April and the Extraordinary World (2015, Directed by Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci) French 6

Voices of J.K Simmons, Susan Sarandon, Tony Hale, Paul Giamatti

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(6-Good Film)

Imaginative. Beautiful. Shallow.

High concept meets alternate history in this animated film about a family of scientists seeking to create an elixir that cures mortality. Standing in their way is the French government who enslave all scientists in order to monopolize their creations. The youngest of the family, April, is left alone after her parents mysteriously disappear, and finds herself in the middle of a nefarious end-of-the-world level plot. The comic strip art style is appealing and the world it creates is enticing, but the film lacks depth in certain aspects (namely character) that keep it from achieving the epic status it strives for. As is, it’s creative and diverting, without being spectacular.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Good Dinosaur (2015, Directed by Peter Sohn) English 5

Voices of Raymond Ochoa, Sam Elliot, Anna Paquin, Frances McDormand, Steve Zahn, John Ratzenberger, Jeffrey Wright

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(5-Okay Film)

Disappointing. Dull. Subpar.

In an alternate history, where the dinosaurs weren’t wiped out by a meteor, a young Apatosaurus named Arlo, with a fear of seemingly everything, gets whisked away from his family after chasing a young human child. The two eventually become close over the course of their journey to return home. For Pixar, the groundbreaking 3D animation studio that is constantly innovating, this effort, The Good Dinosaur is so substandard. True, their standard is so much higher than their competition, and perhaps because of this, I’m being unfair to what is a decent enough picture. For large stretches though, I was bored, and there was never a point where I was excited. A handful of nice ideas and typically stellar animation (though the character designs aren’t satisfying) make The Good Dinosaur watchable. Ice Age dealt with a similar premise and is more appealing.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Secret Life of Pets (2016, Directed by Chris Renaud) English 5

Voices of Louis C.K, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, Hannibal Burress, Steve Coogan, Lake Bell, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks

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(5-Okay Film)

Unisnpired. Derivative. Pleasant.

Beloved, spoiled dog Max (C.K) has a rude awakening when his owner brings home, Duke (Stonestreet), a monstrous dog that he’s asked to see as his brother. The two don’t get along, and this leads to them being lost in New York City for a crazy ninety-minute adventure. The creative staff at animation studio, Illumination, certainly don’t over-exert themselves. On the positive side, they consistently deliver movies that are generally pleasing with enough jokes to pass the time and a whole lot of mass appeal. On the other hand, they’re not aspiring for much. The voice work is super solid. The animation is bright and appealing. There’s just nothing special about this movie. Plus, it’s a blatant ripoff of the first Toy Story.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Iron Giant (1999, Directed by Brad Bird) English 6

Voices of Vin Diesel, Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., John Mahoney, Christopher McDonald, Cloris Leachman, Eli Marienthal

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(6-Good Film)

Nostalgic. Moving. Intelligent.

“You are who you choose to be,” Hogarth tells the iron giant. It’s a strong message and theme of this film as Hogarth (Marienthal), a young adventurous boy, living through the Cold War in 1957 Maine, stumbles upon an otherworldly being made of iron that consumes metal. Oddly enough, the “iron giant” comes in peace, and Hogarth sets about hiding him from the small town’s citizens and the sinister Kent Mansley (McDonald), a government agent sent to investigate some strange happenings. Hogarth gains the help of the town’s scrap metal artist and beatnik Dean (Connick Jr.), but how long can they hide a fifty-foot metal man? The animation, the voice acting, the writing are first-rate, and the central idea that you can rise above your nature, or that you’re defined by what you do and not how you look, are mature and weighty themes.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Tangled (2010, Directed by Byron Howard and Nathan Greno) English 8

Voices of Mandy Moore, Donna Murphy, Zachary Levi, Ron Perlman, Richard Kiel, Brad Garrett

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(8-Exceptional Film)

 Elegant. Joyous. Fantastic.

Expanding the fairy tale of Rapunzel, the young princess is kidnapped as a baby by the vain witch Mother Gothel. Raising Rapunzel as her own, Mother Gothel uses the girl’s magical powers to stay forever young and keeps her locked up in a hidden tower. Then one day a thief finds Rapunzel, and the lost princess enlists his help to see the world she’s always been too afraid to explore. Upper-tier Disney animation with excellent characters, exciting adventure, and beautiful imagery. Mother Gothel finds her place in Disney’s sterling canon of female villains.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Angry Birds Movie (2016, Directed by Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly) English 5

Voices of: Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Sean Penn, Bill Hader, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Peter Dinklage, Kate McKinnon

(5-Okay Film)

Decent. Colorful. Vibrant.

Hyper-kinetic animated comedy with a decent amount of creativity, based on the Angry Birds video game franchise. The story follows Red (Sudeikis), an angry bird dwelling in an eternally blissful society, who gets sentenced to anger management sessions where he meets fellow angry birds. They uncover a plot led by foreign, green colored pigs to take over their island. It’s moderately funny and one of the better video game adaptations (not saying much), though it’s probably not worth a second viewing.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Thumbelina (1994, Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman) English 3

Voices of Jodi Benson, Carol Channing, Gilbert Gottfried, Charo, John Hurt, Joe Lynch

(3-Horrible Film)

Derivative. Third-rate. Unwatchable.

Walt Disney cast the mold over seventy years ago when he premiered Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the first full length animated feature. In front of an audience that included Shirley Temple, Clark Gable, and Marlene Dietrich among others, feature film animation was born, the model was set, the benchmark placed. From that point on, no American animated film veered from the path forged by Disney and his team until 1995’s Toy Story. We know the fundamentals: musical numbers, hand-drawn animation, cute animal sidekicks, villains, missing parents, and occasionally a nice princess story. These familiar trappings have been mined and will continue being mined as long as they yield the kind of results we saw as recently as 2013’s Frozen ($1.2 Billion earned). There are not many boring animated princess movies, but I am afraid Thumbelina proves an exception. Looking at the man responsible for this travesty, Don Bluth, a man whose credits include The Secret of NIMH, The Land Before Time, and Anastasia, offers very little insight into what went wrong. He once worked for Disney. He ought to have a pretty solid understanding of how to put together a good animated flick. This film beggars the mind.

The plot maybe had potential. A thumb-sized princess torn from her beloved fairy prince must traverse a harsh environment to make it back home. I could see a nice adventure springing from that setup, but I am using my imagination and not my memory because this film does nothing with it but meander. She gets help from a bird with a French accent named Jacquimo, and trouble from a beetle named Berkely Beetle (rolling my eyes) voiced by the same person who voiced Iago in Aladdin. Eventually, the fairy prince tracks her down, they get married, she gets wings, and they live happily ever after; cue the bad music.

Let’s go down the Disney checklist. Perhaps the Bluth team missed a step: bright and colorful animation (check), a fairy tale princess story (check, courtesy of Hans Christian Anderson), cute animals (check, this film has several), musical numbers (check-minus, the songs are horrible courtesy of Barry Manilow). So the concept at least has all the essentials of a Disney classic, but what’s missing is any discernible charm or magic associated with the best princess stories. Think of Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and of course Snow White. You can even think of Bluth’s next stab at the animated princess story, Anastasia, which is vastly superior to this one. Thumbelina may not be the worst animated film ever-that distinction belongs to Troll in Central Park-but it’s a photo-finish.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-