Nick Kroll

158: The Secret Life of Pets 2 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/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

As a reviewer, I have seen so many arguments and comments thrown at films, studios, brands, and what have you, that are clichéd and boring. One of the most boring and trite comments and arguments I keep seeing are about Illumination Entertainment. Listen, I’m not saying their films are secretly good, or you have to stop hating on them. I will say though that they aren’t lazy. They have talented animators and people there making these films that rake in millions. However, I would argue a more proper criticism would be that they lack ambition, and are too nervous to step out of their safety bubble to expand their horizons of writing and storytelling. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be a Disney or a Pixar-caliber film, but that doesn’t mean you slack off on the writing, animation, and story. Sooner or later, you will find yourself being forgotten for the next flashy animated experience. It’s actually kind of happening to Illumination’s newest film, The Secret Life of Pets 2. Directed by Illumination Entertainment mainstay Chris Renaud, Pets 2 is the sequel to the smash hit original film from 2016. It came out on June 7th of 2019, and while it was getting the usual mixed-to-mostly-negative reviews, it wasn’t the instant smash hit most of their films tend to be, financially. While it has made $203 mil on its $80 mil budget as of writing this review, it’s not the runaway hit as their other films were. Sure, it’s probably going to make more money as time goes on and after leaving theaters, but it is interesting to see this happen. Are people finally getting tired of Illumination’s style of filmmaking, or was a possibly good film caught victim in 2019’s summer film drought? Well, let’s dive into this world of fluffy animal shenanigans.

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The story once again follows our hero Max, a small dog now voiced by Patton Oswalt. Along with his buddy Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet, they are happy with their current life with their owner Katie, voiced by Ellie Kemper. That is, until Katie falls in love with a man she meets named Chuck, voiced by Pete Holmes. After the two get married, they have a kid, and while at first Max and the new kid don’t get along, Max soon begins to love him, and then becomes overly protective and afraid of the world around him. To solve this issue, he and Duke go on a trip to the countryside to a farm, and end up meeting an old sheep dog named Rooster, voiced by Harrison Ford. While this is going on, two other stories are happening. The second story revolves around Gidget, a pomeranian voiced by Jenny Slate, who ends up losing Max’s favorite toy inside the crazy cat lady’s home, and must get the help of Chloe, voiced by Lake Bell, to learn the ways of the cat to get it back. The third story revolves around Snowball, voiced by Kevin Hart, who is contacted by a shih tzu named Daisy, voiced by Tiffany Haddish to help save a tiger that is being held hostage by a cruel circus owner that is voiced by Nick Kroll.

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Yeah, if that sounds like a lot, then it is. Once again, we find Illumination having trouble trying to stretch out plots that could fill the 80+ minute runtime, and it’s not like they couldn’t have. Some of these plots might be generic with typical animated tropes that you have seen before, but at least it would have been focused. They could have easily made this film entirely around Max and Rooster’s dynamic, because the theme of overcoming your fears is not a bad one. I actually enjoyed bits and pieces of Max and Rooster’s relationship with one another, and in a better movie, they probably would have explored the idea of how to overcome your fears. It’s not executed in the best way possible, but I give them credit for at least trying a little. That theme does connect the three stories, but the pacing and flow of the three stories in the film is so awkward, that it keeps abruptly pushing you into each story as it unfolds. It comes off like they weren’t fully sure on how to keep you interested with the multitude of characters that are in the previous film that are now in this film. Most of them don’t really do much, or do anything to help the story. It’s a case of too many characters, huge expensive names attached to them, and they are given little to do. I remember a friend of mine suggesting that this franchise should turn to making a series of shorts or a TV series, and that would make sense. That way, you can flesh everyone out more, and not have to worry about using them, because you forgot to do something with them. The final act has decent action, but due to how low the stakes are, it’s hard to feel invested. Like, it’s so hard to care about half of the storylines because they either end abruptly, or the characters vanish for a mass majority of the film, like the kid and the owner’s new husband. There was seriously no reason to hire Pete Holmes for the role of the husband. He has, like, four lines in the film, and they could have been done by Jeff Bennett or Steve Blum.

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Now, it’s time for some positives. I found the animation to be quite good. It’s another sign that Illumination is still getting better at their animation skills. Character movements and facial expressions are vibrant, and once again, they get little animal characteristics down for the different pets that you see. I also enjoyed the voice cast. Patton Oswalt takes over for Louis C.K. as Max, and to be frank, Patton Oswalt is a way better Max. He knows how to capture that casual innocence of a dog. Harrison Ford is also a pleasant surprise as this was his first voice-over role. Isn’t that surprising? His first voice-over role in his entire career. Anyway, he captures Rooster’s stoic nature, but he also shows he isn’t just a hard-edged individual. Of course, Lake Bell steals any scene that she is in as this pedantic sarcastic cat. The others do a good job, and it was fun to see Dana Carvey as his old dog character from the first film, have a few good laughs in this film with his character interacting with a bunch of puppies.

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There isn’t a whole lot to say about The Secret Life of Pets 2. It’s a dull experience. It might be the most forgettable film Illumination Entertainment has made yet. It might be making a bit of money, but with Toy Story 4 out right now, it’s probably going to dry up. Maybe this is a sign that people are getting tired of Illumination Entertainment, or maybe it’s just a realization that this was never meant to be a big theatrical franchise. Maybe it’s time for them to start making this into a series of shorts, or a TV series for Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. Maybe with a TV design philosophy, they can flex their creative muscles. All I know is that there is no reason to see this in theaters. I would have been much happier that, since this was animated by a French studio, if it was a smaller character-focused story that has a more laid-back vibe to it. People tend to not know that many French/European/Foreign animated features have very laid-back paces and stories, and that is something American studios can learn from overseas studios. Anyway, it’s time to move onto something that’s more interesting to talk about. Next time, we will talk about one of three Netflix-exclusive animated features out this year with Pachamama. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

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 56: Sausage Party 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!)

WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP!:  This film is in no way meant for kids. It’s rated-R for a reason, with shock humor, swearing, sex jokes, sexual events by way of food, and graphic in its jokes and imagery. Do not watch this with your kids. Hope you enjoy the review!

As much as people like to think theatrical adult-animated films are new, they really aren’t. Back in the 70s, we had a lot of stylized-adult animated films with adult themes and softcore porn. Now, to say that they are rare to see these days is true. Due to how quickly the fad of adult-animated films came and went for only a few years, it’s now almost surprising to see an animated film made for theaters, directly aimed at adults. Not to say the direct-to-DVD market hasn’t seen them, since a few have popped up, but I wouldn’t put them in the same category or quality as ones released in theaters. Sure, we got Hell & Back, but that was in no way made to be on par with or of the same quality as, say, Eight Crazy Nights, another horrible adult-animated film that Adam Sandler somehow thought was a good idea. It’s definitely a thing to keep an eye out for, but just because it’s different doesn’t warrant that it’s going to be good. This is definitely a hurdle that today’s review of Sausage Party had to contend with. This 2016 stoner-comedy comes from the minds of Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and duo of directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tieman. It was a hyped film when it was first shown off during SXSW 2016, and a leaked script went viral online. It was a surprise hit for a month not known for great movies, but also is now caught in  some controversy that I will of course talk about later on in the review. I mean, I have to. It’s the biggest news story for this film, besides how big of a hit it is. So, is this film as good as some of the big classics it’s spoofing, or has the food gone into moldy-way-past-its-time milk? Let’s find out.

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The story revolves around a hot dog named Frank, voiced by Seth Rogen. He lives in a supermarket with all the food that believes and sings a song about what supposedly happens once you leave the supermarket. Frank is also in love with a hot dog bun named Brenda, voiced by Kristen Wiig. One day, Frank finds out that he and Brenda are going to be leaving in the same cart. However, on that same day, they encounter a slightly “touched” individual named Honey Mustard, voiced by Danny McBride, who tells them what really happens to food after they enter the “great beyond”. After a cart crashes into another one causing mass chaos and death of certain food items, Frank and Brenda end up in the supermarket, along with a bagel named Sammy Bagel Jr, voiced by Edward Norton, a taco named Teresa del Taco, voiced by Salma Hayek, and a Lavash named Kareem Abdul Lavash, voiced by David Krumholtz. Can they find out what is exactly going on, and also avoid a villain, voiced by Nick Kroll? What will happen to Frank’s friends played by Jonah Hill and Michael Cera?

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If I’m going to be honest, I’m going to start with the negatives with this film. I don’t hate this movie, but I do think it has its handful of flaws. Maybe it’s because I have been spoiled by Edgar Wright comedies and The LEGO Movie, but I found the humor to be hit-and-miss. It’s not consistent enough as it tries to balance crude humor, stoner humor, clever humor, and food puns. I would rather have had fewer jokes that hit bullseye than a bunch of jokes where only some work. I did find myself laughing at a lot of the jokes and finding some of the situations clever, but then you would run into jokes that were crude just to be crude, because some notes from the higher-up said they needed to be crude. I also found the pacing to slow down a bit in the middle part of the film.

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Now then, let’s talk about the current may-or-may-not be true controversy revolving around the studio that made Sausage Party, Nitrogen. The controversy is revolving around a bunch of anonymous animators for this film, saying that many of the animators on the film were not credited, they all worked unpaid overtime, and were abused from one of the directors, Greg Tieman. Here is how I look at the situation. If the investigation turns out to be true, and I won’t be surprised if they are, since I also worked in an industry (the game industry) known for abusive work experiences, then screw Tieman and Nitrogen for making people work unpaid overtime. Humans are not machines, and they don’t deserve the fear of blacklisting, being left off the credits, or being fired because they are exhausted. I have also heard it was to keep production budgets low, and whoever thought that, whether it be Tieman or not, can go bugger off. People these days need to be able to make a living, and not giving them the time and relaxation they need is infuriating, since you can tell this film had so much love and work put into the animation. However, if these turn out to be fake allegations, then that’s also terrible. It would be a bad image for animators who have actually gone through abusive jobs, and if these complaints turn out to be false, who is to assume that all future complaints are false? I can see either being the case, but we will have to see what happens.

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So, with that out of the way, what is great about this movie? Well, I like the animation. For a small budget (and if true, unfortunate unpaid overtime), the animation is fluid, expressive, and it captures that look and vibe of something from Disney, Pixar, or those old-fashioned concession stand ads that you would see. While most studios try to have that Disney/Pixar look, this film is yet another example, alongside The Little Prince, that does a good job at making good looking humans. I also liked the vibe and characters of the film. Granted, some of the characters are a bit one-note to get some social commentary out there, but I found myself enjoying their company, since some of them were able to be fleshed out, like Michael Cera’s character, and Frank. I also like the commentary about religion this film brings up because, at first it comes off like “why in tarnation do you all believe in something that we have no proof of?”, and then becomes a bit more evened out with “yeah, we all have different beliefs, and I should be more respectful, but we have to fight or else we will get eaten!” While some of its commentary is very shallow, I do like that a stoner comedy tried to be more than just, well, a stoner comedy. I think everyone brings their A game and feels fully invested with their huge or small amount of screentime given to them. Yes, it might have a bunch of Seth Rogen’s crew, like Jonah Hill, James Franco, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson, but you also get hilarious performances from Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, Nick Kroll, Edward Norton, David Krumholtz, and the rest of the cast. I think this is why I tolerated a lot of the food puns, because when the good jokes rolled through, I was laughing hard. I even laughed at the shocking food orgy. While it was so out there, it was amazing that they got away with so much, only because it was all food. It literally gives a whole new meaning to “food porn.”

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Now, in terms of it being a stepping stone for future animated films aimed at teens/older adults, I am all for it. While it might have that awkward controversy, it is a monster hit. I know some disagree with it being the film to bring in more adult-animated films, but I disagree, and think that’s just pessimistic and cynical thinking. While it might not be the very first adult-animated film, I do think it will have a place in helping more animated films get made that are aimed for an older audience. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want all adult-animated films to be just stoner comedies, but if this helps get more varied animated films than fast-paced comedies, then I welcome it.

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Sausage Party might have its flaws, and while the controversy that neither Sony nor Seth Rogen have brought up at all is troubling if true, I still very much enjoyed the movie. I had a fun time even with its sometimes clunky jokes and pacing. However, this recommendation to see it does come with a huge asterisk next to it. If you can separate the film from its supposed controversy (which again, if proven to be true, I hope great things happen to those wronged in the situation, and if proven false, then screw those people), then definitely go see it. If you can’t do such a task, then maybe wait for a rental, or check it out at a discount theater so you don’t give too much money to the film. If you don’t like this movie, I perfectly understand, due to how divisive comedy can be. Well, that was tiring, but I must press ever onward with my one-year special, covering Rex the Runt. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the article, and see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!