Beneath the Surface: Trolls

Lindsey Bahr of the associated press said of Dreamworks’ Trolls, “the get happy message, while trite when compared to something like Inside Out, is sufficiently sweet for its audience. Did you expect more from a piece of candy?”

Yes. Yes I did. And so should you.

From the previews, Dreamwork’s Trolls appeared to be the latest in a long line of derivative children’s movies full of saturated colors and high-energy hi-jinks, but failing to convey even a hint of substance. The marketing for this film has presented an easy-to-digest, broadly appealing, inoffensive family film with a few veiled shout-outs to the drug culture the film cribs its psychedelic aesthetic from. That’s not entirely inaccurate, but I’m happy to say there’s much more to Trolls than I ever expected, given that it’s a film based on a toy-line from the 80’s.

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Beneath the Surface: The Lobster

There’s something oddly refreshing about art-house. I so rarely see a movie that expects more from the audience than mostly passive enjoyment. Certain wider release films are definitely capable of challenging an audience, but rarely do they assert out-of-the-box terms and demand the audience meet them on said terms. From the opening shot of The Lobster, the viewer knows they are in for something out of the ordinary. The film-makers aren’t trying to appeal to a wide audience, or pander to a small one. They are simply making the art they want to, with no apologies to anyone who doesn’t follow.

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Beneath the Surface: The Jungle Book

The seemingly endless barrage of live-action remakes to classic Disney films has to this point been little more than a blatant cash-grab to capitalize on a very nostalgic generation raised on the Disney renaissance and VHS copies of the company’s classic library. The failure of Disney’s other live action properties (Tomorrowland, John Carter, The BFG) will probably only fuel this trend. This trend has met with strong commercial success, but artistically has varied from bad (Oz the Great and Powerful) to campy but good (Maleficent). The Jungle Book (directed by Jon Favreau) is the first film to buck this trend and be actually good without qualifiers.

On the surface, we get what seems like a pretty standard retelling of the 1967 film, with somewhat photo-realistic CG animals and a slightly more serious tone. All that is true, but beneath the surface, Favreau and screenwriter Justin Marks have some interesting things to say about the relationship between humanity and nature. I don’t usually write reviews that summarize the plot of a movie, but in this case it is necessary to illustrate my conclusions. If you haven’t seen The Jungle Book yet I would absolutely recommend checking it out. Be warned, there will be spoilers. Continue reading “Beneath the Surface: The Jungle Book”

Beneath the Surface: Rango

It’s incredible to me that Rango was first released over five years ago. Not only because time appears to be accelerating as I get older, but because visually speaking it is still unrivaled in the realm of computer animation. I’m sure there have been a variety of innovations since then, but the computer animated releases we’ve seen have become more and more cartoonish, presumably to avoid an uncanny valley effect. Rango is the opposite of cartoony, with multiple shots that appear photo-realistic. Rango is also the last animated film I can remember that wasn’t afraid to be ugly. The character designs all reflect the harsh landscape that birthed them. Most of them are reptiles covered in bumps and scars, and even the few furry creatures are covered with scars and patches of matted and dirty fur. Rango is a beautiful film with incredibly ugly subjects. Continue reading “Beneath the Surface: Rango”