Sunday, February 26, 2017

Cartoon Oscar.

I could not be less interested in the Academy Awards this year if you paid me. "Here, Fred, here is a large sum of money for you to be less interested in the Academy Awards!" you say. Trying... trying... No, keep your dough; it can't be done.

Like everyone, I do have some predictions, though, like:

1) I will never see what wins for Best Picture, because whatever it is, I'm sure it's something I wouldn't want to see; and

2) They'll give Streep another Oscar because they just love to give her chances to gas on about Trump.

Aside from that, my only interest is in Best Animated Feature. And that's odd, because I've only seen one of the nominees.

And that one was Kubo and the Two Strings, a magnificent story by Laika film company. The movie is a constant feast for the eyes; I ought to see it again, because the way the thematic origami is carried through every scene is just gorgeous. The script is almost dead perfect as well, a sharp work that has a lot of funny, clever dialogue, but doesn't sacrifice drama, atmosphere, or plot for the sake a stupid joke. Although I could have used more fire-breathing chicken.

In a lot of movies it annoys me that great voice actors have been replaced by big-name stars, but in this film Charlize Theron and (to a lesser extent) Matthew McConaughey are terrific. Art Parkinson, as the boy Kubo, is flawless. 

My main objection to the film regards part of the ending; not to give away spoilers, but it shared some of the same difficulties I had with the climax of another great animated film

Still, I recommend it without reservation. Laika should have won for 2009's Coraline but lost to Pixar's Up -- which was great, but it was no Coraline.

Meanwhile, the non-nominated features I saw included The Angry Birds Movie, based on the app (which you know I love). 

I had low hopes for this one, but Redbox is cheap and what the hell. I was curious to see how they would explain the birds and their various superpowers. Essentially they didn't. Why is Chuck so fast? Why does Bomb blow up? And why don't these birds fly unless they get shot out of a slingshot? No reason. Because that's the way it is in the game, is all. That's peeve 1 of 10. My other 9 peeves included:

Peeve 2) Red, Chuck, and Bomb get almost all the action, with some leftover for Terence and Matilda, but key game birds like Blue(s), Hal, Stella, and Bubbles are hardly seen at all.

Peeve 3) More blasted celebrity voices. Although Sean Penn made an excellent Terence. Got a big paycheck to grunt a lot. (Because that required an Oscar-winner.)

Peeve 4) Red's big motivational speech was lame. He's supposed to rallying all the birds to fight the pigs, to call on them to get angry, and he sounds like -- well, he sounds like the writers were afraid of telling children that it was good to get pissed off and hurt people. It was like Cookie Monster saying that a cookie is a sometime treat. Nuts to that. The birds just got all their eggs stolen; Red should have been telling them to go crazy, to GET FREAKING MAD and GET FREAKING EVEN and GET THOSE EGGS BACK. KILL THE PIGS!

Peeves 5) through 10) Josh Gad, Josh Gad, Josh Gad, Josh Gad, Josh Gad, Josh Gad. Oh, how I hated his whining weenieness as godforsaken snowdemon Olaf in Frozen; here he's turned one of the angriest of the birds, superfast Chuck, into a stupid, needy loser. Really hard to endure.

But when I was able to ignore Josh Gad, I got a lot of laughs from the movie. And it has the best response I have ever heard to a line like, "You have annoyed me for the last time!"

The other non-nominated cartoon feature I saw was:

Come on, guys; if The Croods could get a nomination in '13, why not The Secret Life of Pets this year?

This film too had its weaknesses. The plot was stolen from the first Toy Story -- happy beloved object of affection is supplanted by newcomer; they get lost and placed in peril because of their competition and have to learn to work together and blah blah blah.

Another problem is: Celebrity voices, damn it! Voice acting used to be an esteemed field, a specialty in the acting profession; think of Mel Blanc, June Foray, Paul Frees, Alan Reed. You didn't just slam a mike down in front of the latest flavor-of-the-week comic and hope for the best. Louis C.K. is dull as dirt playing main dog Max.

I admit, though, that Kevin Hart is brilliant and hilarious as crazed rabbit Snowball. But Jenny Slate, more of a voice actor than any of the other principals, steals the film as fluffy, squeaky Gidget. The scene where Gidget interrogates a cat almost literally put me on the floor. If I'd laughed harder my wife would have been calling 911.

There are indeed a lot of laughs along the way, which made this one worth watching. There was also a fantasy sequence during a feeding frenzy in a sausage factory, though, which was the most aggressively weird thing I've seen in a nominal children's movie since "Pink Elephants on Parade" in Dumbo.

So that's my take; I wouldn't have expected Pets or Birds to be nominated, and I hope Kubo wins. But the I confess I do not understand what criteria are used to choose these things. You can sometimes guess why films of questionable quality are nominated and why they win (often because the Academy thinks someone is due, or because of politics), but with animated films it's a mystery. For example:

👎 Maybe The Adventures of Tintin got totally snubbed in 2011 because of its use of motion-capture, but it was a sensational film, with some truly breathtaking action. Unfair!

👎 Big Hero 6, which brought home the bacon in 2014, was a fun but poorly constructed superhero film. It neglected four of its six heroes as badly as Angry Birds neglected half of its major game characters, and it was pedestrian in many ways -- it had a training montage, for God's sake.

👎 Inside Out won in 2015, but I liked The Peanuts Movie more and it didn't even get nominated. (I admit I've always loved the strip.) Shaun the Sheep, which was nominated but didn't win, was the funniest film I saw all year.

Upon reflection, I have decided that maybe you could pay me to care less. A few grand could make me say "Kubo? Meh." Or better yet, I think I could care less about other things for a fee. Maybe gardening? I'm no good at it but I try once in a while. For a nice pile o' pesos I would be happy to give it up entirely. "Gardening! Who needs it?"

See? Make me an offer.

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