features a society of diverse anthropomorphic mammals, and animals that are traditionally predators inexplicably start attacking civilians in a ‘savage’ manner, and so, suddenly all predators are treated with caution and are shown to be denied certain rights. The flaw that I mentioned is in the execution. The film had been playing out the parallel pretty well, up until it was revealed to be all one big evil scheme, which has a deus ex machina solution. There is a point to simplifying a complex issue for kids, but there is also a line where the message is tainted by suggesting that the entire issue can be solved so easily. It irks me.

Anyway, apart from the social commentary stuff, the movie was good, but nothing really ‘wow’ worthy other than the animation, which was great. I also quite liked the world that they set up, creating explanations for how a gerbil and an elephant can coexist in the same society.

It was fun, I’d certainly recommend it, but perfect it ain’t.

The Lego Movie, 2014

Directed by: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

Starring: Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks

IMDb

I recall a time where I used to give a Facebook review to every movie I saw. Gradually I stopped but just recently a film came by and shook me so hard that I felt an urge to shout it out loud: so here I am about to tell you why the Lego Movie is one of the best films I have seen.

Like everyone else, the first time I saw a trailer for this I groaned, thinking it would be a lame product placement of a film, but somehow the filmmakers raised a collective middle finger to that notion and made a great film.

The humour is outstanding. I have laughed harder in movies, but never quite so consistently. There were jokes from beginning to end and the humour exists in such a way that all ages can enjoy it, while still keeping it very PG and oh so funny. Some bits had me in tears.

The way the film was animated really made it not seem to matter that what you’re looking at is lego figurines and they emote very well. The animation as a whole was very impressive, the entire world being made of lego. There’s no real way of getting around it, the animators had to find a way to make every landscape and building and everything out of lego.

The characters were all fantastic and enjoyable. Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Will Ferrel were all enjoyably exploiting their stereotypes while still making for interesting characters. Chris Pratt as the lead was basically perfect, acting as the fish out of water utterly normal amongst a group of amazing people – the humour and even sentiment around his character just worked so well.

The story is exceptionally basic: watch the trailer and you’ll get the jist of it, but there’s a twist which is not only hilarious but adds layers of meaning, depth and sentiment that no one could have possibly expected from the lego movie. It makes everything make perfect sense: because of the twist, it makes perfect sense that this story is done in Lego – it’s not just a gimmick to make you buy the toy (though it certainly has that effect).

There’s a reason that the movie has 96% on rotten tomatoes, and it is truly criminal that it was released here, in the country it was made, two months after the rest of the world. I give it my full recommendation and I think it shouldn’t be passed off as ‘just a kid’s movie’ by anyone. Enjoy.