(In French, in theatres, December 2016) We’ve all seen Sing before: The animated film featuring a world of anthropomorphized animals. The musical comedy in which misfits gather together to put on a show to save something from destruction and rekindle their self-esteem. The madcap action sequences leading to laughter. Sing is that and not much more, but it does earn points for a breezy execution and an uncanny ability to play a jukebox of pop music to good effect. The French version of the film wisely doesn’t try to translate the songs and while the result may take bilingual fluency to decode (take it from me; bilingual dad got far more from the film than unilingual pre-schooler), it does keep much of the original-language humour intact … and features the original song performers. That’s not inconsequential when talents such as Tori Kelly (easily the best signer, but not the most enjoyable one) or Seth MacFarlane and Scarlett Johansson (not the best singers, but the best characters) are featured in the film. Animated with the big bold colourful style of Illumination Entertainment, Sing doesn’t ask much of its viewers and is built on top of the most basic plot structures available, but it’s friendly, snappy, halfway-clever in the way it moves familiar pieces and a lot of fun for the entire family.
(In French, in 3D, In theatres, July 2016) There’s little doubt that The Secret Life of Pets often feels like a derivative of other, better-animated movies. Cute pets being revealed as sentient then going on an adventure? Not much of a stretch for a computer-animated feature. But there’s some charm and fun in the execution of the premise, as we get a look at New York from a pet’s eye view. Fast and funny direction by Illumination Entertainment (best known for the Minion franchise) makes the film easy and entertaining to watch. While the plotting can get sloppy at times (such as a gratuitously dramatic interlude about a pet’s master’s death, intercut soon after a gloriously funny sausage factory fantasy), it does introduce a quirky group of characters, move the pieces effectively around the board and, perhaps more importantly, provide a solid emotional conclusion. (The effectiveness of the “masters coming home to their pets” sequence may depend on whether you are yourself a pet owner.) The Secret Life of Pets amounts to a film that should please entire families: funny and frantic for the kids, not entirely objectionable for parents and hopefully leading to treats for the family pet. A sequel is inevitable.
(On Cable TV, June 2013) There’s a basic and inherent self-contradiction in seeing big-budget Hollywood productions espouse the virtues of environmentalism: The vast expenditure of effort and resources required to make, distribute and promote those films is staggering, and given the mere-entertainment result it’s hard to reconcile it with the good that an equivalent amount of money could have been done had it been spent on concrete projects. But then again, entertainment can inspire… and I just spent 90 minutes watching a film while I could have been picking up litter at the nearest riverfront, so who am I to criticize? Taken on its own terms The Lorax is at least entertaining enough, and responsible enough in the message it’s teaching to its audience. While the whimsy of Dr. Seuss’ original book is completely squashed by the de-rigueur aesthetics of modern action-packed animated features, this film adaptation contains a few effective moments, a sympathetic pair of protagonists, a colorful vision of a fantasy world and a few decent action sequences. The animation, coming from Illumination Entertainment, is a top-notch blend of technical savvy, bright colors and effective direction. The musical numbers are generally good, especially when they manage to advance the plot along the way. While The Lorax may strike a few as hypocritical, it’s relatively enjoyable once you get past the most obvious issues.