The LEGO Movie

149: The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part 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!)

People forget how certain films were lightning-in-a-bottle situations. It was just the right time period with the right directors, writers, and ideas that make films like Ghostbusters, Spirited Away, Tim Burton’s Batman, Moonstruck, Mad Max: Fury Road, Pan’s LabyrinthSpider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and you get the idea. It’s not fair to them if some of them get sequels and rarely live up to the expectations set on them. This is why I go into everything with middle-ground expectations. It’s to not over-hype myself or under-hype myself for any movie and can go into it with proper expectations. Now then, sometimes, lightning does strike twice, and it has for The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Directed this time by Mike Mitchell, who also directed DreamWorks’ Trolls, Sky High, and Shrek Forever After, the original writers and directors of the first film, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, returned as producers and writers of the film alongside Dan Lin, Roy Lee, and Jinko Gotch. Luckily, for many, the newest movie in the LEGO franchise ends up being another dose of awesome. Why? Read the review to find out.

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The sequel starts us off five years after the first film where the world of Brickburg is now a dystopian wasteland called Apocalypseburg after the invasion of the beings from the planet Duplo. Chris Pratt returns as Emmet, who really isn’t affected by the cynical dystopian wasteland, with his girlfriend Lucy, voiced again by Elizabeth Banks. One day, as Lucy tries to force Emmet to change, a new “alien” encounter arrives in the city and comes off as an aggressive alien force taking down anything that tries to stop it. This alien force turns out to be a new character named General Mayhem, voiced by Stephanie Beatriz. After beating everyone, Mayhem ends up taking Lucy, Benny, voiced by Charlie Day, Unikitty, voiced by Alison brie, MetalBeard, voiced by Nick Offerman, and Batman, voiced by Will Arnett back with her to the Systar System to her queen, Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi, voiced by Tiffany Haddish. Emmet decides to go save the day, and runs into another character named Rex Dangervest, also voiced by Chris Pratt. Can Emmet save the day and get his friends back from the Systar System before the Our-Mom-Ageddon happens?

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So, what does this sequel do to progress the story and build upon the original? Well, a lot. I think many will tell you that there is a very heavy theme of tackling toxic masculinity. Sure, it’s not new with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet also tackling it, but since it still keeps being a thing in the culture of right now in fandoms, I’m always grateful to directors and writers telling people to stop being jerks! It shows how metaphorically and literally, toxic masculinity is damaging and destructive. I also loved the commentary about the current times we live in. Back in 2014, everything was pretty awesome. Sadly, with how things are being run in the world, the world is not always awesome. It’s really easy to simply slide into edgy cynicism and just hate everything. However, while things do suck, find the positive in the world. It’s not fun just sitting in a puddle of misery and think everything is terrible. There are still good things going on that are happening. You don’t need to harden yourself with a shell of cynicism and hate to take on the world. Just be you.

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I love the returning characters and the new characters added to the LEGO Movie universe. Tiffany Haddish’s Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi, is easily my favorite new character to the franchise. She’s a fun, complex, and entertaining character to watch. With this being an animated feature, they take full advantage of her being, well, Watevra Wa-Nabi. Of course, talking about the new characters can’t be complete if we don’t talk about Rex Dangervest. While on the surface, it’s a very obvious walking Chris Pratt joke, but as the film goes on, you do get a little deeper with him about his bro attitude and his connection to the themes and stories of the film. It just shows how talented Lord and Miller are in writing. While there might not be as much of that magic that was in the first film, the sequel is still full of topical subject matter that was executed properly and was easy for kids and adults in my two theater screenings of it to get. There are layers to this film that will keep people thinking and talking about it way past 2019.

Animation-wise, this is the best-looking LEGO movie yet. They seem to have found the proper balance and speed of the LEGO visual aesthetic and combining it with a few real life textures of the sand in Apocalypseburg. They also slowed down the speed of the comedy as the jokes are now more dialogue-based and less cram a joke into every scene in the foreground, background, and in the script.  Still, I think that’s for the best. One of the few issues the original had was that it was just too fast and flashy. It’s still a visual spectacle that you can’t believe is all CGI, but at least you aren’t needing to turn your head away for a moment or pause to give your eyes a rest. The voice cast is also stellar with returning actors and the new actors. Chris Pratt just has his loveable goofy persona down, Elizabeth Banks as Lucy is still a great female lead, Will Arnett is just funny as Batman, Charlie Day and Nick Offerman are still a hoot, this is probably my favorite Tiffany Haddish performance, and even minor characters from actors like Richard Ayoade, Maya Rudolph, and Ben Schwartz pulled in multiple laughs. We can’t go talking about this film without mentioning the insanely catchy musical numbers! I was floored by the fact that this was a musical, which was kept out of the marketing of the movie. Heck, a lot of the twists and turns were kept out of the movie, but we won’t go into those. Anyway, the musical numbers were like the ones from Moana, no filler and all were killer.

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If there was something that could be said that detracts from the film, it would be that there isn’t much that can be considered surprising. It doesn’t try to push the boundary like the first film did. It’s really not the film’s fault that we had two spin-off LEGO films that came out in one year, which may have sort of taken the spark out of the franchise. To me, I look at it as a Godfather and Godfather Part II situation.  Both are incredible movies, and while you can say not much was expanded or revolutionary, you wouldn’t call the second movie a lesser movie, would you? Both are incredible movies. Now, one thing I will agree with is that some of the pacing is not as fluid as the first film, as it does seem to stop and halt a bit more with one plot until near the end of the second act when everything starts to come together.

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While it is a bummer that this film isn’t doing as well in terms of financial success, due to either LEGO movie burnout or the weather that’s keeping everyone inside their respected homes, I still love LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. I think it’s just as good as the first film with its story, writing, jokes, and music. However, I would be happy to not have to see another one anytime soon. I think if Warner Bros. was smart, they would slow down for a bit, and make some more animated features that are not based on the LEGO franchise. Maybe see what else Lord and Miller can do, or maybe use them to talent scout new directors and writers that they recommend. Either way, I still highly recommend going out and seeing The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Well then, next time, it will be the 150th animated review. I think we shall go big with a look at an unfortunate trilogy of films that Netflix decided to bring over. Thank you for reading! I hope you all enjoyed this review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials.

The Other Side of Animation 77: The LEGO Batman Movie 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!)

Like I mentioned in my Storks review, The LEGO Movie was a huge worldwide success. It made a lot of money, it was clever, funny, heart-warming, and paved the way for Warner Animation Group to take a stab at the animation market. When it became official that there were going to be more movies based on the colored blocks, it was no surprise, but a tiny bit of hesitation. Could Warner Brothers strike gold twice with more LEGO movies? The true test is definitely in 2017 with the future release of The LEGO Ninjago Movie, and the recent release of The LEGO Batman Movie. Usually when spin-offs are announced to big money-making movies that follow side characters, you worry that the film is going to be a cynical cash grab. Luckily, with the directing of Chris McKay, a story done by Seth Grahame-Smith, and a script written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, and John Wittington, this spin-off/next entry of the LEGO universe, The LEGO Batman Movie, was spot on. Why? Let’s build the review brick by brick, and find out.

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Will Arnett returns as the biggest, richest, and most egocentric billionaire man baby, Batman. After stopping yet another heist by the Joker, voiced by Zach Galifianakis, Batman learns that the new police commissioner Barbra Gordon, voiced by Rosario Dawson, wants to hold Batman accountable for his actions, and be able to have the police and Batman work together. After some shenanigans that include all of the villains going to Arkham, Batman unintentionally adopts a young boy named Dick Grayson voiced by Michael Cera. Batman had better learn the meaning of friendship and family, because the Joker might have a sneaky plan.

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So, what makes this movie fantastic, and have such a high grade on Rotten Tomatoes? Well first off, as a LEGO spin-off film, it holds up on its own. Let’s face it. The LEGO Movie was a lightning-in-a-bottle kind of situation, very much like the original Toy Story, Ghostbusters, and Beauty and the Beast. Future films will probably never be that good again, and that should be okay if the end product is still fantastic. Now that we got that out of the way, this is just a good LEGO movie, a good Batman movie, and a good Batman parody movie. Instead of taking from one part of Batman’s history, they take in the entire 80 years or so of history of the character, and shove it into a movie that almost reaches two hours. It shows off the best, the light, the dark, the worst, the funniest, and the weirdest parts of the character and the universe in which Batman lives. I know some people would argue that Batman: The Return of the Caped Crusaders is a better comedic Batman, but I really disagree. While I love Caped Crusaders, I felt like it limited itself by understandably only reaching for material from the Adam West Batman era. It also ran out of steam in the third act that hurt the overall experience. You don’t get that here. The LEGO Batman Movie is a giant love letter to everything amazing and goofy about Batman. It’s quite shocking to see a good spoof and parody film, since for the longest time, the trend of making good and creative spoof films died in the 90s when all the bad parody films were coming out. Why does this one do parody well? It’s because the people that worked on this film knew what they were doing, and love the property. If you are going to make a parody of something, like the Hot Shot and Airplane films, you have to know what you are making fun of, and love it for that reason. If this was made by the hacks behind current spoof movies today (who really should be blacklisted and fired from Hollywood), The LEGO Batman Movie would be nothing but stupid references, that only acknowledge their existence and nothing more. Luckily, the director knew what he was doing, and made sure to give the film a good story, because the team knew they couldn’t just fly by with just Batman-centric jokes. While Batman is definitely an over-the-top comedic version of himself, they do give him a story arc and personality and drive. The same goes for everyone else. Dick Grayson could have easily been the worst aspect of the film, but due to great writing and a fantastic performance by Michael Cera, Dick becomes one of the highlights of the movie. I also adore all the cameos and references, like how Two-Face is played by Billy Dee Williams, who played Two-Face’s alter ego Harvey Dent in the 1989 Batman movie. Even though I could get a lot of the jokes since I have seen Batman over the years, I feel like casual viewers can easily enjoy this movie. It’s not just made for the fans. Just like The LEGO Movie, I liked that the film does make fun of both incarnations of Batman, but doesn’t pick a side. Let’s be honest, Batman can work both in dark storylines and goofy storylines, and somewhere in the middle, too. Even the more serious Batman storylines have really stupid stuff about them, because when dark Batman is done wrong, it’s really bad and can be even more unintentionally goofy. This is a movie that knew what it wanted to do, and executed it almost perfectly, unlike a lot of DC’s live-action film offerings.

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The animation is once again fantastic. It’s well made CGI that gets all those little details of LEGO blocks down perfectly, and while it does suffer from being too hectic at times on screen, due to everything being made of LEGO blocks, the fact that they cleverly limited the movements of everything to make it look stop-motion is still very impressive. All the characters look great, and the little details and side gags are clever and hilarious. I was at a screening with only a few people, and we all laughed hard. It was almost like an Edgar Wright film where you watch it and get a lot of the jokes, but then watch it a second time and can find more little jokes and details that may have been missed by you during the first viewing. The fight sequences are also creative, since if you can’t take advantage of the limitless possibilities of LEGO and the fact it’s animated, then you have failed as a director. The voice cast is perfect. While I know I support the idea of getting non-Hollywood celebrity actors for more theatrical film roles, when the casting is done right, it’s a wonderful thing. I don’t think I could have picked a better cast with Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Billy Dee Williams, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Adam DeVine, Zach Galifianakis, Ralph Fiennes, Jenny Slate, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Jermaine Clement, Ellie Kemper, and you get the idea. It’s a fantastic cast full of actors with big and small roles that just make the overall film fun. I adore the chemistry between Batman and the Joker in a pseudo-romance plot that can only be done with a relationship between Batman and the Joker that isn’t creepy 18+ fanfiction. While Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger are always going to be the best Jokers, animated and live-action, Zach is easily my third favorite Joker. He just brings such a great energy to him.

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If I had to complain about something about this movie, the first 15 or so minutes can be very fast, and then it changes pace abruptly. It’s not distracting, but it’s noticeable, and I can understand if someone found it to be too much at one time. Other than that, the criticisms I have are mostly nitpicks, like some of the jokes don’t land, and sometimes the Batman villains don’t really have enough to them in terms of personality. Still, these weren’t enough to ruin the experience for me.

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While this might not reach the high tier level of The LEGO Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie is easily the best animated movie of 2017 so far. It’s a love letter, a hilarious spoof of Batman, a great Batman movie in and of itself, and a wonderful entry into the LEGO animated universe. It makes me think that Warner Animation Group is going to become the new DreamWorks, which I will tackle in an article in the future. Now then, go see The LEGO Batman Movie. It might already be beating 50 Shades Darker, because it’s a film that everyone should check out. I’m in the mood for more DC, so how about we talk about Justice League Dark? Thanks for reading, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go see it!

The Other Side of Animation 74: Storks 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!)

When The LEGO Movie came out back in 2014, it took the world by storm. It was one of the biggest films of the year, and one of the biggest surprises in movie history. Everyone thought this was going to be a cynical cash-in like Home or Minions, but it ended up being better than what anyone could imagine. The directors and writers put in their all for this one movie, and it paid off with being one of the best animated films of the decade. It also showed that just because you are based on a toy, doesn’t mean you have to be terrible. It was a huge victory for Warner Brothers, and a great start to their new redone animation branch. So, to me, Storks had a lot to live up to. Released back in 2016, Storks was released by Warner Brothers, and while not bombing, it didn’t do as well as The LEGO Movie, and got mixed reviews. You either enjoyed the movie, or you got really irritated with it. Where do I stand on this film from director duo Doug Sweetland and Nicholas Stoller? Well, let’s find out.

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Storks is set in a world where, well, storks don’t deliver babies to households anymore, and are more like a cartoon version of what Amazon wants to do with delivery drones and delivery-packaged goods. The lead or one of the leads is a stork named Junior, voiced by Andy Samberg, who is close to being the new boss of the company that is, as of right, now run by a stork named Hunter, voiced by Kelsey Grammar. While Junior may be close to getting the new position of boss, he is told to fire and get rid of the one human that is working there, an orphan named Tulip, voiced by Katie Crown. After some shenanigans, Junior and Tulip end up accidentally turning on the old baby-making machine (literally a machine) and, well, make a baby. It’s then up to them to get it to the family that requested it, while avoiding Hunter, a small pigeon voiced by Stephen Kramer Glickman, a pack of wolves played by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, and a stork that went rogue long ago named Jasper, voiced by Danny Trejo.

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So, this is a lot to take in with its comedic set-up, execution, and world. How does it all work? Well, for me at the very least, this is one of those movies that could and should have had a couple of more lookovers to polish it all out. I knew going in, that this movie would be more on the comedic side of things, and that would be okay. I’m fine when a comedy wants to be a comedy, but if you are going to add heart and soul to your comedy, it needs to be balanced out with the funny moments. I mean, think about some of the great comedies of the last two decades or so. Comedies like Hot Fuzz, Kung Fu Panda, and Shrek 2 work because while they are very funny, you still cared about the characters and what they were going through. It was icing on the cake that the movie was gut busting hilarious. At least for me, Storks doesn’t really reach that height of comedy.  I don’t think its two leads, while well-voiced and can work off each other well, have the greatest of character development. You get Tulip’s drive to find her family and to make sure the baby gets to its family, but Junior doesn’t really have the best drive as a character. It doesn’t help either that it goes through a “liar’s reveal” trope, but I can give it credit that it doesn’t daudle too long on that part of the story. It also would have been nice if characters like Jasper and Hunter could have had more time to be fleshed out or be even funnier or more entertaining as characters. Even the family that the baby is supposed to be taken to, with parents played by Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston, should be funnier than what you get in the movie. Maybe it’s because they are fairly white bread overworked parents, but when you have those two actors, you can do more with them, and we know they can do more since both have been in fantastic animated films like The Iron Giant and Finding Dory.

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Now then, how is the comedy? Well, like most comedies that can be considered good or entertaining, there are some great jokes that are hilarious when done well, a few amusing jokes that make you chuckle, and some that fall flat. It’s a shame more films don’t take the route that the best comedies have taken, and pick and choose their jokes and not fall onto some of the more popular tropes in comedies. A lot of the visual gags and lines work, due to the animation of the film, but you do hear a groaner here and there, and characters like Pigeon Toady will either be annoying or hilarious depending on whom you are as an individual.

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Now, the film does try to cover up some plot holes by being very meta about it, with characters literally asking why these things exist, and that became fairly distracting. To me, meta humor is starting to slowly hit that point where it’s less about being very funny and clever, and more about using meta humor to hide and ignore that the story has issues. Why is the baby machine still around? Why were there storks delivering babies when there are more…natural ways of having babies? Why did the incident with Tulip shut down everything in terms of baby delivery? Why is the ‘off button’ behind a bunch of razor blades? I know when it comes to cartoon comedies, you have to just go with the flow, but the meta humor rides the line of covering up lazy world-building and writing.

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Now, that is not to say that I hate this movie. I know I just criticized it a whole bunch, but I found Storks to be an incredibly entertaining ride. The animation is great, it’s the right kind of fast, it helps the physical comedy hit it out of the park multiple times, and it’s got great designs. This is the same studio that did Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and it looks so much better than what the studio had to do with in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. Seriously, watch that movie and tell me that you see how cheap it looks compared to the original Cloudy film.

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Anyway, the voice cast also does a fantastic job. Sure, you get some pretty solid performances from some of the actors like Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston, and a majority of the cast sounds very engaged with their performances. I also give Warner Brothers so much credit for casting an actual honest-to-goodness voice actress for Tulip. Tulips’ actress, Katie Crown, is an actress most known for her role as Izzy from the Total Drama franchise. It’s just so rare that actual voice actors get major roles in animated films. It could have been so easy to just get a bubbly big-name actress to do this role, but they pretty much said “screw that”, and got an honest-to-gravy voice actress. As for a comedic cast, it’s really solid stuff. Andy Samberg, Keegan Michael Keye, Jordan Peele, Kelsey Grammar, Stephen Kramer Glickman, Danny Trejo, and Katie Crown all work off each other well and have some pretty great chemistry. For the comedy itself, I was laughing at multiple points in the movie, from the introduction of Key and Peele’s wolf characters, to the encounter with the penguins. Storks brings in very much “out there” brands of comedy that you would see in a Looney Toons short. I mean, it is Warner Brothers, they should know how this all works by now. Even the somewhat boring white bread family gets some great lines, but that should be no surprise, due to Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston being used to flexing their comedic muscles before.

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Storks might be a bit clunky in the world-building and story department, but it brings in so many laughs that it pretty much makes for an enjoyable ride. However, do I understand why it didn’t do well in the box office, and why critics were split on the film? Of course I do. I might like the film and recommend it for a good fun animated comedy, but you should be able to understand when someone else couldn’t get into it. Still, if you feel like you are in the mood for a comedy that’s less reliant on raunchy comedy and stock humor, Storks is that comedy. Well then, it’s time we look at films from 2017, and we shall start with Nerdland. Thank you for reading. I hope you all enjoyed the article, and I will see you next time.

Rating: Go see it!