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.
A spinoff of the hugely successful The Lego Movie released in 2014, The Lego Batman Movie lives up to its predecessor as a hugely entertaining film that delights kids and adults alike as a result of its clever use of animation and a script full of irreverent humor. Taking place several years after The Lego Movie in which Batman played a role, Batman, voiced perfectly by the deep-voiced comedian Will Arnett, feels lonely without family and is always eager to be the lone hero of Gotham City. The film humorously shows him moping throughout Wayne Manor and the Batcave accompanied by Alfred, voiced by Ralph Fiennes, who, among other things, prepares Batman’s favorite meal of microwaved Lobster Thermidor. Batman is overjoyed to be put back in action when the Joker, voiced by Zach Galifianakis, returns with a crew of famous villains to wreak havoc on Gotham City in order to become Batman’s most hated villain. The rest of the movie follows Batman in his madcap adventure to stop the Joker and is begrudgingly assisted by Robin, voiced by Michael Cera, and the daughter of recently retired Commissioner Gordon who herself was just promoted to police commissioner, voiced by Rosario Dawson. I particularly enjoyed the self-referential and very much irreverent humor: the character Batman makes fun of himself and refers to the many portrayals of Batman in TV and film. For instance, he refers to the speech bubbles with random words during a fight, an obvious ode to the famously cheesy original Batman TV show. Furthermore, I thought it was especially creative to depict villains from other Hollywood films, including King Kong, the Wicked Witch from the West from The Wizard of Oz, Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter, and Sauron from The Lord of the Rings. Overall, I found it to be a terrifically fun-filled movie that perfectly blends spectacular animation with extreme wit and humor to make for a wonderful cinematic experience even for adults hesitant to see an animated film involving Legos.
From the same studio that produced Despicable Me, The Secret Life of Pets is a well-done animated movie that has a clever premise appealing to all members of the family. It sheds light on what pets actually do when their owners are not home by showing talking animals getting into mischief. The film follows Max, a terrier voiced by Louis C.K., as he enjoys life in New York City with his owner Katie voiced by Ellie Kemper until the appearance of a big shaggy dog named Duke voiced by Eric Stonestreet. Trying to get rid of his newly adopted “brother,” Max inadvertently goes on an adventure with Duke after getting lost. They encounter a gang of pets without owners who want to lead a revolution against humans; it is led by Kevin Hart who is an excitable and fast-talking rabbit named Snowball. At the same time, a group of Max’s pet friends, including a fat cat, a dachshund, and a little bird, look for Max at the insistence of a Pomeranian in love named Gidget voiced by the high-pitched Jenny Slate. All the different groups of animals get involved in antics that are both cute and amusing. The film’s wit is largely due to the great casting: each pet character has traits that remind you of the actors themselves. For instance, Kevin Hart known for his hyperactive comedy and diminutive stature comes off perfectly as a small rabbit with a loud mouth who wants to spark a rebellion. Furthermore, the large and fluffy Duke is voiced by Eric Stonestreet who tends to play big and lovable characters. Besides being family-friendly entertainment, the film conveys heartfelt messages about the bond between humans and pets and the grief that is felt when one or the other is lost. Overall, I enjoyed the movie for its charming concept and innocent family humor and would recommend it to those with little ones or pet lovers in general. It is almost up to the level of Pixar who seems to have a monopoly on well-crafted animated comedies, and, undoubtedly, there will be future sequels that are hopefully as good.
The sequel to Finding Nemo released in 2003, Finding Dory is the latest in a long line of great Pixar animated movies that delights children and adults alike. It very effectively uses non-vulgar comedy and adventure to convey important messages about life. The film follows everyone’s favorite blue fish with short-term memory loss, Dory voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, as she looks for her long lost parents voiced by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton. With the help of Nemo and his father Marlin voiced by Albert Brooks, Dory goes on a fun-filled journey across the ocean and eventually ends up at the Marine Life Institute. A subtle indictment of SeaWorld, the Marine Life Institute is an aquatic-themed amusement park that houses sea life for so-called rehabilitation before they are supposed to be released back into the ocean. There, Dory inadvertently parts ways with Nemo and Marlin but encounters new friends, including the grumpy octopus Hank voiced by Ed O’Neill and clumsy beluga whale voiced by Ty Burrell. Through a series of cleverly funny episodes, Dory must figure out how to deal with her memory issues in order to navigate her way back to her parents. Although her forgetfulness is entertaining to watch, the audience feels sympathetic for Dory who suffers from the disability of having short-term memory loss. Therefore, the film, showing Dory’s struggles and its effects on others around her, addresses an important issue: finding ways to cope with and accept disabilities. Like most Pixar movies, it uses incisive humor with a heavy dose of puns and wit to create a very amusing moviegoing experience. It is able to do all this while teaching a lesson that the audience is not even aware of at the time. Overall, I would highly recommend the movie to all ages and say that it is even a worthy competitor to the original Finding Nemo.
Based on the Angry Birds video game series first released in 2009 game and downloaded over 3 billion times, The Angry Birds Movie is a fairly typical animated kids’ movie that attempts to entertain accompanying adults. It follows the adventures of Red voiced by Jason Sudeikis who keeps to himself until he is forced to take an anger management class. After befriending fast-talking Chuck voiced by Josh God and explosive Bomb voiced by Danny McBride, Red discovers a mysterious plot from a group of newly arrived green pigs. Eventually, the whole community of naive birds team up to defeat the mischievous pigs pretending to be friendly. The film is filled with the requisite bird and pig puns, such as a Birds and Bees Fertility Clinic, free-rage chicken, Instaham, and Hamnesty International. Since it is based on the video game, there are many references to actual gameplay that would be familiar to all players. For instance, each bird has a corresponding skill and many birds are launched from a slingshot to destroy the green pigs. Although it will surely entertain young children, the film’s premise feels half-hatched and probably would be better suited as a short film similar to the ones played before Pixar movies. It will no doubt be a commercial success with many sequels to come but hopefully the future films will harness the creativity and heart of Pixar and Disney.