Voices of James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie
UK-based Aardman Studios became famous for Nick Park’s stop motion animated misadventures of a claymation man and his dog, or Wallace & Gromit as they’re better known. All together, this twosome’s short adventures bagged two Academy Awards and helped launch the studio into feature filmmaking. The box office success of Chicken Run led to Aardman trying their hand at computer animation. The result was Flushed Away. Now comes their second feature computer-animated movie, Arthur Christmas.
In this PG-rated family flick, Santa’s son Arthur (McAvoy) throws a wrench in the works of the North Pole’s stream-lined, high-tech operation by trying to complete an urgent mission before Christmas morning dawns. The Plus: The players. Ardman went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature for Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Here, they’ve assembled the vocal talents of McAvoy (X-Men: First Class), Laurie (Fox’s House), Bill Nighy (Rango), Jim Broadbent (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince), Eva Longoria (ABC’s Desperate Housewives), Laura Linney (Showtime’s The C Word), Michael Palin (A Fish Called Wanda), Robbie Coltrane (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2), Joan Cusack (Toy Story 3), Rhys Darby (Yes Man), Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and Dominic West (Johnny English Reborn). The Minus: The competition. In terms of box office and quality, Aardman still has a long way to go to beat Pixar, which gave moviegoers Toy Story 3, an Oscar winner and the highest earning animated movie of all time.
Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz
Re-animating live action PG entertainment, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo winds up a fresh and inventive tale with old-fashioned charm. Combining his dual passions – love of film history and cinematic storytelling – this accomplished director has mastered yet another
genre: the family film. Based on the fact that he is best known for R-rated biopics (Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ), R-rated gangster flicks (Mean Streets, The Departed), R-rated dramas (After Hours, The Color of Money), R-rated urban thrillers (Taxi Driver, Bringing Out the Dead), and even R-rated horror (Cape Fear, Shutter Island), this might seem surprising were it not for this fact: telling stories with moving pictures is a universal language for all ages. Luckily for filmgoers young and old, he reads and writes this language beautifully.
From Scorsese and producer Johnny Depp comes Hugo, a PG-rated 3D adaptation of the Brian Selznick children’s novel about a resourceful orphan (Butterfield) living in a train station in 1930s Paris whose inventor father (Jude Law) leaves him with an automation that will help him to unravel a mystery. Stacking the deck with marquee names that just happen to be great actors (Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jude Law, Ray Winstone) and some ridiculously talented young actors (Butterfield, Moretz), this magical tale is phenomenally entertaining. From
his amazing use of technology (it’s one of the best uses of 3D filmmaking – period) to his ability to teach without it sounding like a history lesson (silent classics get brilliantly woven into the 3D framework), Scorsese’s holiday feast is a projection of wonderment. Bottom line: Age of Innovation.
We Bought a Zoo
Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson
The beat goes on for Cameron Crowe, whose We Bought a Zoo can buy you love. With Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, he gave filmgoers a wit and rock-infused warm and
fuzzy style that just happened to come with an adults-only R rating. Remember back to Say Anything, however, and you have a filmmaker who gave out the warm and fuzzies
for a more general audience. The truth is, R or PG-rated Crowe’s zingy dialogue has
always talked with, not down to, filmgoers of all ages. This especially includes children (Exhibit A: Maguire’s Jonathan "D’ya know the human head weighs 8 pounds?" Lipnicki). With his crowd-pleasing latest, he presents a family tale that’s darn tootin’ close to being every bit as hip and rocking as his ’90s modern classics.
In this PG-rated dramedy, a recently widowed father (Damon) moves his young family to the Southern California countryside to renovate and re-open a struggling zoo. Bourne-free, it’s refreshing to see how ridiculously good Damon is at playing the Everyman. Based on the dialogue, Crowe seems to be a sensitive soul and he’s chosen
his leading man very wisely. Likewise, Johansson, Church, Fanning, Fugit, and the others flow like a perfect playlist, which is also a great way to critique Crowe’s other specialty: the soundtrack. Though there are a bit too many strategically placed feel-good moments and episodes of young kid precociousness to completely ring true, this
solid charmer only proves that Crowe didn’t buy the farm with his interesting, but below average, dud Elizabethtown. Indeed, Simon and Garfunkel said it bestâ¦Bottom line: It’s all happening at the zoo.
Happy Feet Two
Voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams
Mo small feat, cold leftover Happy Feet Two defrosts some age-old morals for a glacial spectacle. In this PG-rated redo of the animated family musical, dancing penguin Mumbles (Wood) has a son who isn’t interested in hoofing it, but they must put aside their differences once the penguin nation gets trapped by ice. With photo-realistic, animation and an ear-popping jukebox songbook, the scenery is breathtaking even if
it’s crumbling beneath the character’s feet. Ah, but there’s the rub! Moviegoers were spoon-fed this and the other one-to-grow-ons the last go-round which sorta, kinda serves up a frostbitten dish. Oh, the ecology! Did the wheel need to be re-invented? No, but how about some new moves at least? However, even the most persnickety movie reviewer can’t help but tap his toes when the energetic song and dance numbers drop. Bottom line: Same old song and dance.
Henry Cavill, Luke Evans
Blessed with godly visuals, but beset with lowly storytelling, 301, er, Immortals definitely isn’t heavenly entertainment, but it’s not quite rock bottom either. In this R-rated, 3D adventure, a commoner-turned-warrior (Cavill) must lead the fight against ruthless King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke)’s evil army to save all of mankind. Between the jaw-droppingly ace use of technology and passable handling of Greek mythology, the movie definitely one-ups Clash of the Titans, but that’s as empty an accolade as being crowned the world’s longest short film. Perhaps, the best compliment that can be paid
is acknowledging the movie’s great use of amazing style over near-inconsequential substance, which actually keeps 3D relevant. Surprisingly violent, this actioner is more swords than sandals but this tale of titans won’t clash with moviegoers unless they’re looking for a godly amount of intellectual stimulation. Bottom line: The gods smile on this flick.
Jack and Jill
Adam Sandler, Katie Holmes
So ridiculously over-the-top that it’s abhorrent to both sexes, this lowball drag comedy is a drag from the word "no." In this PG-rated so-called comedy, a family man (Sandler) and his wife (Holmes) are forced to deal with his abrasively obnoxious sister (also Sandler) who comes for a visit and won’t seem to leave. Ironically, Sandler parodied
such lowbrow notches on his cinematic bedpost in the in-on-the-joke dramedy Funny People, aping flicks like Jack and Jill with hilariously fake but undeniably possible titles like Merman. This drag-queen pantomime would’ve been the funniest faux movie…if it weren’t sadly unfurling before moviegoers’ eyes as an all-too-real comedy of horrors. What’s worse, he brings a host of cameoing stars down into this unfunny abyss with him (Al Pacino must’ve lost a bet to Robert Little Fockers’ De Niro). Bottom line: Jacked and jilted.
Jason Segel, Amy Adams
The most sensational, inspirational, and celebrational puppet flick since, well, The
Muppet Movie, The Muppets is a zesty, but sweet, slice of pop that’s also a seamless
bridge to the Muppetational past. In this PG-rated comedy, three fans of Jim Henson’s legendary creations (Segel, Adams, a Muppet named Walter) reunite Kermit the Frog and company to help them save their theater from a greedy oil tycoon (Chris Cooper).
Following in the footsteps of TV’s The Muppet Show and the big screen Trifecta of the Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, and Muppets in Manhattan, this chapter channels the same pop-infused vaudeville humor that’s slapsticky enough for kids, but bawdy (at the appropriate times, at least) for adults. It also breaks into entertaining song and dance
numbers with tongues planted firmly in cheek. Henson would be proud. Bottom line: It’s not easy being gold.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1
Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart
An overlong Bella Swan song, Part 1 vamps up the visuals but defangs the thrills for what’s turned into the soapiest monster tale since Dark Shadows. In this PG-13-rated drama, mortal Bella (Stewart) and vampire Edward (Pattinson) consummate their love – unaware of how it will affect them or werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner). True, these movies have gotten progressively better, but that’s as empty an accolade as being crowned Oz’s Tallest Munchkin. The cast brood beautifully and Oscar director Bill Condon gives them a lot to brood about, Bella’s abstinence going the way of the dodo.
Still, despite some lush aesthetics (this is certainly the best looking Twilight), Breaking Dawn feels quite padded. What eventually happens is a corker but some screenplay nips and tucks could’ve provided one exciting conclusion as opposed to this unnecessarily
long two-part goodbye. Bottom line: Breaking not bad.