animation

Film Review: Cars 3

by Chris Piper on June 16, 2017

Horsepower and happy endings

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), center, tries to run down past glory, with Storm Jackson (Armie Hammer), left, and Cruz Ramirez, right (Cristela Alonzo).

Oh how quickly the young become old, the strong become weak, and the fresh, young, star becomes the stale, old, has-been. In the age of computer-generated animated features, oh how long ten years can be.

Sadly, Cars 3 proves this old axiom, as it leans heavily on the achievements of the first two films, and mostly settles on telling a very basic story in a fairly predictable way. Cars “purists” (wherever they are) will no doubt be satisfied, but the rest of us will leave the theater nostalgic for the spectacular achievements of Pixar’s earlier efforts.

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Still magical. Yet, there’s something there that wasn’t there before, and that something is meh.

Belle and Beast dance the night away.

If you’ve seen the 1991 Disney animated classic Beauty and the Beast as much as I have, you’re probably just as nervously excited for the live-action version as I was. The 1991 film was the first animated feature to ever be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar Award, and for good reason: it was smart, magical, romantic, and broke down animation barriers. The new live action version had to stay true to these things, while simultaneously amping up the drama, the romance, and the magic, and still embracing its classic songs (“Bonjour”, “Be Our Guest”, “Beauty and the Beast”, etc.). For a while, it was scarily unclear if the new version would be a musical at all. Once announced it would be, however, the producers needed to cast actors who could sing, and employ special effects that didn’t ruin the fun-loving side characters like Lumiere, Cogsworth, and, of course, the central character of the Beast. While the new songs and expanded character backstories are jarring and uninspired, the majority of the new Beauty and the Beast is still full of magic and romance, and does the original and Disney source material proud. The film also marks a pivotal point in Disney’s aspiration to have one of the industry’s most inclusive, and ethnically and racially diverse, modern film portfolios.

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A perfectly crafted, poignant charmer.

Zucchini looks to the sky.

My Life as a Zucchini is one of the most wonderful films of the year, which has resulted in its much deserved Oscar nomination this year for Best Animated Film. Zucchini is a stop motion animated feature from France and Switzerland about a nine year-old boy, Courgette (which is French for zucchini), who loses his mother and father and is taken to a foster home where a handful of other orphans reside. The brisk 70 minute film follows Courgette as he befriends the kindhearted policeman who takes him to the foster home, and then learns to love and trust the other foster children in similarly unfortunate situations. The animation is colorful and simple, yet each shot is overflowing with heart. My Life as a Zucchini is not meant for very young audiences — the subject matter may be beyond a young child’s understanding and there are some bits of nudity and substance abuse. And yet, I recommend audiences of nearly all ages see My Life as a Zucchini because it beautifully tackles how all people, including children and adults, can rise above their surface-level differences to love each other, even in the face of tragedies that affect their lives in unexpected ways.

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BLAP! ZLOTT! KAPOW! LEGO Batman punches its way to be one of the most entertaining DC movies yet

Batman is reeeaaally annoyed by Robin.

Fresh off the disappointing start to the expanded DC cinematic universe with Batman v Superman and Suicide Squadin swings The LEGO Batman Movie, a refreshingly funny meta action flick. Will Arnett reprises his vocal role as the caped crusader, his second feature film appearance since stealing the show in the 2014 smash hit The LEGO MovieIt was only eight months after The LEGO Movie‘s initial theatrical release that Warner Bros. announced that Arnett/Batman was to get his own flick, ultimately helmed by Robot Chicken producer Chris McKay. The quick trigger finger wasn’t without merit. Inspired by Christian Bale’s most recent take on Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and with the endless ability to skewer the super hero universe and genre that have been constantly under the microscope lately, LEGO Batman was a sure bet. And, indeed, the bet paid off. The LEGO Batman Movie is a fun, frenetic, visual marvel with a little less witty humor and heart than its LEGO film predecessor. But with enough laughs and dazzling animation to ensure its blockbuster status, it also places among the best superhero films of the last few years.

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Film Review: Moana

by Chad Liffmann on November 23, 2016

Moana is beautiful, adventurous, and musically gifted.

Animated Moana gives a miraculous multi-dimensional performance.

Animated Moana gives a miraculous multi-dimensional performance.

Yesterday I watched Moana. Today I listened to the soundtrack about eleven times through. Yesterday I questioned the benefit of seeing films in 3D. Today I feel that a film can truly benefit from non-gimmicky 3D. Yesterday I wondered when there’d be a new Disney song, besides “Let It Go”, that I’d welcome getting stuck in my head. Today I’ve had three Moana songs stuck in my head and love’em all. Do you catch my drift? Disney has delivered a beautifully animated film that holds true to the traditional spirit of Disney animated feature canon while adding new depths to characters and story structure. Moana is a cinematic gift — a film that is accessible and enjoyable to all audiences, re-watchable, boasts a stellar soundtrack, sets a new standard for animated environments (though I feel like I say that every six months), and has one of the most admirable female heroes ever put on screen. Yup, I mean it, too.

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‘Kubo’ is a visual masterpiece!

Beetle, Kubo, and Monkey looking high...

Beetle, Kubo, and Monkey looking high…

I’ve never seen stop-motion animation as inventively crafted or as embedded in the storytelling as I saw in Kubo and the Two Strings. Laika, the animation studio behind Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls, releases their most ambitious film yet with Kubo. Part parable and part fantasy epic, Kubo has a bit of everything, and though it gets a little over-indulgent in the final ten minutes, the film never feels overcrowded. Credit is due to first time director Travis Knight (son of Phil Knight, of Nike), who does a solid job of executing on an intelligent script by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler. The filmmakers infuse Kubo with unique action sequences, family-friendly humor, some nightmarish chills, and strong emotional themes. When these aspects are woven together with solid voice acting and stunning visuals, Kubo becomes a memorable cinematic tapestry.

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Film Review: Minions

July 10, 2015
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wfql_DoHRKc

Oh, so cute! Yet even more minions would’ve served Minions better. I’m not going to get too bogged down with analyzing the storyline or characters here (other than the Minions). The story actually well suits a feature-length treatment for these until-now side characters: After many millennia searching and serving (and inevitably losing) the biggest and […]

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SFIFF58 Interview: ‘Aria for a Cow’ writer/director Dan Lund & Crew

April 27, 2015
www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppUmneWWaxQ

The shorts programs at SFIFF58 have been increasing in popularity the last few years, and Shorts 5: Family Films is no exception. One film from the group, the colorful and magnificent musical Aria for a Cow, is appropriately quite the showstopper. I sat down with Disney animator and Aria for a Cow writer/director Dan Lund, art director […]

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SFIFF58 Spotlights #3: Shorts — Youth Works / Family Films / Animation

April 25, 2015

SFIFF58 is underway, and we’re here to bring you all the goodies! Here’s a quick look at a few selections from three of the MANY amazing shorts programs, all of which are worth checking out at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival (April 23-May 7): Shorts 6: Youth Works April 25, 11:00am – Tickets & […]

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Spinning Platters Interview: Benjamin Renner, “Ernest & Celestine”

March 26, 2014

Nearly a year after Ernest & Celestine screened at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival, this charming French animated film is finally being released into U.S. theaters (in the Bay Area on 3/28).  I’ve been eagerly awaiting this moment, since Ernest & Celestine was not only one of my favorite films of 2013, but also […]

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