(On Cable TV, January 2019) The increasingly affordable nature of computer animation means that you now often get small studios taking chances on projects that would have been too odd or niche to accomplish at a higher budget. Hence The Star. A nativity story featuring talking-animal comedy is not exactly the kind of thing that seems obvious—the mixture of the sacred and the, ahem, profane is odd enough, but with a budget set at $20M it became a conceptually profitable endeavour even for a major studio such as Sony (working with Cinesite’s Montréal Studio), distributing a film far more faith-based than most Hollywood releases. The budget most clearly shows in the rather amazing voice cast assembled here, from Oprah to Tyler Perry to Ving Rhames to Zachary Levy to Kristin Chenoweth to Christopher Plummer—with Mariah Carey singing along the way. Still, the strange blend of religious earnestness and talking-animal comedy does works better than expected, and The Star should become a minor holiday reference for a few years to come.
(In French, in theatres, March 2018) Considering that I’m reading Beatrix Potter’s stories to my daughter these days, I should be outraged that the screen adaptation of her Peter Rabbit tales pretty much makes a mockery of the original. Peter Rabbit features a petulant mischief-maker, all the animal characters have radically different personalities from the book, the tone has gone from pastoral whimsies to modern slapstick, and Potter herself is portrayed as an artist with a kooky side. Much of the plot has become a romantic triangle between Potter, a clumsy suitor and Peter Rabbit. The film has been put through the homogenization process that makes the result feel a lot like your usual live action talking-animal kids movie à la Beverly Hills Chihuahua or The Smurfs. And yet, and yet … it may be my residual liking for writer/director Will Gluck’s first few movies and overall sense of humour, but I found Peter Rabbit surprisingly easy to like. I’m not that fond of the film’s lowest-denominator approach to physical humour (some of the gags are just dumb, and other cross the line into things I rather would have cut), but it’s a high-energy film, and once you distance yourself from the Potter mythos, it’s just about slightly better than comparable kids’ films. It all converges to an expectedly sweet conclusion, and many of the peripheral characters have one or two good scenes. The special effects are as good as we can expect from state-of-the-art Sony Pictures Animation, and the pacing of the film is such that it flies by. No, I may not consider Peter Rabbit a true respectful Potter adaptation … but I like it all the same, despite the warts and the dumb stuff.