In a movie realm dominated by endless remakes, reboots and retellings of familiar fairy tales and folk stories, Disney’s Maleficent (2014) set out to do something different by focusing on the ‘villain’ of the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty, subject of Disney’s own 1959 animated classic, sidelining Aurora (Elle Fanning) and focusing on the evil antagonist, played by Angelina Jolie. This break with tradition set Maleficent apart, adding some intrigue and appeal that recent cookie-cutter Disney remakes have lacked. Unlike, say, Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King, audiences didn’t know what to expect from this alternative take on the nearly 400-year-old tale of Sleeping Beauty, which was particularly welcome as even Disney’s 1959 version is a fairly plotless, predictable fairy tale in need of a refresh. Now, in the original Sleeping Beauty‘s diamond jubilee year, Maleficent is back in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, which once again focuses on the villain of the piece, despite her – spoiler alert – redemption at the end of Maleficent.
Scooby-Doo, where ARE you?
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Scooby-Doo – the first episode of Hanna-Barbera’s spooky cartoon Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! was aired in 1969 – and the past five decades have seen countless iterations of the Scooby gang’s adventures, including multiple animated shows, direct-to-video animated movies – some under the Lego label – and several live action movies, including two (2002’s Scooby-Doo and 2004’s Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed) that found their way into cinemas. They’ve met the rock band KISS!, had not one but two adventures with Batman, introduced a new character – Scooby-Doo’s fearless cousin, Scrappy Doo – who did for Scooby-Doo what Poochie did for Itchy and Scratchy, and solved more mysteries than Jessica Fletcher and Mrs Marple put together. But their strangest screen incarnation yet may be the direct-to-video feature film Daphne & Velma, in which the female half of the Scooby gang get their very own live action movie. And as if taking a sisters-doing-it-for-themselves approach wasn’t ‘woke’ enough for 2019, Daphne is played by a mixed-race actress (Sarah Jeffery), making her the first person of colour to be part of the Scooby gang. Right on, Scoob!
The history of films based on toys has been a varied one. Part of Toy Story‘s genius was its inclusion of many real-life toy brands, the Transformers franchise has grossed billions of dollars for Paramount Pictures, and The Lego Movie managed the twin feats of critical and commercial success. (The less said about Playmobil® The Movie, the better – although this website’s epic takedown of the film is worth a read.)
The great thing about fairytales is that they’re ripe for revisiting with a post-modern mindset. When everybody knows the story, the characters and the tropes, it’s easy to remix them with a knowing wink.
With the success of The Lego Movie five years ago, it was only a matter of time before the German company behind rival toy line Playmobil® demanded their own big screen outing. “We want it to be like The Lego Movie,” the bosses might have said, “but without any of that film’s wit, imagination and clever comedy, or the self-aware stop-motion style that embraces the product’s essential toy-ness. Oh, and instead of stars like Chris Pratt, Liam Neeson, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Elizabeth Banks, Alison Brie, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman, Will Arnett, Jake Johnson and Cobie Smulders, let’s get… oh, I don’t know… how about Adam Lambert and Meghan Trainor?”
The wonder is it ever got released.
This animated Spider-Man adventure seems designed to please anyone who is tired of seeing Spider-Man movies. It acknowledges the saturated market place of comic book movies in an opening that pokes fun at recent Spider-Man movies starring Andrew Garfield, Tobey Maguire and Tom Holland. It’s the kind of self-awareness and pop-cultural savvy that made the early Pixar films so great.
If any cinematic universe was in need of having its pants pulled down, its sense of self-importance called out and ridiculed, it’s the DC one. The Marvel movies have always managed not to take themselves too seriously, but when they do – even to great effect, as in Logan or Avengers: Infinity War – there’ll be a Deadpool movie along any minute to deflate their balloons. That happens literally in the opening scene of Teen Titans Go! To The Movies, as the teenage superheroes from the hit TV series Teen Titans Go! – itself an update of the Cartoon Network Teen Titans series from 2003 – take on a giant inflatable bank robber and burst his balloon butt-first, making a hilarious and humiliating fart noise that has the team dissolving in fits of giggles. The Justice League they ain’t.
When a computer-animated film doesn’t emerge from one of the traditional giants of the medium – Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, Blue Sky or Illumination – it’s easy to relegate it to the status of an also-ran, something to catch on DVD, Netflix or Amazon Prime on a rainy afternoon. Every once in a while, however, an independently-made CG animation comes along that makes you sit up and take notice, as in the case of Fun Academy’s Sgt. Stubby: An Unlikely Hero. Continue reading “Sgt. Stubby: An Unlikely Hero”
Even hotel owners need a holiday. At least, that’s the idea for Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, the third – and, sadly, the weakest – in the hit series starring the vocal talents of Adam Sandler as Dracula. Stepping away from the monsters-only hotel that he runs, the infamous vampire is given a surprise treat by his daughter Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez): a family holiday on a cruise ship that tours such fables sights as the Bermuda Triangle and the lost city of Atlantis.