Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2.5*) OSCAR WINNER
Animated films/Family films are always a fun group to view and critique and this year they are all the same five movies.. The characters are, typically, on the fantastic side or, often, animals acting in human form (or in one of this year’s movies, a human acting in animal form!). The exposure to different animation technologies is always intriguing and the stories are, usually, just plain fun.
One of my favorite animated films/Family films this year was Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. Since I wasn’t at all familiar with the YouTube craze from early in the last decade, the main character, Marcel the Shell, was delightfully intriguing. The stop-motion animation was top-of-its-form and it was especially interesting how it was layered on a live-action film involving a real house populated by real humans. The film tells a heartwarming story of how relationships work as well as talking about how they end.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish was my other favorite this year. Rich in computer animation from Dreamworks, this is the second in the Shrek spin-off series based on the now-famous cat. In this one, Puss is faced with some of the critical issues of mortality, that many of us face, as he is on his ninth life. During his pursuit of immortality, he restarts a relationship with a past flame, and makes a new friend too. The story also plumbs meaning from several old nursery tales. Just plain fun for everyone.
Not quite as successful is The Sea Beast. From Netflix animation, this, too, is computer animated with rich colors and lots of great nautical imagery, including some very good underwater scenes. While not quite as convoluted as a Marvel super-hero movie, the plot lines are thick and there are lots of characters. For adults there are plenty of political references, many of which probably worked a bit better when this movie was made than they do now.
It is always difficult for me to talk about the films I don’t recommend, especially when they often have some good qualities. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio may have wowed the academy and won an Oscar, and the stop-motion animation is about the best I’ve ever seen, but the story isn’t going to please very many people. The true Pinocchio story isn’t exactly the Disney version from decades ago, and trying to translate it to the screen is a difficult job – lord knows there have been many attempts. But this one seems to mash together multiple characters and create new ones. Del Toro also feels a need to bring in two themes, seemingly out of nowhere, fascism and his falling out with the Catholic Church. I suppose if you are a devoted fan of del Toro, then you need to see this film, but otherwise skip it – despite the Oscar win!
And Turning Red, another from Disney/Pixar, is another disaster. Although the color palette and the rich attention to Chinese cultural design is fun, it just isn’t clear who this story is supposed to appeal to. Like del Toro, Turning Red’s young director, Domee Shi, made the movie she would like, not necessarily one that other people would appreciate.
But, if my first three aren’t enough, there were two animated films from last year that I liked, FLEE and Encanto. FLEE (4*), though, is decidedly not a family film but presents very adult topics including gay relationships, and immigration, in an animated form in order to protect the identities of the real people, who are the subjects of this documentary from Denmark. But Encanto (3.5*), last year’s Oscar winner is a good movie for the whole family – and, in fact, mentions “family” frequently. And it also has some good music from Lin Manuel Miranda.
That gives you four animated films for the whole family, and one for the adults after putting the kids to bed. Enjoy the holiday season.