film: Summer Kids Movies

So thanks to Fuss I've ended up seeing several movies on the big screen that I'd otherwise have waited to pick up from the library, or eventually been mildly interested in when they showed up on Netflix.  As a public service to the other parents out there, here's my take on Summer 2012 Kids Movies So Far.

#1:  Madagascar 3:  Europe's Most Wanted

By far the best in show.  Better than the first two, which I didn't think were terrible.  Also, it's the one Fuss enjoyed the most, so it took first place in the Over 40 and the Three and Under demographics.

These sorts of movies are all relatively formulaic, but this one hit on a fine conceit for telling the same general story without having it feel like a re-hash- join the circus!  The star of the show was the bear who looks and acts like a an actual real bear in a film full of cartoonishly anthropomorphic animals (this bit also showed up in modified form in Brave, making me think there was some technical discovery driving it).  Throw in a delightfully animalistic nemesis in the form of French Animal Control agent Chantel DuBois (splendidly voiced by Frances McDormand) & it's a fun romp.

It's also comfortable doing something that far too few cartoons these days to- abandon reality entirely.
One of the main sub-plots involves a tiger who's act involved leaping through increasingly tiny circles of fire, until at last he was penetrating something the size of a wedding ring.

Thinking it over, the strength of the movie is mostly conceptual- it comes up with good reasons for everyone to jump through their assigned hoops, and the writing is generally quite a bit smarter and better than the norm.

Which, a quick visit to IMDB tells me, is likely due to the involvement of Wes Anderson collab & indie filmmaker Noah Baumbach.
Much is explained!

Anyway, really fun for all ages.  Didn't see it in 3d, and was actually a tiny bit sorry during the grand finale circus performance in Central Park, which is as close as you'll ever get to hearing me endorse that pernicious technology.

#2:  Brave

Latest effort from the Pixar Juggernaut, and something of a mixed bag.
It was a bit old for Fuss, and it had some tonal problems- most of it was goofy funny ha-ha, but it also had some unsettlingly realistic scary parts.  If I had it to do over I'd have held off taking him.
But it was absolutely beautiful- top marks for production design and animation.  And it was a winner philosophically, taking some effective swipes at the foundations of Disney Princess Syndrome.  Our title character's battle against the oppressive but ephemeral patriarchy was  more interesting than her physical struggles.

The best bit here, as in Madagascar, involved a bear.  Through various machinations the heroine's mom gets turned into a bear.  At first a funny, anthropomorphic Disney style bear, although rendered in the current photorealistic computer animation style.  But its a bear via curse, so there are some jarring transitions to plain ol' BEAR bear, as after a salmon feed at the riverbank.  It's a bravura cinematic trick, and lends some serious dramatic weight to the need to lift the curse before the sands run out of the hourglass.

Still and all, the bear is symptomatic of the film's problems- neither fish nor fowl, mostly happy funtime silliness broken up by jarring transformations into scary OH SHI....! stuff.

Still, for grown ups and older kids it's probably better than the impression I'm giving- I was watching it with one eye on Fuss, and some of my problems with it are more with it's appropriateness for little kids than any sort of quality issue.

And again, didn't see it in 3D, didn't miss the 3D.

#3 Ice Age 3: Continental Drift

The latest, but not greatest.  Caught it yesterday, and apparently for the first show of the day little kids get in free- score!  We used the windfall on upgrading from a medium popcorn to the GIANT ELEPHANT FOOT TRASHCAN SIZED BUCKET, which excited Fuss no end.  Another result was that all the clued-in grown ups were there with these HERDS of little kids- there were a handful of teacher/mentor types there with, like, 80 little kids between them.  One gal was wrangling an entire row of little kids, and this was in their main theater, not one of the little crackerboxes at the end of the hall.

Anyway, the film- it was okay.  Fairly age appropriate, some funny bits, although their reason for re-telling the story wasn't on par with Madagascar.  There were way too many BIG. EFFECTS. SETPIECES. dropped into various reels, and the whole film was suffused with an aura of impending doom (Cataclysm!  Advancing cliff wall crushing everything! Aaaah!), maybe not the best vibe for your summer kid's franchise.

That, and it really thought too much like a summer action film for grownups.  There were a couple of scenes that put me in mind of the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie, where things were done not because they were cool or fun, but because they had a mandate to add MOAR! to the formula. In Pirates, it was the swordfight on the ships going down the sides of the whirlpool.  In this one....well, pick pretty much any scene from the final reel.

But, it wasn't actually bad, which is still a recommendation for a kid's movie.  Wanda Sykes was great as Sid the Lemur's irascible granny.  Likewise, Peter Dinklage's Captain Gutt was an enjoyable smarmy/villainous heavy.  But Fuss' favorite bits all involved Skrat the rodent and his endless quest for the glorious Acorn of Destiny.

There are worse ways to kill a couple of hours.
Once again, no 3D, and didn't miss it.

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