Tuesday 12 April 2011

Movie Review - Rio

I know I've mentioned this before, but it is true. Computer animated 3D kids films are rather common in this day and age, to the point where they've become a classic joke amongst critics and even regular moviegoers. There's nothing bad about these films; most of the time they're enjoyable. But it's the lack of depth to the story and characters, which is pushed aside in favour of technical wizardry and 3D visuals, that makes them so generic. Rio falls into this category. It's good, but doesn't stand out in any way apart from its visuals. And that's a real shame.

The film tells the story of Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg), a domesticated Spix's Macaw who discovers he is the last male of his kind, and travels to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to win over the last female, Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathway) and save his species. That's the bulk of the story, at least, there's many troubles the two have to overcome including dastardly bird catchers and thieving marmosets, not to mention Blu's journey to get back to his owner when they are split apart in Brazil.

The first thing that comes to mind regarding a film like this is the quality of the animation and, obviously, the 3D effect. The animation looks absolutely fantastic. The landscapes and characters are oozing with charm and colour, and everything has a wonderfully soft feel to it. The 3D effect is the same generic stuff you see in other 3D films: it's unnecessary and barely used, and when it is, it's incredibly gimmicky. It's nice to have a sense of depth, but in the end those annoying glasses just detract from the films colour and the effect is underwhelming. 

The film's story is nothing truly special, and although it works just fine, it's rather predictable and features too many characters, many of which have hardly any screen time and, although funny, are very forgettable. The opposite applies to the film's musical numbers; there's hardly any of them, and even at moments where you'd expect one, there's nothing. They're also pretty forgettable, and not on par with Disney's efforts. The orchestrated compositions in the soundtrack are incredibly lively and give the film a jubilant atmosphere, but to call it a musical is a bit of a stretch. 

The voice cast is excellent, featuring the talents of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathway, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan, Jemaine Clement, will.i.am and Jamie Foxx. All the cast members perform brilliantly, bringing a lot of humour and charm to their characters. I'd say my personal favourite was Jemaine Clement as Nigel, the villain, who delivers a sophisticated yet extremely nasty tone of voice, establishing an intimidating personality for the character.

I really have nothing else to say regarding this movie. Despite its shortcomings, I still did enjoy it. It's nothing unique and doesn't stand out in any particular way, but kids will love it and it's still got enough humour and charm to please adults as well. It looks great too, but see it in 2D, the 3D is once again a bit of a waste. Don't expect an incredibly jazzy musical either; whilst it has the traits of one, it's let down by forgettable songs. But overall, it's an enjoyable animated flick. Nothing more, nothing less.

Saturday 2 April 2011

Movie Review - Rango

In this day and age, 3D animated films aimed at kids are common. Don't get me wrong, that doesn't instantly make them bad. Pixar Animation Studios have produced some of the finest animated films the film industry has seen, and Disney's recent Tangled was a huge step forward for the standard of their recent animations. But amongst these colourful animated films that use 3D for no real reason, it's great to see an adult themed computer animated feature that dismisses 3D in the form of Rango.

Now when I say adult themed, I don't mean the film has an overabundance of sex references, foul language or disturbing violence. If I'm honest, kids could still enjoy this film (as I found out when one wouldn't shut up laughing in the cinema), but once you see the bleak, dirty style of the animation, it's clear that this isn't a colourful kiddie flick. And after witnessing some of the themes (such as Rango's identity crisis), not to mention the cruel intentions of the villains, you'll see how the movie stands out so well.

Our main character is a pet chameleon named Rango, voiced flawlessly by Johnny Depp, who seeks to find out who he is. After becoming stranded in the Mojave Desert, he stumbles across Dirt, a town suffering from decreasing water reserves. He finds himself appointed the Sheriff and eventually tangled up in a multitude of situations that will force him to become the hero instead of merely playing it.

The film is beautifully animated throughout. All the animation was done by Industrial Light & Magic (a huge contributor to Hollywood special effects), and it leans more toward realism rather than trying to imitate a cartoon or hand drawn style. The desert scenery often looks like the real thing, and the characters are modelled through a blend of realism and cartoony designs. As a result, the whole film looks incredibly dry (which fits in with the main plot element of the film) yet each character clearly has its own personality and doesn't simply look like a rendering of a real life animal. This unique animation style is what makes the film truly stand out amongst other animated flicks, and really helps set the serious tone. The several action sequences throughout the film are also well done, and although a bit jarring, provide the thrills that you'd expect from the genre. The Western theme is captured perfectly through the aforementioned desert scenics along with the orchestral, Western inspired soundtrack composed by the masterful Hans Zimmer. If you don't know who he is, you're a bit of an idiot.

I was disappointed by Rattlesnake Jake, who seemed like a brilliant villain in the trailers. Whilst his sinister nature is captured excellently through Bill Nighy's voice over, as well as his sick personality, he is not in the film for very long. It spends ages building up to his appearance (sometimes completely forgetting about him) and when he debuts, the film's nearly over. I can overlook this slightly as it seems he's not the central villain, but it's still disappointing to see such a menacing character slightly wasted.

Despite that minor shortcoming, all of the characters are often brilliant. The voice acting is top notch throughout, giving the characters a lot of personality and life. Some of the best actors were Johnny Depp himself as well as Bill Nighy as Rattlesnake Jake and Ned Beatty as Tortoise John. Honourable mentions also go to Alfred Molina as Roadkill and Ray Winstone as Bad Bill. There's really not one voice actor in the entire cast who performs badly, and all the characters are truly brought to life through these fantastic voice overs.

The characters use somewhat mature words such as "tart", "floozy", "damn" and "hell" at certain parts, which fits the mature tone of the film. The morals are also a good reason why kids won't enjoy this film as much as adults will; they're very strong and kids simply won't get them. Rango's identity crisis is rather saddening toward the films climax, and there's a lot of satirical references in the films jokes, which will roll right over the kids heads. This movie is clearly intended for a smart and mature audience, and isn't for everyone. But that's not essentially a bad thing.

I'd definitely recommend this movie to anyone considering seeing it. It's unique, funny and contains some strong emotional themes that really make you feel for the characters. Despite my minor grudge with the villains, the story plays out nicely and is a lot deeper than those of other recent animated films. As I previously said, this movie isn't for everyone, so don't think of rushing out to show it to your kids thinking they will lap up a series of colourful animal characters and childish humour. They won't. If you're interested in this film based on the trailers (or even this review), then I'd definitely recommend you see it.