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Frozen: She’s As Cold As Ice

by Ethan Alter November 27, 2013 6:00 am
Frozen: She’s As Cold As Ice

In 1989, an aquatic princess named Ariel lifted Disney out of its decade-long doldrums, ushering in a new period of creative and commercial success for the once-dominant brand in family animated entertainment. Two decades later, a well-coiffed royal scion named Rapunzel performed a similar feat, righting the Mouse House's course after it struggled to find its sea legs in a new (and largely computer animated) family entertainment landscape dominated by companies like DreamWorks, Blue Sky and, of course, Pixar. And so the hugely enjoyable Tangled beget the equally enjoyable Wreck It Ralph, which in turn beget Frozen, a spirited romp through a traditional Disney princess narrative that ultimately tweaks the formula in ways that make it exciting and new.

Monsters University: Graded on a Curve

by Ethan Alter June 21, 2013 6:00 am
Monsters University: Graded on a Curve

Once upon a time, when Pixar was still a relatively young studio as opposed to the family entertainment monolith it is today, it was decided by the powers that be at Disney and Pixar that Toy Story 2 -- the sequel to the 1995 smash hit that eventually made computer animation the industry standard -- would be a direct-to-video feature in the vein of such lesser Mouse House productions as Pocahontas II and Aladdin and the King of Thieves. But unhappy with the movie's creative direction, Pixar head honcho John Lasseter took back the reins of the sequel and once again steered it into theaters. I bring this piece of history up because Monsters University, the prequel to the company's 2001 romp Monsters Inc., feels like it too originated as a DTV production before being transferred to the theatrical pipeline.

The Croods: Another Modern Stone Age Family

by Angel Cohn March 22, 2013 6:07 am
The Croods: Another Modern Stone Age Family

Admittedly, I went into The Croods with a great deal of skepticism. After all, as a mom, I've been subjected to more than my fair share of Ice Age and Madagascar movies. So no matter how cute the little sloth may be (and Kristin Bell is probably gonna freak when she sees it), I wasn't exactly jumping for joy heading into the theater. But this movie won me over. It started out a little slow, but after they got to the gist of the plot, I was charmed by the actual storyline. Even though it was co-written and directed by Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders, I'm quite tempted to credit its quality to Sanders -- who made Lilo & Stitch -- and not the dude behind... Space Chimps.

Oscars 2013: The Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

We judge this year's crop of the animated shorts that are up for Oscar.

Rise of the Guardians: Keep the Faith

by Ethan Alter November 21, 2012 5:59 am
Rise of the Guardians: Keep the Faith

Kids movies generally try to be inclusive, but DreamWorks Animation's latest cartoon Rise of the Guardians is built on a faulty premise that excludes a healthy chunk of its audience from the get-go. Here's the set-up: long, long ago, when Earth was shrouded in darkness after the sun set (electricity still being a few centuries off), the bogeyman Pitch (voiced by Jude Law) -- as in Pitch Black -- held sway, striking fear into the hearts of little girls and boys. So the Man in the Moon decided to provide these tykes with some inner light in the form of the Guardians -- figures of myth and legend who represent all that is good in the world. As long as children put their faith and belief in the Guardians, they'll never be troubled by the bogeyman. But if that faith is ever shaken, the Guardians -- like another famous sprite whose life hinges on the belief of children -- are at risk of winking out of existence, once again allowing Pitch to infect young minds with his brand of terror.

Wreck-It Ralph: Ready Player One

by Ethan Alter November 2, 2012 10:01 am
Wreck-It Ralph: Ready Player One

Disney's new videogame themed animated feature Wreck-It Ralph may ostensibly be for kids, but the viewers who will probably enjoy it most are those who were children 30 years ago. At least, that was my experience when I saw the movie with my 5-year-old son; although he mostly enjoyed the misadventures of the title character (voiced to perfection by John C. Reilly), the designated bad guy in an 8-bit Donkey Kong-like arcade game called Fix-It Felix, Jr., it was my inner child -- the one who grew up playing those vintage '80s games -- that was really doing cartwheels. Throughout this delightful cartoon romp, director Rich Moore (making his feature debut after years of working on some of the past animated TV shows around, including The Simpsons and Futurama) pays homage to that formative era of gaming with such affection and wit, it'll make you want to get rid of your Wii and order an old-school, first-generation NES (or, if you're really splurging, a refurbished coin-operated arcade game) off eBay.

ParaNorman: What To Expect When You’re Expecting

While it's often unavoidable, it can be dangerous to go into a movie with too many preconceived expectations. Case in point: I walked into the new stop-motion animated paranormal adventure ParaNorman expecting one kind of movie and instead discovered it was actually something quite different. Reconciling the movie that was in my head with what was onscreen took some time, especially when what was onscreen wasn't quite clicking. But I warmed up to the movie and its pint-sized, spiky-haired hero by the end and, thinking back on it, I admire a number of the creative choices that directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler made, even if their ambition sometimes outstripped their execution. To help other moviegoers (especially those with kids) avoid falling into the trap of expectations not being met, here are a few things you should know about what ParaNorman is... and what it isn't.

Brave: Fairy Tale Theater

by Ethan Alter June 22, 2012 6:00 am
Brave: Fairy Tale Theater

Although Mickey Mouse remains the company's figurehead, Walt Disney is, in many ways, the studio that fairy tales built. From 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to 2010's Tangled, Disney's legacy has largely been defined by its adaptations of these classic folk tales, which for generations of kids, have become the definitive versions of the exploits of Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and the Little Mermaid. The studio's in-house animation company Pixar, on the other hand, has largely prided itself on creating original stories usually in contemporary settings; look through their feature filmography and you won't find a single adaptation in the bunch. So the company's latest offering Brave is an interesting hybrid of Pixar and Disney's respective specialties. The makers behind this film are attempting nothing less than inventing an entirely new fairy tale, one that employs some of the genre's familiar tropes and characters in service of a wholly original narrative. They don't completely succeed, but it's exciting to watch them try.

Five Reasons Why The Pirates! Band of Misfits is Worth Seeing

Why is it so tough to make a great modern-day pirate movie? The first Pirates of the Caribbean romp came close, but that film suffered somewhat from a super-sized runtime and dull leading man (not Johnny Depp -- the other one, Borlando Gloom). Otherwise, the list of pirate-related projects from the past few decades offers one misfire after another, from Roman Polanski's Pirates to Renny Harlin's infamous Cutthroat Island to that shoulda-gone-direct-to-DVD Veggie Tales feature The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything to, of course, all three POTC sequels.

Aardman’s Peter Lord Sets Sail With A Band of Misfit Pirates

As one of the founding members of the British animation studio Aardman Animations, Peter Lord has watched the company grow from a tiny two-man operation to a full-fledged cartoon factory that produces commercials, TV shows and movies using both computer animation and its signature stop-motion house style popularized in such shorts as Creature Comforts and The Wrong Trousers. Over a decade ago, Lord himself shepherded Aardman into feature filmmaking by co-directing the hit Great Escape homage Chicken Run, and now he's back behind the camera for their latest big-screen effort The Pirates: Band of Misfits, which stars Hugh Grant as a 19th-century Pirate Captain who doesn't let the fact that he isn't the sharpest cutlass in the drawer stop him from leading his crew across the seven seas. Lord spoke with TWoP about how Grant found his voice for the part and whether it's best for cartoon animals to be seen rather than heard.

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