Matthew McConaughey

The Other Side of Animation 73: Sing Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Spoiler Warning/Parental Heads up: I will be spoiling this movie in its entirety to bring up some points about the problems Illumination has. Then again, the trailers already ruined the plots and endings to many of the characters in their advertising, so I don’t feel too bad spoiling it.

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To me, I shoot from the hip, in terms of how I feel about animation studios. I will praise and support a film that is good and has great elements to talk about, but I will not hold back if there is something bad, or worth criticizing. I won’t fully label a company with their pros and cons in some witty phrase or quote, but I’m going to mention when a film doesn’t work for me on a personal level. That’s why I’m so willing to praise and criticize Illumination Entertainment. They are obviously super-talented, and have a lot of great or entertaining ideas, but they either don’t go all the way with them, or the writers or storytellers don’t branch out enough in terms of making a unpredictable or messy story. This is true with their newest movie Sing. It’s definitely a very entertaining movie, but you get the feeling that they could have done a bit more, and changed a few things to make it an even better bit of harmless fun entertainment. Let’s pick out our favorite songs and find out what I like and don’t like about Garth Jennings’ Sing.

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The story revolves around a Koala theater owner named Buster Moon, voiced by Matthew McConaughey. He is unfortunately not raking in the dough, and is in danger of being bought out by the bank. As a last resort, he decides to hold a singing competition, with a thousand dollar prize. Unfortunately due to a typo caused by his secretary, the fliers say $100K, and of course catches the attention of the entire city. After a slew of auditions that range in quality and song choice, the finalists are chosen. They include a Frank Sinatra-style mouse named Mike, voiced by Seth MacFarlane, a punk rock porcupine named Ash, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, a shy teenage elephant named Meena, voiced by Tori Kelly, Rosita, an overworked pig mother of 25 kids, voiced by Reese Witherspoon, Johnny, a gorilla who is the son of a crime lord voiced by Taron Egerton, and Gunther, an eccentric German pig voiced by Nick Kroll. Who will win, and can Buster find the money to save the theater? Well, you have all probably seen the movie, so you draw your own conclusion.

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So, I brought up in the opening paragraph that Illumination has great potential in their film ideas, but essentially don’t fully take advantage of them. How does that work here? Well, easy. Due to how many characters there are, their stories either feel incomplete or really rushed. Like, there could have been so much more to these story arcs if they did a couple of different things. The first change I would make would be to make the movie longer. Maybe two hours would have been nice, since then you could give characters time to breath and talk, and not just play out their character arcs away from each other. The second change would to have the characters interact more. A lot of the crucial character moments in this film are happening when the individual characters are alone. Why couldn’t they put these characters more in the same room, or work off one another? You have some great talent here, but there is only really one real scene where some of the characters interact with each other. For about 90% of the film, they are not in the same room together. Why would you do that? Why not have them in the same room and have their arcs interact with one another? It would save screentime. It also doesn’t help when you have a character like Buster Moon. For me, Buster flip-flopped between being likable, and a crummy individual. Now, I didn’t get this impression from the trailers or marketing, but I was hoping he would be like Professor Harold Hill from The Music Man and less like a seedy individual. At times he really wants to make this whole singing competition work, but a lot of his screentime is spent begging for money, stealing, and trying to forcefully change contestants who are good with one genre of music to sing a different type. His story was not the most interesting one out of the six or so that were going on. I was more invested with Johnny or Rosita more so than Buster.

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It also hurts going into the movie that you know what’s going to happen. It’s not even just the fact that the advertising showed off so much that you were left with the meh and boring sequences to look forward to. Each character’s story is very predictable, and even if the advertising didn’t ruin it for you, you know what will happen with everyone’s story. Having familiar story elements are fine, but if you don’t put a twist to them or execute them to be interesting, then nothing will be surprising. If I know what’s going to happen, then why should I watch your movie? It’s always a big problem with studios like Illumination, since you can tell they put a huge amount of money into the animation, comedy, and marketing, but not into their scripts and stories. I want to be super-supportive for newer studios or studios with obviously amazing talent, but I’m going to be critical of them when other studios, big and small, are doing much better work. Oh, and speaking of comedy, a lot of people have mentioned this and I am too, but this has quite possibly the worst fart joke I have ever seen in any animated film. It’s out of nowhere, doesn’t even fit the tone of the scene, and it’s probably the most forced fart joke that has ever been put in an animated film. Luckily, this kind of humor only pops up once, but it’s so notorious that it does affect the overall experience, due to how distracting it is.

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So, I must not like this movie huh? Well, no. I actually do like the movie. It has a lot of great positives that at the very least push it above Illumination’s other blockbuster hit, The Secret Life of Pets. While the characters are tropes, I did find them very likable and endearing, which helped because of some great actors that are behind the characters. I don’t know if it was because they were super-invested in their roles or the person in charge of their performances, but everyone did a great job. While the film does use a couple of modern songs that are painfully distracting and pandering, they only pop up here or there, and the majority of the songs are pretty good. I also give the film kudos that like DreamWorks’ Trolls, they chose actors who can sing and act, and not one or the other. I mean, when you have someone like Seth MacFarlane, you are in good hands in terms of someone who can do both. I also like that they actually wrote some original songs for the film. Granted, one of the three original songs plays at the end, and the other two are mostly sung by Scarlet’s character, but still. Everyone did a great job with their singing moments. The performances were entertaining, and personally, as an individual that watches stuff like The Voice, I got a huge kick out of how Buster talked to some of the contestants, since it was eerily similar to how some of the judges on The Voice work. I know that is a niche bit of enjoyment, but that’s just me.

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The animation is also nice. The humanoid animal designs are great and appealing to look at. Sure, the world they inhabit isn’t as wildly creative as Zootopia, but it’s decent, and unlike Zootopia, they use more than just mammals for the townsfolk. Granted, they rarely show up, but still.

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So, yeah, while this film is incredibly flawed, I still had a solid time with it. Sure, Sing could have been much better than a feel-good time waster, but for what it does do, it’s good. I won’t say it deserved to be one of the films nominated for The Golden Globes or the Oscars, but I get why it’s a hit. It’s probably the one Illumination Entertainment film I would watch the most out of their entire library, and I do like that they made two original films in 2016. A lot of people have probably already seen it, but if you haven’t, I can think of worse films to see in January than Sing. Well, we got the musical out of the way, how about we go into a more comedic film with Storks? Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the article, and see you all next time.

Rating: Go See it!

Hit-or-Miss Movie Predictions: SING

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

Welcome back to Hit-or-Miss Movie Predictions! This is where I give my first impressions of upcoming animated films, and point out the good, the bad, and the interesting. In the end, I shall predict if it will be a hit, a miss, or something different altogether.

To me, and I will repeat this for my Worst to Best list, 2016 has been an amazing year for animation. It’s easily one of the strongest years for certain companies like Disney and Pixar, but the indie scene has also been quite satisfying, with films like Miss Hokusai and Long Way North. Yes, we have had some clunkers like Norm of the North and The Wild Life, but in terms of pure overall quality, 2016 has been fantastic. In an interesting situation, the animated film to close out the year is Illumination’s second highly anticipated film, SING. This cgi-animated film is being directed by Garth Jennings of the duo, Hammer & Tongs, the directors of the 2005 film, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It boasts a pretty expansive cast, including Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Tori Kelly, Peter Serafinowicz, Taron Egerton, Nick Kroll, and Nick Offerman, to name a majority of the cast. When the first trailer came out, it definitely got a mixed reception, with some being cynical about its Jukebox-style musical, and bland character designs. I still have some concerns, since I feel like Illumination is starting to show its flaws, but I know early screenings have been mostly positive. Now then, let’s begin shall we?

STORY

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At least you can say that the set-up for this film is easy to get into. Matthew McConaughey plays a koala named Buster Moon, who runs a theater with his partner in the business, Eddie, a sheep played by John C. Reilly. Unfortunately, the theater is going through some hard times, and is in close proximity of closing down. In a last ditch effort to gain some business, they hold a massive city-wide singing competition that gets the attention of many citizens of this animal world. These include a crooner jazzy mouse named Mike, voiced by Seth MacFarlane, Ash, a female Porcupine rocker voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Meena, a teenage elephant played by Tori Kelly, Johnny, a gorilla played by Taron Egerton, Rosita, a pig/mother of 25 kids voiced by Reese Witherspoon, and Bob, a German-accented pig voiced by Nick Kroll. Who will win? Will the competition be a hit?

Animation/Art Direction

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Illumination Entertainment, if anything, has shown that they were quick to adapt in terms of animation. They improved super-quickly in just a few years. Even if some of their films are the worst things of all time, like their version of The Lorax, you can’t deny that the film has great animation, and it’s no different in SING. It’s great fluid animation. On the other hand, the character designs are a mixed bag. They are harmless, but they don’t really stand out a whole lot. However, even if they are bland looking to some, they are still able to look alive and express themselves.

The Cast

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While having a cast with some big names in it doesn’t mean your film is going to be good, it still doesn’t mean that it can’t be impressive. It’s actually nice to see some actors that you wouldn’t normally see do voicework, like Scarlett Johansson. It’s also going to be the second time in 2016 that Matthew McConaughey will be doing voicework, and something that I have noticed about animated films recently is that some actors are actually attempting to immerse themselves into the roles, instead of voice-mugging for the audience. There is no excuse for actors in animated films to stop caring, even if you can’t see them visually on the screen. It’s even hard to tell that Matthew McConaughey is actually the lead character, due to how “into it” he is as Buster Moon.

Any looming concerns about the movie?

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The biggest problem with films from Illumination is that they don’t really have the best storywriters. Even by their standards, Despicable Me probably has the best of everything about them, but even then, it’s still not that amazing of a film. It’s good, but it lacks the substance that you would see in Pixar, DreamWorks, or Disney. Not every film needs to be at those companies’ levels, but there needs to be a standard in terms of storytelling. SING has always had the looming criticism from early screenings and first impressions that the story isn’t really original. Not being original is fine as long as you execute it well, but that was the big problem with Illumination’s previous film The Secret Life of Pets. It had good animation and it got the personality quirks of the animals down, but the story was boring, with clichéd characters. It’s not a good sign when you can tell what’s going to happen way before it actually happens.

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It also doesn’t help that Illumination has pretty much shown off the entire film through its advertising. That is one element that Illumination has always been called out for. They advertise their movies about six or eight months in advance, and flood the market in those months with clips, trailers, and ad spots. It makes me and many other people fatigued by how heavily they advertised it. They need to probably do two or three trailers at most. It leaves to no surprising moments in the film, since they showed it off in the trailers. I hate this about trailers, since they essentially ruin everything. Give Storks credit, they showed off a lot of the best jokes in their trailers, but they didn’t show off all of them. I know this doesn’t hurt the company in any way, since they make so much money off their movies that it’s ridiculous, but I know if I go see this in December, I’m going to go in knowing what’s going to happen. Will I enjoy it? Probably, but I’m not going to be surprised like I was with Kubo and the Two Strings or Miss Hokusai. On a side note, if SING becomes a financially successful film, I really don’t want to see them make a sequel. This looks like a one-off film. It’s like making a sequel to UP. It’s entirely pointless.

Prediction: Hit?

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This film will probably do well, since Illumination Entertainment’s films always rake in the money, even if the films themselves are not that great. I thought at first that this was going to be Illumination’s version of Shark Tale, a film that was made with no other reason than to get big celebrities together, say a couple of catchphrases, and make a soundtrack of popular songs. As the trailers have continued to be shoved into our faces, with no way of avoiding them, it definitely showed it had more to it than what everyone was thinking. I think SING will be a hit, since it has a tad more soul than what it might advertise. Early screenings of the film have been positive, but due to 2016 being a raging dumpster fire in terms of the overall quality of films this year, I don’t trust early previews, and you really shouldn’t. Early buzz for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was great, but then it came out, and people hated it, with a small minority of positive reviews. Still, I have hope for SING. I do think Illumination has something there to be a great studio, but they never quite do it for me with their films. Will they get better? I hope so.

The Other Side of Animation 54: Kubo and the Two Strings Review

 
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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

I am very passionate about animated movies that don’t get the treatment they deserve. I think it’s obvious everyone would rather watch a great movie and support it than something drummed up from Hollywood that shows they have no idea what they are doing. Still, it’s probably the most infuriating thing when a great movie is drowned out by utter garbage. I think one of the best examples of this was with Kung Fu Panda 2. This 2011 sequel was released around the same week that The Hangover Part 2 was released. What happened? More people went to see the mediocre sequel to a film that wasn’t really that great in the first place, instead of a sequel that did everything right by being not just a great movie, but a great sequel. Kung Fu Panda 2 did well enough, but seeing it get beat out by a mediocre sequel was no short of maddening. I could go into detail about why the public movie-going audience can be a major problem about the movie industry, but I‘ll tackle that another time. Today, I’m going to talk about what is quite possibly the best animated movie of the year, Kubo and the Two Strings. Yes, the masters at Laika have made the best animated movie of the year that tops even the amazing Zootopia and The Little Prince. This film, by director Travis Knight in his first directorial position, wowed me. I mean, why did it wow me? Well, let’s find out.

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The story follows the adventure of a young boy named Kubo, voiced by Art Parkinson. He lives in a mountainside cave with his mother. During the day he performs magical shows with his shamisen bringing origami characters to life, but always returns by nightfall at his mother’s request. One day, Kubo accidentally stays after the sun has set, and encounters two creepy raven-like women named Sisters, both voiced by Rooney Mara. Kubo’s mother comes down to save him, but ends up sending Kubo away. Kubo then wakes up in a snowy part of the world, and is now accompanied by a white monkey, voiced by Charlize Theron. They run into a humanoid beetle-like samurai named, well, Beetle, voiced by Matthew McConaughey. The three set off to find a legendary set of weapons and armor to take down the Moon King, voiced by Ralph Fiennes, the powerful being that has been trying to take Kubo for his own needs. Can Kubo survive and find the weapons to take down the Moon King?

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Let’s talk about the good, because I have nothing but good things to say about this remarkable movie. The story is perfectly packed with what you want in a good action adventure movie. It has a great male lead. Kubo is one of the best child characters I have ever seen, not only this year, but in animation in general. He cares for his mother, is enjoyable around the people in his town, and has a great realistic child personality. Speaking of great personalities, the film has an impressive cast of side characters. These are some of the most likable secondary characters, with Monkey’s protective and serious persona, and Beetle being a great fighter, but a mostly light-hearted tone to him. The three characters, Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle work so well off each other, and that happens because of a terrific script. The best part about scripts from Laika is the fact that the humor gels well with classic dialogue that, like The Little Prince, is timeless. Everyone sounds like they were from that time period. The film has a great voice cast. While I could argue the tightrope argument of why Laika didn’t cast more Asian actors for the roles, since the two that they hired, George Takei and Cary-Hiroyuki are side characters who play no major role of the story, but that’s for another article that I won’t talk about here, because even with that little hiccup, the cast they hired for this movie is perfect. The actors all pull off amazing performances that make you see the characters, and not just actors being actors. I have noticed that recently, many animated films have made sure to get actors that fit the roles, and can immerse themselves within them. Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes, Matthew McConaughey, Art Parkinson, Brenda Vaccaro, and George Takei and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, for as big or small as their roles are, all did amazing jobs. I don’t know whether the person in charge of the performances did a great job, or whether these actors felt super passionate about the project and animation, or both, but give them all A+ on their performances. The movie knows how to pace itself with fights, story, and world-building. While some could argue that they could have added another fight, I am so happy that this film balanced out some really good fights, and how they took their time with developing the characters and the world around them. Too many times do action adventure-oriented films put all their bets on the animation and action, while not having much focus on everything else. Kubo and the Two Strings was just a remarkable movie to be in, and has stakes and sequences that keep you invested and wanting to know what happens until the very end.

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The animation is beautiful. It’s easily the best stop-motion animation I have ever seen. It’s so fluid, the world and character designs have personality, and look unique. The fight scenes are well-animated, and are choreographed beautifully. It’s some of the best action you will ever see in animation, alongside Kung Fu Panda, Ninja Scroll, How to Train your Dragon 2, The Boy and the Beast, and Read or Die. They take advantage of everything about the film, from the surrounding environment to who the characters are, like Beetle being able to fly and crawl on walls. The music is gorgeous to listen to, with some great tunes from Kubo’s Shamisen sequences to the amazing score by famed composer Dario Marianelli, who also did the soundtrack for Everest, The Boxtrolls, and V for Vendetta. The ending song that plays in the credits, While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Regina Spektor, (which she covers so well, it was originally a Beatles song by George Harrison) is performed on a Shamisen. That is so incredible that this singer went all out with this song in terms of performing the song on the main instrument of the film.

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I really don’t have major complaints about the movie. I think this is one of those rare perfect movies that even if you could come up with any negative issues, they wouldn’t bring the movie down at all. Actually the biggest problem this film has is being released in August. I am so upset and irritated that Universal decided to release this during the worst part of August, due to the target audience not being able to see it until the weekend because of school starting, and while a mediocre comic book movie is still at number one. That’s another problem. Why would people go see a movie that is flawed, clunky, and had obvious scenes cut out or sloppily edited, instead of a complete, passion-filled animated film that had more effort and creativity put into it than 99% of the films released this year. This is exactly what happened to Kung Fu Panda 2, and that is a crime that the movie-going public doesn’t fully respect animation and think it’s just for kids. That will be an argument for another time. As you can tell, I’m very passionate about this movie, and I want it to be doing better than as of 8/24/16.

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If you couldn’t tell, I love Kubo. I stand by my opinion that this is the best animated film of 2016. I thought nothing would top Zootopia and The Little Prince, but Laika did it.  It’s not only one of the best stop-motion films of all time, it’s one of the best animated films of all time. Seriously, people, go see this movie. It deserves much more of your attention than a remake of a remake nobody asked for. I don’t mean to bash other movies out right now, and I do like a lot of modern/current movies, but people cry and complain that we don’t get to see enough unique and original movies, and then when one comes out and is critically acclaimed, no one sees it because of maddening reasons. If you love original movies, and want to support something that isn’t a big budget disaster, then seriously check out Kubo and the Two Strings. I have felt so satisfied reviewing good movies, and I want to continue that with one of my favorite indie-animated films of 2016, April and the Extraordinary World. Thanks for reading, I hope you liked the movie, and see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials!