Produced by Blue Sky Studios best known for the highly successful animated Ice Age franchise first released in 2002, Spies in Disguise is a delightfully entertaining family-friendly animated movie that is of the same quality as a Pixar movie as a result of a terrific voice cast and unique story. The plot follows super spy Lance Sterling, voiced by Will Smith, who is the top agent at a fictional secret American spy agency run by Joy Jenkins, voiced by Reba McEntire, but runs into trouble after the appearance of the super villain Killian, voiced by Ben Mendelsohn. Killian who has a powerful cybernetic arm is trying to steal a highly dangerous drone in order to kill Lance and all of his fellow agents. Eventually, the proudly self-sufficient Lance who loves to use lethal weapons must get help from a very unexpected source, a lonely and nerdy weapons lab technician named Walter Beckett, voiced by Tom Holland. Walter has always been an optimistic inventor who wants to make non-lethal weapons to make the world a safer place, and he discovers what he believes is a game-changing way to disguise anyone. To Lance’s great horror, he inadvertently uses Walter’s new weapon and is transformed into a talking pigeon. He eventually realizes in a series of funny moments that being a pigeon actually has its advantages, particularly as he is being chased by Killian and his own agency led by a security agent of the agency’s internal affairs Marcy Kappel, voiced by Rashida Jones. Over the course of the film, Walter and Lance begin to understand one another and become friends who are in it together to fight off Killian and reclaim their reputation that was tarnished by Killian. Overall, I found it to be a fun animated feature that can appeal to both kids and adults as a nice time to the cinema and brings a fresh story to the action-adventure animated genre.
The fourth installment in the beloved computer animated Pixar Toy Story series that began with the original released in 1995, Toy Story 4 is a clever and bittersweet follow-up to the widely popular Toy Story franchise and lives up to the other movies that brings back nostalgia for the original characters while also presenting new and fun characters. The movie follows the group of Andy’s toys as they have been the toys for the kindergarten-aged Bonnie for several years, and they face a new challenger for Bonnie’s affection as she heads off to kindergarten. Woody, voiced by Tom Hanks, is still the leader of the toys but has recently been left out as Bonnie decides to play with other toys, including Buzz Lightyear, voiced by Tim Allen. One day at kindergarten orientation, Bonnie makes her own toy made from a spork and other craft supplies and names him Forky, voiced by Tony Hale. Woody encourages Forky who insists he is only trash to stay with Bonnie as her new favorite toy that can help guide her through kindergarten like Woody did for Andy years ago. Struggling to keep Forky with Bonnie, the family goes on a road trip with the toys and a cute and humor-filled adventure begins as Woody encounters new and quite scary toys in a small town antique shop. Always saddened by the loss of the shepherdess Bo Peep, voiced by Annie Potts, Woody discovers a possible clue to finding his love Bo again. However, Woody along with the other toys, including his best friend Buzz Lightyear, face obstacles to returning to Bonnie and finding Bo Peep with the appearance of a devious old doll named Gabby Gabby, voiced by Christina Hendricks, and her creepy ventriloquist dummies. My favorite part of the movie is the appearance of the character Duke Caboom, voiced by the perfectly cast Keanu Reeves, who is a Canadian daredevil toy and is a laughably depressed toy because he cannot do as advertised. filmmakers and animators do a brilliant job of realistically recreating an antique shop and carnival to replace Andy’s and Bonnie’s bedrooms as the more expansive settings for the characters’ unique adventures. Overall, I found it to be a charming film that was somehow able to continue the magic and witticism of the original released almost 25 years ago and appeals to both adults and children as a result of its remarkable ability to entertain while also teaching lessons about growing up and loss.
A direct sequel to 2014’s The Lego Movie and the fourth installment in the Lego film franchise, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is a very charming and witty family friendly computer animated movie that continues the creativity of the original with funny voice acting and humorous gags. Set five years after the original, we meet the protagonist Emmet Brickowski, voiced by the charismatic Chris Pratt, living his hopelessly naive life in what has now become Apocalypseburg until his Lego world is faced with an even greater danger than before, an army of alien invaders led by Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi, voiced by the comedian Tiffany Haddish. The shape-shifting Queen tries to brainwash Emmet and his friends to join her Systar System and force Batman, voiced by the gruff-sounding Will Arnett, to marry her in order to form an alliance. However, Wyldstyle or simply known as Lucy, voiced by Elizabeth Banks, knows that something is wrong and must fight off the Queen and her minions who could bring forth the so-called Our-Mom-Ageddon. Meanwhile, Emmet tries to rescue his friends, especially his love interest Lucy, and is eventually teamed up with a tough guy named Rex Dangervest, also voiced by Chris Pratt, who is cleverly yet indirectly described as a combination of the actor Chris Pratt’s other roles, including Star-Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy and a velociraptor wrangler from Jurassic World. When Emmet and Lucy finally reunite, they realize that not everything is as it seems and that the Queen may in fact not be as bad as they initially thought. Like the original, the film takes the audience on a very entertaining adventure filled with extremely clever references and metaphorical representations of the real world in which the characters are part of two children’s imaginations. In a very creative twist, it is revealed that Emmet’s world is in the real world realm of the young boy Finn and the Queen is the real world representation of his younger sister Bianca who simply wants to play Legos with her older brother. To clarify this reality, the film occasionally cuts to live action sequences in which the feuding siblings are portrayed as well as their father, played by Will Ferrell, and mother, played by Maya Rudolph, who threatens to put all the Legos in storage if the two siblings do not get along. In the end, the movie gives a heartwarming message of the bond between brother and sister that ultimately overcomes all challenges. Overall, although it is clearly not as great as the original, I found it to be an extremely enjoyable cinematic experience as a result of the terrific and often very funny writing fleshed out by a first-rate cast of voice actors. Furthermore, I was thoroughly impressed by the level of realism generated by the computer animation that makes the Lego pieces look real and are even aged with marks that would typically appear on real life Legos over time.
A follow-up to the six Spider-Man movies made since 2002 starring three different actors in three separate series, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is yet another installment in the Spider-Man comic book franchise that is justifiably the best film as a result of its innovative computer animation and unique storytelling. It is a visually arresting animated feature that relies on a completely new type of CGI very much resembling the aesthetic of the actual comic books while also somehow bringing a level of unorthodox realism. Just by reading the synopsis or even watching the preview, the movie at first seems to be too unusual and convoluted to make any sense but, to my great surprise, it actually becomes one of the most memorable cinematic experiences of the year. The story follows a young black and Puerto Rican teenager living in Brooklyn named Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore, who becomes infected by a radioactive spider that gives him the super powers of Spider-Man. Unexpectedly, he runs into the real Spider-Man, voiced by Chris Pine, battling the supervillain Kingpin, voiced by Liev Schreiber, who is about to unleash a particle accelerator that will open parallel universes and ultimately destroy New York City. As a result of the accelerator’s partial activation, Miles encounters several other iterations of Spider-Man from other parallel universes, including the out-of-shape and depressed Peter B. Parker, voiced by Jake Johnson. Parker reluctantly helps train Miles to save his universe from Kingpin’s maniacal desires, and they are later assisted by Aunt May, voiced by Lily Tomlin, who introduces them to the other Spider-People from the alternate universes. The other personas are rather comical and include Gwen Stacy, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld; the talking pig Spider-Ham, voiced by John Mulaney; the old-fashioned black-and-white Spider-Man Noir, voiced by Nicolas Cage; and the anime Peni Parker, voiced by Kimiko Glenn. The fight to save all of the parallel universes and for the other Spider-Man characters to return to their worlds becomes the responsibility of Miles who must save his own world and destroy Kingpin’s cataclysmic device. While fighting to save his beloved New York City, the young Miles becomes much more confident of himself and comes to better appreciate his family, especially his father and police officer Jefferson, voiced by Brian Tyree Henry, and his troubled uncle Aaron, voiced by Mahershala Ali. Furthermore, even the sceptics, including Miles’ own father, that believe Spider-Man is a menace to society realize they have been mistaken and that really Spider-Man is the true hero of the city. Overall, I found it to be a truly engrossing and invigorating depiction of the tired Spider-Man character and is a remarkable movie for its brilliant use of a new form of computer animation and ability to reconceptualize Spider-Man as an endearing superhero that would make the late co-creater Stan Lee proud.
The follow-up to the hugely successful Disney computer animated film Wreck-It Ralph released in 2012, Ralph Breaks the Internet is an endearing and extremely creative computer animated feature that effectively incorporates popular culture into a family-friendly story about changing friendships. Like the original, the plot follows a video arcade character named Ralph, voiced by Oscar nominee John C. Reilly, and his adventures with his best friend, another character from a racing video arcade game named Vanellope who is voiced by comedian Sarah Silverman. They both live in a magical world in which they can travel between games at a video arcade that is full of eccentric and lovable characters. The major twist in this particular film is that both best friends end up venturing into the previously unknown world of the internet after the owner of the arcade installs a Wi-Fi router giving them access to the colorful expensive universe of the internet. Ralph must look for eBay in order to purchase a part for Vanellope‘s racing game before it is permanently shut down. The filmmakers create a playful environment recreating what the internet could look like to children characters in which well-known websites like eBay and Facebook are represented as vibrant buildings within a large city. Not realizing that they must pay eBay actual money, Ralph and Vanellope embark on an entertaining adventure to make money through a spambot website represented by a street hawker and eventually a YouTube-like video website. Through the help of a search bar named KnowsMore, voiced by Alan Tudyk, the two are first led to an online racing game called Slaughter Race where they meet a tough racer named Shank, voiced by Gal Gadot best known for her role as Wonder Woman. Ralph finally discovers that he can make the necessary money by posting viral videos to the video sharing website BuzzzTube run by an algorithm represented by the fashionable character Yesss, voiced by Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson. Chaos ensues after Ralph helps unleash a virus that could possibly prevent Vanellope from wanting to stay in the online game with her new friend Shank. His jealousy and sadness over the possible separation from his dear friend is a message to the viewer about the hardships of a changing role in relationships with friends and family. Ralph eventually comes to terms with his best friend’s desires, and they are able to remain friends despite not always being together at the arcade. Overall, I found it to be a fun and unique movie appealing to both adults and kids who can appreciate the clever representations of the internet and the heartfelt message underscoring the entire premise. The only fault with the film is the occasional oversaturation of pop culture that can sometimes feel like an advertisement for the real products and intellectual property represented, especially during a scene in which all of the Disney princesses appear.
Directed by Marc Forster who is best known for 2001’s Monster’s Ball, 2004’s Finding Neverland, and 2006’s Stranger than Fiction, Christopher Robin is a sweet and heartwarming re-imagination of the classic Winnie the Pooh stories written by A. A. Milne and Disney animated films beginning in 1966 and is able to appeal to both children and adults. The plot follows Christopher Robin, played by Golden Globe-nominated actor Ewan McGregor, as an adult who left his furry friends from the Hundred Acre Wood many years ago and now has a stressful job that takes him away from his wife Evelyn, played by Golden Globe-nominated actress Hayley Atwell, and his young daughter Madeline. The film starts with a flashback to when Robin is given a farewell party as he is about to go off to boarding school by his magical friends Winnie the Pooh, voiced by Jim Cummings who has been the voice of Winnie the Pooh for over thirty years, Tigger, also voiced by Jim Cummings, Eeyore, voiced by Brad Garrett from Everybody Loves Raymond, Piglet, Owl, Rabbit, Roo, and Kanga. After a difficult day at work and having to skip a family vacation, Robin is astonished to find Winnie the Pooh in London who himself is looking for the other living stuffed animal characters. Robin decides he must take Winnie the Pooh back to the Hundred Acre Wood, a secret world only accessed through a tree’s door, located near the Robin family’s cottage in Sussex. Throughout the adventure to reunite Winnie the Pooh with Tigger and the others, Robin continues to reassert that he is no longer a child and that Winnie the Pooh must stop his silly childish behavior. He is also extremely frantic about a deadline at his workplace Winslow Luggages where he works as an efficiency expert, and things spiral out of control after some of his paperwork is misplaced right before a very important meeting in London. Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and Eeyore along with Madeline try to track down Robin after taking a train ride from Sussex to London, and several funny and cute moments occur during their dangerous expedition in the human world. Eventually, with the help of his friends, especially Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin realizes that family is much more important than work and that it is okay to play like a child as an adult in order to better appreciate life. Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable family-friendly movie that was terrific for nostalgic purposes but did not reach the level of the original Disney animated films or other similar movies released recently, including 2015’s Paddington and this year’s Paddington 2 that are also based on classic British stories revolving around a playful bear.
The long-awaited sequel of the wildly successful 2004 animated superhero movie The Incredibles, Incredibles 2 is yet another excellent Pixar Disney movie that comes close to the original with its unique retro style and family-friendly fun. Set shortly after the first movie, the story follows the Parr family in which each family member has a superpower but have not been able to publicly remain superheroes since they have recently been outlawed. In a publicity ploy to help legalize superheroes by the wealthy tech entrepreneur Winston Deavor, voiced by Emmy winner Bob Odenkirk, along with his brilliant sister Evelyn, voiced by Oscar nominee Catherine Keener, Helen who is the superhero Elastigirl, voiced by Oscar winner Holly Hunter, is recruited to serve as a positive image of a superhero saving lives. Her husband Bob who is the superhero Mr. Incredible, voiced by Emmy winner Craig T. Nelson, begrudgingly becomes a stay-at-home dad and is unable to use his superhuman strength in public because it is deemed too destructive. He is depicted as a stereotypical father who is in over-his-head while also dealing with three kids who happen to have superpowers. Violet, voiced by comedian and writer Sarah Vowell, is your typical teenage daughter with the exception that she can become invisible and project a protective force field. The middle son nicknamed Dash is a rebellious middle schooler who has superhuman speed. The most entertaining and funny moments occur with the baby Jack-Jack who we find out has some fairly unusual superpowers that are both cute and dangerous. Eventually, Elastigirl heroically fights off a new supervillain named Screenslaver who is hypnotizing citizens and ultimately other superheroes to commit crimes. Towards the end of the movie, we discover that the true villain is actually somebody completely unexpected. Overall, I found it to be a highly entertaining computer animated family movie that appeals to both kids and adults alike as a result of its exciting and sometimes funny action coupled with creative writing and look.
Directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Wes Anderson who is best known for 1998’s Rushmore, 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums, 2009’s animated Fantastic Mr. Fox, and 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, Isle of Dogs is a beautiful stop-motion animated film with the trademark meticulous detailing and deadpan humor of a Wes Anderson project. The truly peculiar story revolves around the fictional Megasaki City in Japan that under the ruthless leadership of Mayor Kobayashi has removed all dogs and exiled them to a desolate island known as Trash Island. Kobayashi claims that all canines must be eradicated because they carry a particular disease that could spread to humans, and he even ignores the scientist Professor Watanabe who says he is close to finding a cure that would allow the dogs to live safely among humans again. Much of the film focuses on the adventures of a group of dogs living on the island: Rex, voiced by Edward Norton; Boss, voiced by Bill Murray; King, voiced by Bob Balaban; Duke, voiced by Jeff Goldblum; and Chief, voiced by Bryan Cranston. After the appearance of a young boy named Atari who is looking for his beloved dog Spots, voiced by Liev Schreiber, the dogs decide to help Atari travel across Trash Island despite it being full of dangers, including a rumored gang of cannibalistic dogs. As a stray dog who feels out of place with the pet dogs, Chief begrudgingly goes along with the plan, but eventually he becomes more fond of Atari and the other dogs, especially the show dog Nutmeg, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Back in the city, a foreign exchange high school student named Tracy Walker, voiced by Greta Gerwig, is suspicious of Kobayashi and investigates him as the center of a conspiracy theory in which all dogs are purposely exterminated in order to favor cats. In an unusual twist, the film’s dialogue alternates between English, which all the dogs speak, and Japanese, which is presented without subtitles and is occasionally translated by the on-screen character Interpreter Nelson, voiced by Frances McDormand. As is the case with Wes Anderson’s other work, the most remarkable aspect of the movie is the obsessive detail that is put into the scene design and the painstaking lengths he takes in order to create a surrealistic depiction of the characters through the use of stop-motion animation. Overall, I found it to be a remarkable cinematic achievement because of its visionary use of animation and ability to tell an exceptionally creative and heartwarming story about persecuted talking dogs. It is definitely a weird film that will not appeal to all moviegoers but will delight fans of Wes Anderson’s unique style and dog lovers.
A follow-up to the successful 2014 original film based on the classic British children’s character Paddington Bear created by Michael Bond, Paddington 2 is a wonderful children’s movie appealing to all ages with an abundance of charm in storytelling and visuals that makes for a feel-good moviegoing experience. Taking place several years after becoming a member of the Brown family in London, the plot revolves around the lovable talking bear Paddington, voiced by Ben Whishaw, trying to find the perfect gift for his Aunt Lucy back in Peru but somehow finds himself entangled in a mysterious crime. He discovers at an antique shop run by his friend Samuel Gruber, played by Oscar winner Jim Broadbent, a marvelous pop-up book about London landmarks and decides to take out several odd jobs to pay for the expensive book as a birthday gift for his beloved Aunt Lucy. However, the pop-up book is stolen by a mysterious thief, and Paddington is accused and convicted of the crime. He is sent to prison where he befriends several inmates, including the cook known as Nuckles and played by Golden Globe nominee Brendan Gleeson. In several funny scenes, Paddington helps to bring cheerfulness to the prison with a large helping of his favorite food: marmalade sandwiches. His human family headed by insurance agent Henry Brown, played by Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey fame, and the sweet Mary Brown, played by Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins, try to solve the theft in order to prove Paddington’s innocence. Suspicions are raised about a local narcissistic actor named Phoenix Buchanan, played by a superbly villainous Hugh Grant, who has an unusual habit of dressing up as his most famous costumed characters. Once Paddington and the Browns discover the true culprit, they are led on a wild goose chase brimming with British charm and wit. Somewhat reminiscent of a Wes Anderson production, the filmmakers pay great attention to detail in creating stereotypically British and whimsical sets and an overall cute atmosphere. Overall, I thought it was a magical and clever movie with a heartfelt story and full of excellent British actors that feels quintessential British and is overflowing with lighthearted charm.
Following in a long line of successful Disney and Pixar productions, Coco is a terrifically well-made CGI-animated film geared for kids that also delights adults for the dazzling visuals and creative story about family and loss. Voiced by newcomer Anthony Gonzalez, the main character Miguel Rivera is a 12-year-old Mexican boy living in a small town in Mexico who dreams of becoming a musician. However, his large family forbids anyone in the family from playing music after Miguel’s great-great-grandfather left his great-great-grandmother Imelda and his great-grandmother Coco so that he could become a musician. Miguel decides to secretly participate in a local talent show on the Day of the Dead in hopes of becoming just like the most famous Mexican musician and guitar player Ernesto de la Cruz, voiced by Benjamin Bratt, who is from Miguel’s hometown and lived in his great-great-grandparents’ time. The night of the Day of the Dead, a special Mexican holiday when families visit their dead relatives’ graves to celebrate their lives, Miguel along with a friendly stray dog named Dante is magically among the dead spirits and travels to the Land of the Dead. He must get the blessing of one of his dead relatives before sunrise in order to go back to the Land of the Living. However, he discovers that he must speak with Ernesto de la Cruz to receive the proper blessing. On his adventures in the Land of the Dead, Miguel befriends a lonely trickster named Héctor Rivera, voiced by Golden Globe winner Gael García Bernal, who is trying to be remembered by his family so that he can visit his grave and see his beloved daughter. Towards the end, we learn that not everything is as it seems, and Miguel develops a greater appreciation for his family and perhaps will be able to be a musician. Besides the beautifully emotional plot, the movie does a remarkable job creating the Land of the Dead as a brightly colorful and whimsical world in which the dead depicted as skeletons are not scary and ghoulish. Overall, I found it to be yet another memorable Pixar film that uses its visual appeal to engender a story full of heart while also celebrating Hispanic culture, particularly Mexico and such traditions as the Day of the Dead.