Normally I would do single movie reviews. Additionally, I never really had plans to see How To Train Your Dragon 2 or Big Hero 6. When it comes to animated movies, I mostly go to see the one or ones that look like they have the best chances of winning Best Animated Feature. All year I thought I had it all wrapped up when I saw The LEGO Movie and nothing else. Then the Oscar nominations came and The LEGO Movie was inexplicably snubbed out of that category. That led me scramming to see both movies. I saw Dragon 2 on a DVD while I was lucky to see Hero on the big screen. Here are my thoughts:
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
Making a sequel from a hit movie is always a challenge as commercial pressures will demand it. It’s sink or swim as it can either be a continuation of the original’s charm or simply a flavorless rehash of the original. Yes, the audience will distinguish between tried-and-true and tried-and-tired. We saw how Shrek burst on the scene back in 2001 but its excellence and flavor declined with each subsequent movie. Now How To Train Your Dragon has its sequel out. Will How To Train Your Dragon 2 measure up?
First off, the writers and producers did the right thing by releasing the sequel four years after the original and four years since they first started work on it as opposed to the three years between the Shrek films. For those unfamiliar with work on animated features, it takes four years to create from start to finish. The focus on the story this time is in the Fjords of Norway. The story begins with Hiccup, still awkward but well-respected. It also adds in a story where he experiences friction between his girlfriend and his father as well as an enemy he must fight.
I’m unsure if the story would remain true to what Cressida Cowell wrote in her dragon books but I do feel the story is not ‘spoiled’ as so many sequels as most sequels, both animation and live-action, are prone to do. It will continue to delight fans of the first Dragon movie too. The story was darker this time as this would include the death of Stoick and Toothless is under a spell which causes him to want to attack Hiccup. I believe the story would be more suitable for older children but one thing the story doesn’t do is lose the charm of the original. It also has its fun moments and a happy ending that should make it enjoyable for the whole family.
Now on to the technical bits. Whenever I watch a 3D animated movie, I especially pay attention to the quality of the images and effects. I know that each image has to have 100% detail in order to succeed. Any glitch or inconsistency will hurt the movie. I didn’t notice any glitches in the images. I felt the detail was very accurate from the scales on the dragon to the fire they unleashed. The characters’ mouths were always in sync with the dialogue. The film’s images also continued to give the audience a thrill-ride. Naturally when you have a film of people travelling on dragons, you would expect there to be images of the various flights and even parts in the movie that get the audience feel like they’re flying on their own dragons too. The audience will come expecting that. People come to such movies for the escape and the thrill-ride of it all. It succeeds in doing so and it does a top notch job of doing so.
I’m sure that most of you expected The LEGO Movie to win Best Animated Feature even before the nominations were announced. I did too. An interesting bit of trivia to know is that Dragon 2 actually beat out The LEGO Movie in that category to win major awards like the National Board of Review award, the Annie Award and the Golden Globe. Now with The LEGO Movie snubbed out of that category, it appears safe to assume that Dragon 2 will win the Oscar. However that snub reminds us nothing is a foregone conclusion as it is possible Big Hero 6 or The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya could pull an upset.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 was faced with the common pressures of a movie sequel but was able to overcome them to the point they again deliver a movie that’s entertaining and a thrill-ride and still maintains the charm of the original without appearing to exhaust it or stray too far away from it.
BIG HERO 6
Now moving on from a sequel to an original. And moving from one I saw on DVD to one I was lucky to see on the big screen. This time a Disney film: Big Hero 6.
Big Hero 6 is based off of characters from the Big Hero 6 comic series from Marvel comics that first hit shelves in 1998 and went under the Marvel name in 2008. However the story for the film is nothing like the comic series. In the comic series, the characters were all heroes commissioned and created by the Japanese government. Hiro Takachiho was a 13 year-old whiz kid who became part of the team after his mother was kidnapped and creates a Godzilla-style monster hero off of his deceased father’s brain named Baymax. The comics come with the type of over-the-top violence and imagination that you would come to expect from Japanese comic books. The comics have won a following here in the US.
Here for the film, we have a much different story. Hiro is an orphaned boy who lives with his brother Tadashi in San Fransokyo. Hiro commonly gets himself in trouble as he tries to win bot-fights for money but Tadashi takes him to his polytechnic. Hiro thinks it will be the ‘nerd school’ he thinks it is but is amazed with what he sees created by Tadashis’s friends –including his brother’s creation: Baymax, the inflatable virtual doctor which is kept at home–and tries to win a scholarship in a young innovators contest held by the school. After winning the scholarship, a fire breaks out killing Tadashi and a professor.
Hiro feels alone at first even distancing himself from Tadashi’s friends but Baymax suddenly becomes a friend-like to him despite Hiro being unwelcome at first. Later as Hiro learns more new truths about what really happened at the school that night and how his brother really dies, Hiro gets Baymax and the friends to team up to get his brother’s killer. All of them don costumes in the images of the Big Hero 6 comic book characters except Baymax who has an outfit more like Iron Man.
I don’t think the movie was meant to be a film version of the main comic book characters. Remember writers can adapt stories into whatever they want. It’s obvious Walt Disney Studios wanted to do their own story with the characters and have it as a family-friendly film. It succeeds in doing so as it creates a story that’s thrilling, entertaining and imaginative. The story also has a good message for children too as justice is better than any revenge. It also doesn’t try to be too dark in the situations involving Tadashi’s death and Hiro being an orphan.
Although this is an original film, it’s not to say it was without its pressures. We shouldn’t forget this movie comes a year after Walt Disney released the phenomenon Frozen. It wasn’t simply a hit movie. It became a marketing phenomenon and even spawned a release of a sing-along version. Already you could tell there would be pressure upon the release of their follow-up. Big Hero 6 doesn’t exactly deliver to the dame length Frozen has. It has its charm and is a likable film on its own. Whatever the situation, Big Hero 6 was not hurt at the box office as it has already grossed more than $200 million and has been nominated for Best Animated Feature.
Another thing Big Hero 6 succeeds in doing is it adds to the recent resurgence to the Walt Disney Animation Studios. For decades the studios reigned supreme in the world of animated motion pictures. It had very few challengers save for Spielberg animation in the 80’s but made a comeback in the 90’s with 2D masterpieces like The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast and The Lion King. However the studios knew that the world of 3D animation was coming and it did become the case as soon Disney’s partnership with Pixar would create the 3D revolution in animated features. The flavor of the 2D movies from the main Disney Studios were running thin as they couldn’t compete with the Disney/Pixar movies. Eventually Walt Disney Animation Studios did acquire the skills and know how to create their own successful 3D animated movies starting with 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph which rivaled Pixar’s Brave that year and Frozen from last year. Big Hero 6 succeeds in keeping its comeback alive. The Disney/Pixar partnership is still there but it’s good to see Pixar now has a rival with Walt Disney Animation Studios back on its feet.
Big Hero 6 may not be a phenomenon like Frozen nor is it the best animated feature of the year. Nevertheless it succeeds in being entertaining on its own and is another plus in the comeback of the Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Housebound was another one of those 11:30-at-the-Rio films I wanted to check out. It was my first of such. Glad I saw it. Very funny and entertaining.
Kylie Bucknell attempts to commit a robbery on an ATM. The robbery doesn’t work out as her partner is knocked out and she totals her getaway car thanks to driving fast over a big speed bump. The judicial system decides the best thing for her would be house arrest at her mother Miriam’s house. It seems like the right choice to do but the house is old and leaves Kylie with an eerie feeling.
Kylie’s feelings are justified when she hears Miriam call into a radio show talking of how weird it is around there. Then Kylie gets a taste of the eeriness as she notices things like an animated stuffed toy suddenly coming to life and even an old Motorola phone ringing out of nowhere. Even a dental partial has her suspicious. Kylie tries to alert authorities and others but they won’t believe her. Guests and other neighbors around the house are actually pleased at the possibility of a ghost.
Nevertheless Kylie and Miriam are persistent. The only one who believes her is Officer Grayson who knows of past incidents associated with this house such as this being a halfway house for young offenders. In fact the first person who’s the prime suspect in all of this is their shady neighbor. Despite his nasty attitude, he doesn’t register as a positive. However things become more suspicious when a friend of Miriam’s appears suspicious. Eventually the murderer is solved but not without an eerie chase.
For a horror-comedy like that to fly, it had to be done with the right acting, the right direction, and the right story. There have been horror-comedies done before but they would mostly come across as looking ridiculous in the end. Even Hollywood can get it wrong sometimes. This film got it right. From the start with a clumsy robbery attempt to the sense of something wrong in the house to the moment of climax at the end, it was done right. Even the parts intended to be dramatic didn’t come across as ridiculous nor did it dip into sentimentality that was too sappy. Looking back, it would be hard for me to see where the movie did things wrong. Even in terms of the gore, the film didn’t overdo it and it did its most gory part at the right time.
I will admit there were some parts that left me confused about what was happening. However they’d make sense in the end. Simply this is a movie that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Its intent was to deliver a humorous thriller/horror story and it came across as way better than something Hollywood would do. It even had excellent balance between the dramatic parts and the humorous parts. If it didn’t, it would look ridiculous. I would have to watch over and over again to see if it made a false note. Even the death of the perpetrator didn’t come across as ridiculous despite it actually being a ridiculous death.
The comedic acting was just right in order to make this movie work. Morgana O’Reilly needed to deliver a protagonist character that had dimension despite having one that could come across as wooden. Instead she did a good job with Kylie and it came across very well. Rime Te Wiata was the show-stealer as the mother. Her role as the mother added to the comedy to the film thanks to the excellence of the performance. The male actors also did a good job in their roles despite being the supporting players. This is Gerard Johnstone’s first feature -length film and it’s an excellent finished product. Very entertaining and very professional. Another great thing about the script is that it didn’t deliver an awful lot of one-liners and instead delivered more on situational comedy. That worked for the better in this movie.
Housebound is an excellent horror-comedy that both keeps you intrigued and makes you laugh without having ridiculous moments like so many other horror-comedies are prone to do.