Talking Movies

December 22, 2019

From the Archives: Enchanted

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Disney does self-parody, and it’s awesome. Shrek is exposed as the under-achieving mean-spirited wretch it always was by Disney’s generous ribbing of their own fairytale animations. This is one of the best films of the year, in which the flaws (such as the hilariously confused message about marriage and romance) do not matter as they are mere quibbles beside everything that is done superbly. The cast is even littered with cameos by voice actors who worked on old Disney films to announce that the Empire of the Mouse is striking back. The hilarious trailer tells you all you need to know about the plot. Amy Adams (who’ll always be a meteor-freak-of-the-week on Smallville to me) is perfect casting as the hopelessly naïve animated fairytale princess-to-be Giselle of Andalasia, who gets a harsh reality check when thrown down a well from which she emerges into live-action NYC, even if she does succeed in getting cockroaches to help with household chores by singing to them.

McDreamy, I mean Patrick Dempsey, plays Robert Phillip, the archetypal hard-hearted New York divorce lawyer. His calculated wooing of Nancy (played by Broadway star Idina Menzel) is chaotically upset by the arrival of Giselle in his life and the obvious bond between Giselle and his young daughter. The big musical number in Central Park doesn’t have the greatest tune but it’s performed with enough energy to make up for it as, much to Phillip’s embarrassment, buskers start to help out Giselle’s spontaneous singing. The song ‘True Love’s Kiss’ though has a great melody and also provides one of the best gags in the film, of course it involves James Marsden. Marsden as Prince Edward is an absolute scream in this film. His prince is dashing in animated Andalasia but a snobbish, misogynist ninny in NYC. He scoops up most of the film’s best lines including the priceless “Thank you for taking care of my bride, peasants!”

Sometimes progress isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, compare the grotesque humans of CGI animation with the traditional method here which perfectly renders Timothy Spall’s Nathaniel, servant of the evil Queen who helps her in her quest to stop Giselle marrying Prince Edward and so taking her throne. Spall follows Edward into the real world and dons ‘disguises’ and a series of increasingly ludicrous/racist foreign accents as he tries to feed a poisoned apple to Giselle. He’s such a failure at being evil that eventually the wicked queen herself makes the leap into NYC. Susan Sarandon as her physical incarnation is so heavily fright-made up that she looks like her old Rocky Horror co-star Tim Curry’s Dr Frank-N-Furter. Her grand entrance at the film’s finale in the style of General Zod trashing NYC in Superman II is to be relished, but then so is everything in Enchanted. Truly essential viewing.

5/5

From the Archives: Bee Movie

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

This is a bit of a conundrum to review. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good movie that features some hilarious gags. It is certainly several leagues above Dreamworks’ previous animated feature this year, the dire Shrek the Third. Jerry Seinfeld, who finally stopped doing stand-up to make this film, has really thought out the internal logic for his epic about bee society. The depiction of the worker bees that leave the hive to collect pollen is hilarious as they’re all jocks in a Top Gun style fighter squadron valorised by the rest of the hive. The sequence where Barry B Benson (voiced by Seinfeld) finally achieves his dream and flies with them on a sortie through the city is genuinely exciting. The problem is that while there are a number of great gags which are truly of the calibre you expect from a Seinfeld script the movie overall feels somewhat flat. This oddly deflating vibe is exemplified by the use of Chris Rock, who is hilarious but appears in just three scenes as the voice of a mosquito.

Despite the spirited protestations of Dreamworks Animation supremo Jeffrey Katzenberg there is no doubt that this film is less in thrall to celebrities than previous Dreamworks fiascos like Shark Tale. The presence of Patrick Warburton, who voices ultraviolent bodyguard Brock Samson in cult animated show The Venture Brothers, is testament to that. I have no idea what Warburton looks like, he’s a voice actor, and he’s hilarious as Ken, Vanessa’s jock boyfriend who has absurd self-confidence. In Shark Tale celebrities whose voices aren’t particularly memorable were made obvious by making all the anthropomorphic fish look exactly like the person voicing them. The characters were then made exactly like the screen persona of these stars. Which it must be admitted is about as far removed from the idea of an actor bending themselves into a role as is possible to imagine. Here Seinfeld is recognisable as a bee but no one else really is bar real human characters like Ray Liotta and Sting (both mocking themselves with gusto) and a gag about B Larry King.

The plot is very similar to Antz with an extremely neurotic Jewish insect (seriously, the amount of Jewish references here would appear excessive in a Woody Allen film) agonising over his life and his attempts to become an individualist in a conformist society. This is done in typically melodramatic Hollywood fashion by suing humans for stealing honey. The bees are helped by Renee Zellweger’s kind-hearted florist Vanessa for this showdown which should theoretically enable Barry’s hive to have more time for leisure and a life outside of work. But that’s not the end of the story. Seinfeld cleverly subverts the clichés established by Dreamworks’ ‘subversive’ films but it still doesn’t make this essential viewing.

3/5

March 31, 2017

The Boss Baby

Alec Baldwin is the star of the show as the voice of the titular infant in an animated comedy aimed at a surprisingly niche audience.

Tim (voiced in Wonder Years style narration by Tobey Maguire) has a perfect life. Loving parents, who sing him ‘Blackbird’ as his own personal song, a faithful alarm clock that talks to him in the dialogue of Gandalf, and an active imagination, obviously. Which is ruined when a baby in a business suit pulls up in a taxi, power-walks into the house, and demands attention at all hours of the night and day from his parents. When Tim discovers the baby can talk, and does so in the voice of Alec Baldwin, he tries to figure out what is the what before his parents’ love for him is entirely consumed by the demands of the boss baby…

The Boss Baby is a curious creature. Baldwin’s delivery of “Uh-uh, cookies are for closers” is one of a handful of jokes aimed at parents, the other pick being Baldwin’s query if Tim’s parents are actually Lennon & McCartney when he complains how they are now singing his personal song ‘Blackbird’ for the baby. But there is precious little here for parents. Indeed, there is at times precious little for children either. There is, mercifully, none of the usual Dreamworks shtick about how the most important thing in the world is to just be yourself, but instead there’s a message targeted at what can only imagine is a fairly niche child audience. 7 year olds dealing with jealousy at a new sibling. Indeed if a 7 year old was dealing with jealousy at a new sibling they might be as irritated as a cinephile by the painfully protracted ending in which Tim and the Boss Baby get what they want, but…not what they need.

2/5

October 22, 2009

Fantastic Mr Fox

Wes Anderson deploys all his cinematic trademarks to bring Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s story to stop-motion animated life and the results are, well, yes, rather fantastic actually…

The film opens with Mr Fox (voiced by George Clooney) and his wife (Meryl Streep) breaking into a farm to steal chickens in a sequence devised as one long tracking shot, scored by the Beach Boys’ Heroes and Villains, and filled with ridiculous acrobatics by the foxes to avoid detection before they fall for the oldest trick in the book. When we fast-forward two human years/twelve fox years Mr Fox is raising a moody cub and is a social columnist for the local newspaper having promised his wife that he is retired from poaching. Yeah, that’ll last. Sure enough Mr Fox has a mid-life crisis and bullies his grouchy attorney Badger (Bill Murray) into securing him a new tree-home with a view – a view of three farms run by the evil farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean.

Clooney’s Fox, not unlike his Danny Ocean, plots an audacious poaching strike on all three farms. Clooney’s always distinctive voice is perfect casting as its mixture of charm and unctuousness captures the arrogance that gets Fox into trouble and the quick-wittedness that gets him out of scrapes. This scrape is though is very tricky as he incurs the wrath of the smartest of the farmers Bean, richly played by Michael Gambon in a vocal performance that occasionally recalls Ben Kingsley’s villain in Sexy Beast, who makes it his mission to kill Fox even if he has to dynamite half the countryside to do so. Indeed requests for dynamite are just one of many requests issued to Bean’s chief henchman Petey, (voiced by Jarvis Cocker who performs a campfire song which is then hilariously critiqued by Bean) the funniest of which involves a plaintive request to fetch a ladder.

Anderson has injected so much of himself into this story that Dahl would probably raise an eyebrow. Some of the greatest comedy moments come from the indie director filming scenes with his too hip whip-pans and artful long takes of deadpan dialogue, then having the be-suited animals suddenly behave like animals, or from adding lines only adults will appreciate like the besieged Fox sighing “Well this is just going to turn out a complete cluster-cuss for all concerned” and filming confrontations in the style of spaghetti westerns. Mostly this Anderson-isation of Dahl works but the lack of explanation of why animals living in 1950s England sound American occasionally grates when we’re given nonsensical moments like Owen Wilson’s cameo as a high-school sports-coach, while Jason Schwartzman’s neurotic shtick as Fox’s moody cub, intensely jealous of the attention his athletic cousin Kristofferson is given by Fox, wears thin very quickly.

Seeing Anderson’s unmistakeable style in stop-motion is endearing but it is the mixing of his studied sensibility with Dahl’s anarchy which raises this far above the rival auto-pilot ‘the moral is always be yourself’ animations of Dreamworks. Recommended viewing.

4/5

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