Film Review: Moana

Moana

Directors Ron Clements and John Musker create magic once again with Moana. Seven years after The Princess and the Frog, and 24 years after Aladdin, the duo provide the winning formula for their latest film.

Teenager Moana longs to explore the ocean, but is confined to her birth island by her chief father. However, Moana has been chosen by larger forces to reunite a goddess with a relic. She will need the help of a demigod to complete her mission…

Moana combines all the right ingredients to generate a memorable fantasy adventure. The film recreates a winning formula that was key to some of Disney’s greatest animated films. Nevertheless, the preoccupations have a sufficiently modern edge. In a sense, the film combines the best of the old and the best of the new.

Focusing on the teenage daughter of the of chief (a princess in all but official title), Moana features a quest at the heart of its narrative. The film combines Polynesian mythology with an adventure which has well-paced peaks of tension. The narrative moves at a good pace, introducing characters at good intervals, and allowing for sufficient development for the film’s protagonists.

The title character is suitably strong-willed, yet is endearing enough for viewers to side with her. Moana is very much a modern Disney female protagonist. Taking cues from Brave and Frozen, the protagonist is independent and outspoken. She does not rely on the strength of a man to escape peril, and there is no love interest (so obligatory in the earlier Disney princess films). She is a modern character, and a good role model to children. Maui, similarly, goes through his own personal development through the course of the film.

Songs in Moana, some of which were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, are excellent. They have a show tune quality, which complements the style of the film. The animation is incredibly appealing. Auli’i Carvalho, Dwayne Johnson, and Jermaine Clement are great in their respective roles.

Moana is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, which should please viewers young and old.

Film Review: Rio

Rio offers animated fun with its bird out of cage tale, as it were. Good animation and fun songs ensure that the film ticks along nicely, although Rio is pleasant rather than exhilarating.

Domesticated macaw Blu lives in Minnesota with his adoring owner Linda. When bird expert Tulio spots him, he offers Linda and Blu a chance to go to Rio so that Blu can mate with Jewel, the only other bird of their endangered species. Linda and Blu go to Brazil, but things don’t go exactly according to plan…

Rio treads a familiar path with its outsider who finds his way narrative. Children should enjoy the story, but older viewers may get a little restless with the predictability of proceedings. Carlos Saldanha’s film shows little innovation in terms of story, however the characters and set pieces sufficiently maintain attention.

Screenwriter Don Rhymer wisely eschews the more realistic aspects of the macaw’s need to reproduce. Instead, Rio becomes a love story between Blu and Jewel. Rather than dwell on the idea of producing offspring, the film instead concentrates on the blossoming and sometimes tumultuous relationship between the two endangered birds. This has the same desired effect, without the need to give too much detail in a children’s film.

The characters featured in the film are quite typical of this style of animation. There are the two protagonists and an array of amusing sidekicks. Nevertheless, what Rio does quite well is replicate the traits of each bird in their human counterpart. Like Blu, Linda lacks confidence and is very comfortable in her regular existence. Both human and bird have inevitable breakthrough moments, which turn out to be amusing and heartwarming, respectively.

Unsurprisingly given the title, most of the action takes place in Rio. Some of the depictions of the city are rather questionable, however. The slum areas appear remarkably empty for a location that is so densely populated. Moreover, the scene where street kid Fernando longingly looks into the home of a family is acutely reminiscent of the very similar elementary inference used in Santa Claus: The Movie.

Rio features an all-star cast, but has not relied on these names in the film’s advertising. Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly cast as Blu, bringing shades of Woody Allen-style neuroticism to the character. Anne Hathaway is feisty as love interest Jewel, while Jamie Foxx shows off his vocal talents as Nico. Jermaine Clement is fantastic as Nigel, particularly in the musical number.

Rio is a fun watch, featuring all the colour and energy you would expect for a film set in the vibrant city. While it ticks the boxes for an animated feature, Rio never reaches beyond these modest aims.

Film Review: Despicable Me

Despicable Me is a light-hearted animated movie that audiences young and old will enjoy. It does not pack the same emotional punch as a film such as Up, but it is entertaining throughout.

Gru’s schemes to become the greatest villain don’t always pay off. In order to triumph over new villain Vector, Gru enlists the unwitting help of three young orphaned sisters. Gru get more than he bargained for, however, when he adopts the girls…

In an industry dominated by Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks, it is nice to see a newer company competing with the established few. Although this Illumination Entertainment production shares a number of characteristics with other animated films, it still has its own feel.

Much of the enjoyment of Despicable Me is due to its humour. Whilst there is enough slapstick and universal comedy to entertain young viewers, many of the jokes seem geared towards older audience members. Gru’s disapproval of the children’s book he is asked to read, for example, appears to have more resonance with an older audience. Likewise, some of the references in the film will be lost on younger viewers.

Despicable Me features a host of famous names voicing its characters. Steve Carell and Jason Segal bring the humour that they best known for, and Jermaine Clement makes an amusing Jerry the Minion. Teen favourite Miranda Cosgrove is sure to bring in a young audience voicing Margo, the oldest of the girls.

The animation in the film is faultless. The minions, in particular, are well designed; despite looking identical, they seem to have their own personalities. Screened in 3D, Despicable Me is restrained with its use of the third dimension. The result is a subtle use of the form, which is much more aesthetically pleasing than the pronounced way it is utilised in some movies.

The only gripe with the film is that there is nothing remarkable about the narrative. Despicable Me offers a pretty predictable story; there is no real detour or surprise to enliven the narrative. Nevertheless, the characters are likeable and the humour frequent enough to compensate for this shortcoming.

Despicable Me follows the recent trend of animated films that appear to be aimed at adults, though they are suitable for all. Like last year’s Fantastic Mr Fox, the humour isn’t adult, but makes references that will go over the heads of young children. Coupled with this is the soundtrack, which features well-known tunes as well as original music from Pharrell Williams. The music signals an appeal wider than a standard children’s cartoon.

Despicable Me is yet another indication that animated films are not only for the young. In reaching an older audience, however, the film does not neglect younger viewers, making it a perfect family film.

Film Review: Dinner for Schmucks

What do you get when you cross Jay Roach, the director of Meet the Parents, with actors Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and Zach Galifianakis? Dinner for Schmucks, a comedy that is only sporadically funny, and ultimately disappoints.

In order to achieve a big promotion at work, Tim needs to find an idiot to bring to his boss’ dinner party. After bumping into an unusual guy called Barry, Tim thinks he has found the perfect guest, little realising the impact Barry will have on his life…

Like many others, Dinner for Schmucks is a film that attempts to straddle humour with a more heartfelt narrative. Thanks to the performances of Rudd and Carell, the emotion seems genuine, yet the comedy is lacking in comparison. Surprising, considering the talent involved in the film. Whilst there are some laughs to be had, the film does not live up to expectations. The climactic scene, in particular, should have been much more humorous than it is.

As Barry, Carell is amusing, and elicits sympathy in the film’s more serious moments. However, some of the humour from this character falls flat, and he occasionally comes across as annoying. The most humorous characters in the film are Therman (played by Galifianakis) and artist Kieran (Jermaine Clement). Therman is comical in how serious he takes himself, whilst Kieran is often hilarious as the larger-than-life artist interested in Tim’s girlfriend. In a minor role, David Walliams is not as amusing as perhaps the filmmakers intended.

The film’s title sequence depicts the mice artworks (Barry’s hobby) being assembled with pain-staking detail. Accompanied by Theodore Shapiro’s lovely score, this introduction gives the impression of an offbeat, quirky little movie. The marketing for Dinner for Schmucks would suggest a raucous comedy. The end result in fact is neither of these; it is a comedy that fails to be consistently funny.

Furthermore, the message of the film conflicts too overtly with the aim. Whilst on the one hand the audience is supposed to laugh at the peculiarities of Barry, on the other we are told that it is wrong to make fun of people who are a bit different. Had Dinner for Schmucks decided to plump for just one of these opinions (either that it is fine to laugh at others, or that it is wrong), it may have been a better film.

Ultimately, however, Dinner for Schmucks showcases a range of comedic talent let down by a lacklustre script.