The Black Cauldron (1985)

Back in 1973 Disney obtained the rights to Lloyd Alexander’s fantasy series The Chronicles of Prydian. A series spread over five novels aimed at children that are based around ancient Welsh mythology. This feature-length animation is loosely based around the first two books in the series.

In case you haven’t guessed yet, the concept for these stories is high fantasy. Magic, dragons, witches, goblins, the undead etc…Its essentially like a children’s version of The Lord of the Rings from what I could tell, although I have never read the books so I could be wrong. But in all honesty that was the first impression I got when I sat down to watch this movie. The visuals very much reminded me of the classic Ralph Bakshi version the of the classic Tolkien story, but with classic Disney designs.

The plot surrounds the young boy Taran (Grant Bardsley) who tends pigs on a farm belonging to Dallben the Enchanter (Freddie Jones), a kind of wise old mystic, I think. I’m not really sure of the relation between Taran and Dallben, the boy just seems to work for Dallben and Dallben looks after him. Anyway Dallben learns that the evil Horned King (John Hurt) is after the Black Cauldron and fears he may come for his pet pig Hen Wen. Why? Because this pig has the power to predict or see the future somehow. I’m still not entirely sure why this would help the Horned King to be honest; how does seeing the future help find an object? Surely you need a map or something. Also no clue how this pig got these powers or how Dallben got the pig, oh well.

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So Dallben sends Taran away to go into hiding with Hen Wen. Unfortunately and predictably Taran manages to lose Hen Wen (well Hen Wen stupidly runs off in the middle of the dark woods) and both are eventually captured by the Horned Kings men. One thing leads to another and Hen Wen manages to escape but Taran does not. Back in the deep dungeons Taran bumps into some other prisoners and together they manage to escape. Their plan now? To find Hen Wen, locate the Black Cauldron and destroy it. That wasn’t what Dallben wanted of course, but since when do young protagonists ever listen to their wise elders?

Yes so straight away the main problem with this film is the plot and its characters. As I already said we don’t really get much background on Taran, Hen Wen, or Dallben. We are simply thrust into their lives and straight into the crux of the plot. The Horned King is another main character that really isn’t explained much. He wants the power of the Black Cauldron so he can raise his dead army (what happened to them?) and take over the land. I mean I could ask why but I suppose this is a fairytale so…But also, who or what exactly is the Horned King? He is clearly undead and powerful, what’s his deal??

Later on as Taran tries to escape from the Horned Kings dungeon he meets up with Princess Eilonwy (Susan Sheridan). Now this is where things get really vague. Eilonwy is also escaping from the dungeons but we have no idea what she did to get there. Add to that we have no idea who she is, where she comes from, and why’s she’s called Princess. Is she from another realm with another King and Queen? She also has a small hovering/flying ball of light that accompanies her, like a pet or something. No clue what this little thing is or where it comes from, Elionwy merely says [i]its magic'[/i]. And then we come to Ffewddur Fflam (Nigel Hawthorne) a middle-aged bard with a magical harp which snaps a string every time he lies (but why????). Again this chap is picked up in the dungeons and simply becomes the comedic relief for the most part…and nothing else. No exaggeration, he literally does nothing.

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But in all honesty, all the characters do nothing. Taran is your typical young Disney hero who aspires to become something better, a great warrior or hero, usual stuff. Thing is he never achieves this, in fact he doesn’t really achieve anything. In the dungeons he finds an ancient magical sword that helps him fight off enemies but its the sword doing the work…literally! Taran does absolutely nothing except show some kindness and maturity…before going back to tending pigs. Princess Elionwy seems to be merely there for female/Disney Princess representation. To be the heroes bit of fluff, but that never actually happens sooo…why is she there? Ffewddur Fflam is a bumbling fool for the kids.

Let’s not forget about Gurgi, a small furry creature that Taran meets in the woods and is essentially there to boost plush toy sales. This little guy is really annoying, looks like he’s got a handlebar moustache, and he sounds very much like Gollum (ahem!). Again this guy does nothing really until he inexplicably sacrifices himself towards the end. But this lacked any emotion because he’s an annoying character and (again) had no real need to be in the story. He had no real need to even join Taran on his quest, especially as Taran clearly disliked him. He originally pinched an apple from Taran, Taran scolded him, and Gurgi just kinda followed him ever since.

But anyway speaking of merchandise sales, I would say the Fair Folk Kingdom would fall into that category. A large underground world of little glowing pixie or dwarf-like people with little fairy wings. Probably the worst characters in the film. They looked crappy and just felt like padding and pointless.

The only good character is the Horned King simply because he looks so damn awesome (think Skeletor), sounds cool, and lives in a cool creepy castle with an undead army. He also has a throwaway goblin sidekick which is again comedic relief for the kids. Yeah sure the King isn’t exactly an in-depth character, like I said we get no information on him or any of his aides, but he’s just dark and sweet looking. The best part of the entire movie is easily the ending when he brings all of his undead army back to life and they start to attack his living men. One cut sequence has a guy being dissolved or melted by these undead warriors (for some reason), incredibly gory for Disney. But again I have no real clue why the King’s undead army would kill his living army and what exactly these undead warriors are gonna do, melt everything?

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The only other characters to mention are the three witches Orddu, Orgoch, and Orwen. Taran and co have to try and talk these witches into revealing the location of the Black Cauldron. Long story short, these witches are basically Mad Madame Mim clones. One is tall and skinny, one is short and fat, and one is medium build. They are all bat-shit crazy and not to be trusted. Expect lots of flying objects and trickery from these characters. Oh and one very awkward sequence where they turn Fflam into a frog and he gets stuck in between the big boobs of witch Orwen. No I’m not joking, big cartoon boob visuals galore.

So yeah the plot is just really poorly constructed in this movie. It apparently incorporates the first two books in the series and it kinda shows. Everything moves so fast and it feels rushed. One minute Taran is happy and with Dallben, next minute he’s kicked out and off into hiding. Before you know it he’s lost his pig and at the foot of the Horned Kings castle! This is obviously set in a large fantasy world but it comes across as very small in this picture. One scene shows Taran looking at the Horned Kings castle from a great distance, next scene he’s at the door!

The three witches spend ages trying to talk Taran out of his magic sword, in exchange for the Black Cauldron. But then at the end when the cauldron has been drained of all its powers the witches want it back again and offer the magic sword! So…why did they want the sword so bad in the first place? And why would they want the cauldron now it’s useless? Also, as the tale goes, the only way to stop the cauldron is for a living creature to get inside it. So when Gurgi jumps into it, why does that not stop it? And lastly, its really odd how the entire plot revolved around Hen Wen the pig for so long, then all of sudden it didn’t. Everyone is trying to find Hen Wen before the Horned King, everything depends on the pig; and then the plot just diverts and leaves the fate of Hen Wen up in the air right until the very end.

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On the positive side: The visuals in the movie are incredible. The animation is classic Disney with easily recognisable designs (although a bit too recognisable). From the rolling green countryside and Hobbit-esque woods. The towering shadow covered castle with its deep dark maze-like interior littered with dungeons, catacombs, skeletons, and cobwebs. To the gorgeous vistas, high detail, glowing magical effects, and a pair of awesome pet dragons. This movie looks flippin’ amazing on every frame. Sumptuous colours, silky smooth animation, and some truly excellent artwork all the way through from top to bottom.

There’s just a few problems (but they’re big). The plot is terribly formulaic and dull with literally no background history for anything. The opening narration speaks of the origins of the Black Cauldron and how an evil King was, basically, boiled alive in it which led to his soul being trapped within the cauldron. Well…was that supposed to be the Horned King? I don’t think it was, I think this was another character from the book. And that’s another problem, I feel like you need to know the book to understand this better because the movie is pretty loose. The final problem is the awful, bland (some badly voiced), one-dimensional characters that just don’t do anything. Almost all of them have no need to even be there and present no arcs at all.

Totally torn on this. This was my first time seeing this movie so I was unbiased and actually really hoping for a cracker going by the posters and images. Alas even though it is a visual treat and I adore this fantasy realm/world, it’s a huge misstep by Disney and such a waste. A handsome spectacle of fairytale folklore and myth to be sure, but unfortunately lacking in any real depth.

6.5/10

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Batman Ninja (2018)

So I’m not up on my comics anymore, haven’t been for donkey’s years, so when I heard about this I kinda assumed it was based on some recent comicbook line, but no apparently its not. What we have here is exactly what it sounds like, an anime version of Batman. Its basically Batman set in feudal Japan. What would Batman look like in ancient Japan? What would Batman’s enemies look like in ancient Japan? How would Batman go about his crime fighting business etc…Its essentially a massive fanboy wet dream project like say…a steampunk Batman, or a Batman set in space or the future, or Batman set in the age of pirates or ancient Rome etc…

The plot seems to be a one-off affair that isn’t linked to any previous works or anything coming up. Its literally appears to be a case of, Batman in Japan sounds cool, lets see how that turns out. And with that the plot is insanely off the wall, bizarre, crazy, barely coherent to say the least. Yes its set in feudal Japan, but for the most part this could simply be anywhere, it doesn’t matter in the long run. Only the costumes remind you its Japan.

But yeah, Gorilla Grodd is tired of all the other better Gotham villains hogging Batman all the time with their plots and getting in his way. So he decides to get rid of them all. So he builds some machine and sends them all back the feudal Japan…as you do. Naturally Batman gets caught up in this too (and somehow the entire Batman family of heroes, oh and some of his tech). So now old Bruce is stuck in feudal Japan without the cover of urban Gotham and with only a few of his gadgets. He finds himself up against Grodd, Joker, Penguin, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Harley Quinn, Bane, and Deathstroke (no Riddler?). Luckily he does have Robin, Nightwing, Red Hood, Alfred, Catwoman, and a entire Batman ninja clan on his side so its not a one way street.

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The movie starts off in a suitably dark and stormy Gotham but soon zaps back through time to feudal Japan. Its at this point where the movie is still relatively grounded (well as grounded as one can be travelling back through time). Batman is out of his element, he’s vulnerable without his gadgets and his urban jungle, anything could happen. The movie holds this grounded approach as Batman struggles to cope with his ancient surroundings, like being unable to escape grappling up a tall building. But slowly scene by scene things start to become more ridiculous as the plot unfolds. And when I say ridiculous, I mean giant transforming robot/mech fortresses fighting against a giant samurai shaped entity made up of monkeys, and then a giant Batman made up of bats. Plus there’s the whole ninja bat clan thing, the fact Joker has machine guns, Alfred hiding the batmobile in a local hut (with underground lighting?), Penguin has his penguins, just all the tech on show etc…

Nevertheless its when Batman appears in Japan that you really notice how beautiful the anime is here. Japan is rendered in CGI (alas no hand drawn art) but oh boy is it exquisite. Clearly the woodblock artwork of Hokusai (The Great Wave 1829-1833) and similar works have influenced the overall design here with the skies and rolling countryside having intricate patterns woven into them. There are also numerous sequences (mainly one with both Harley and Joker) which appear to have been animated in watercolours (or the CGI equivalent), really diversifying and setting the artwork apart.

Takashi Okazaki, the man behind Afro Samurai, was the character designer here and that is obvious if you know said anime franchise. I think all the characters looked great and were easily recognisable from their comic origins but I still can’t help but think hand drawn animation would have looked better. However I did really like how Takashi incorporated genuine traditional ancient Japanese attire (both formal and battle wear) into the characters appearances. By that I mean it was indeed cool to see Batman in his own Batman styled samurai battle armour (which I’m sure many have seen fanart of before). Twas also neat to see Joker in period clothing making him look more like a jester, harlequin, or nobleman at times. Not all the characters looked as cool but basically the villains were in samurai styled armour where as the heroes were in more peasant/ninja styled battle attire; but everything had relevance. So yes overall it all looks very slick, very sharp, very colourful, and extremely well animated.

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So whilst I was kinda expecting something along the lines of ‘Seven Samurai’ or ‘Yojimbo’ with Batman roaming ancient Japan like a Ronin, handicapped without his technology and having to take down each villain one stage at a time in an old fashioned (yet admittedly videogame-esque) manner. What we actually get is a zany Batman adventure that jams almost every anime cliche/trope into the story resulting in a very Japanese feature which may or may not land with folks in the west. Did it land with me? Well in all honesty not really. I love the entire concept, I love the artwork, and I appreciate all the hard work involved. But alas I totally tuned out from the halfway point when things just go bonkers. I just wanted something more grounded and less…dare I say…traditionally anime with giant fighting robots.

The finale was simply the most surreal tomfoolery I’ve seen for some time (I don’t watch lots of anime). For true anime fans this may be normal and they may enjoy it but it wasn’t for me. Just think Transformers, Voltron, Gundam, some steampunk, an army of monkeys, bats, and ninjas, and then throw the Batman universe into the mix and voila! Total insanity with lots of double crosses to boot. The question of how the characters even managed to build these giant robots in ancient Japan doesn’t even come into it, there’s no point questioning it. I would have liked to see more of the other villains too; the story does tend to focus more on Joker and Harley.

I don’t wanna say style over substance because that wouldn’t be totally correct and kinda mean; but there is definitely an element of that at play here. There is substance and there’s tonnes of style, but admittedly its all spread over a wafer thin plot. And at the end of the day you can’t really get around the fact this was (probably) only done because it simply looked and sounded cool. Batman in Batman samurai armour in feudal Japan? Yes please! (we’ll worry about the story later). Its not really a movie but more like a fanboy project made for fanboys which plays out like a long sequence of idolised fanboy ideas loosely strung together. It will work for some and not for others.

6.5/10

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The Phantom Tollbooth (1970)

Now this feature length animated film is a real blast down memory lane, in fact I’m confident many won’t have even heard of this. The film is an adaptation of another classic children’s book of the same name by Norton Juster and very much along the same lines as Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz. In fact you could say all three stories are a trilogy of uber classic fantasy tales but like I said I don’t think many folk have heard of this one.

This cutesy little tale follows Milo, a young schoolboy, with a drab boring life…or so he thinks. One day after school he starts chatting on the phone to his friend about how dull life is when a strange box appears in his room. This box speaks to Milo and eventually reveals itself to be a tollbooth, a tollbooth that apparently leads into another world. Reluctantly Milo decides to venture through the booth and winds up in a surreal yet colourful world inhabited by odd creatures and wacky people. Milo is soon lead on an adventure to save a couple Princesses from a strange castle in the sky along with a few companions he meets along the way.

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Produced by the legendary Chuck Jones who was at the peak of his greatness coming off a string of massively successful Looney Tune cartoon shorts and Tom & Jerry (amongst other things). Watching the movie you can clearly see Jones influence on the overall visuals with many backgrounds and structural designs being highly reminiscent of his Looney Tunes work. Not only that but a few of the characters look a bit familiar too, almost a little too familiar, even going so far as to throw in the same ideas from his back catalog. For example the character of Chroma the conductor not only looks like a chubby conductor from the Bugs Bunny cartoon ‘Long-Haired Hare’, but at times their facial expressions are identical also (I think it was that Looney Tunes toon).

Speaking of Bugs Bunny its no great shock to find that the awesome Mel Blanc was also utilised here too. He provides voices for three characters in the film and its pretty easy to work out who they are because they all kinda sound like Bugs Bunny. Most of the other characters are voiced by people I don’t know admittedly (very different era), but the lead character of Milo is portrayed by Butch ‘Eddie Munster’ Patrick in the live action sequences and voiced by him in the animated sequences.

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The film is bookended by live action sequences in the real world, the present day (1970’s San Francisco). At the start we see Milo moping around until the tollbooth pops up. This is a very brief yet highly enjoyable sequence as we see Milo leaving school and travelling home through urban Frisco. The scenery is really lovely and just shows how pleasant Frisco would have been to live in at that time…at least for me being a Brit. The sequence where Milo meets the tollbooth is also really great fun and always got me excited as a child. Its so very charming and adorable plus it really captures the moment perfectly with some really neat effects and those wholesome vivid 60’s visuals which always look so good.

There is another great little moment where Milo discovers he appears in cartoon form once crossing the tollbooth barrier which is typically Chuck Jones, again its simple but effective. From there on as Milo goes through the tollbooth the film crosses over into full animation and doesn’t go back to live action until Milo comes back across the barrier.

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This isn’t just any old silly fantasy filled with monsters and heroes oh no, like the source material its actually very smart. The reason being because everything within the ‘Kingdom of Wisdom’ is a play on words…puns, idioms and metaphors galore. Most of the characters and evil creatures are named by simple word plays or puns such as The Spelling Bee which is a bee that has a large extended vocabulary, Dr. Kakofonous A. Discord who likes to make loud noises and unpleasant sounds or The Terrible Trivium, a demon that lives in the mountains of ignorance and wastes your time with trivial meaningless tasks. The same goes for various locations like the Doldrums where all the slimy lifeless creatures live in a constant state of inactivity, tiredness and depression and their surroundings are swamp-like, murky and colourless.

Some characters are more normal looking but all appear to be for educational purposes I guess, yet they all still have there clever amusing quirks. King Azaz the Unabridged who rules Dictionopolis (words) for instance…you get it? Or his brother The Mathemagician and ruler of Digitopolis (numbers). Together they both battle and argue over what is more important in life…words or numbers. I especially liked King Azaz’s advisors…the Duke of Definition, Minister of Meaning, Count of Connotation, Earl of Essence and the Undersecretary of Understanding…all of whom looked exactly the same. Its not just the characters and locations either, the dialog is top heavy with the same kind of wit also. Such as Milo enjoying a feast with King Azaz where they all tuck in and eat their own words.

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The visuals are passable by today’s standards but a little sketchy admittedly, its nice to see hand drawn animation and its all very Chuck Jones. The similarity to the classic Warner Bros. Looney Tunes visual style assists for sure but its still not the same quality and way behind the likes of Disney. I must also add that the film can be a little scary in places I think…for younger kids. The monsters towards the end are quite horrendous looking considering its aimed at kids, plus the animation style used for them adds to the scare factor. The Terrible Trivium always did give me goosebumps when I was young with his emotionless faceless mannequin-like head.

Whilst the plot is rather mundane (saving two Princesses from some generic evil) its the witty dialog and visuals that make things interesting. Whilst the story holds all the magic and wonder that will enthrall kids of various ages it will also teach them a bit about Maths and English…maybe. At the same time its also a solid watch for adults too with its word trickery, it would take many viewings for kids to grasp everything they see, if they can look beyond the colourful creations on display. I tend to think of this as a poor man’s ‘The Sword in the Stone’ (Disney)…a touch of music, a dabble of fear and a wheelbarrow full of imagination.

6.5/10

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Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie (2017)

So after a very very long hiatus (15 years) Arnold and his friends are back to tie everything up in a nice bow. We last saw Arnold back in 2002 with his first feature length movie. That was more of a stand alone story that simply gave Arnold and co a one off challenge to overcome. It was simply a feature length episode of the cartoon series. This time around the movie is actually a sequel to one of the episodes in the series (series five) called ‘The Journal’.

Now here’s where the main problem comes in, it does kinda make a big difference if you’ve seen that series five episode. In general I’m pretty sure that most people watching this will be Hey Arnold! fans and will know what’s going on. But for anyone else who’s thinking of showing it to their kids simply because its a kids movie, well there’s a good chance they won’t follow everything. Yeah sure the plot isn’t super hard to follow but obviously there are loads of things that hark back to that specific episode and the entire series in general. To be brutally honest this is really one for the fans methinks.

The plot: Arnold’s parents had traveled to San Lorenzo in South America to deliver medicine to a mysterious lost tribe of green eyed people, they never returned. Luckily Arnold’s class manage to win a competition to travel to San Lorenzo which gives the football shaped headed boy a chance to find his folks. Naturally there are dangers ahead for the class with a mercenary named Lasombra who needs Arnold so he can discover the lost city and its treasures for himself.

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So lets look at one of the main thing that breeds life into this cartoon, the unique visuals. How are they in this new modern movie? Well I’m pleased to say they are actually (still) on par with the original series. OK but lets be completely brutally honest here, they aren’t as gorgeous as the original series with its clear cut hand drawn/pencil shaded style. Oh no, alas that beautiful look is too rough looking for kids these days. So everything is computer assisted and very sharp; which is nice and its still faithful to the original material but its never gonna be as good. I also have to mention the odd unfortunate cut into complete CGI for some scenes which does stick out like a sore thumb and look terrible. Why do they do that???

As for the characters again I’m pleased to say almost everyone gets a small (visual) cameo at least, some with dialog some not. Heck they even brought back old Lockjaw the turtle from series one, episode six. Not quite sure why seeing as Arnold released him into the sea at the end of that episode. So the turtle came back because…its friends with Arnold now? Anyway pretty much everyone can be seen including Dino, coach Wittenberg, Torvald, stoop kid etc…(where’s the sewer King?). Alas not every character is voiced by the same original people. I’m sure there are decent reasons for this but I was annoyed to read that both Lane Toran and Jamil Walker Smith were not used for both Arnold and Gerald (they were the original voice actors for the characters), instead being given background characters. Why did they do that??? It is off putting when certain characters simply sound wrong (Mr. Hyunh for example).

I was slightly disappointed with the plot of the story though. I knew what to expect of course (following on from the TV episode) but it all felt a bit too generic and unoriginal really. What we essentially get is simply another Indiana Jones type clone, because of course. I mean really? Couldn’t they do something a bit more unique instead of the same old tired tropes and cliches that have been done a gazillion times over. I don’t even have to explain anything to you because you should know exactly what I mean and what to expect.

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I was quite stunned to see such a large amount of death on display though. Of course you don’t see anything but a lot is implied and its quite amazing. A load of Lasombra’s henchmen all get killed by stereotypical booby traps, to which he shows no remorse, in fact he allows them to get killed. And (spoiler alert) Lasombra himself gets shot in the forehead with a poisoned dart which sees him, eventually, fall into a ravine!

Naturally there are massive plot conveniences because its a kids cartoon movie, I can’t really complain about that. But I have to point out that the plot and its main mcguffins don’t really make any sense. All the adults in the green eyed tribe (including Arnold’s folks) have been struck down with a sleeping illness (why Arnold’s folks never came back). Apparently they have all been asleep for around the last ten years or so (yet not aged a day it seems). So to reverse this they need to activate this ancient machine which they miraculously manage with Helga’s heart locket (the one with Arnold’s pic in). When this ancient device is activated it shoots the antidote (I think) into the atmosphere which causes green rain. Which in turn causes a whole load of butterflies to awaken. Which in turn causes all the sleeping adults of the green eyed tribe to awaken, because why?? They couldn’t administer this antidote any other way?

So the plot is kinda stupid, it makes no real sense, the ending is also kinda lame, oh and the way Abner gets back to the US on his own is ludicrous. But we do find out Arnold’s last name, its Shortman! A clever little play on words there because Grandpa Phil has always called Arnold ‘shortman’, but it now turns out its not just a cute little nickname after all. Anyway overall I find myself in the same position when I saw the first movie outing for Arnold and co. This isn’t a bad kids movie but its not exactly a great one either. Once again the plot is really thin on the ground and feels really padded out. Sure it was nice to see all the little snippets harking back the various TV episodes and all the various characters (in the background). But this show really works best with little short stand alone stories that revolve around simple relatable issues.

If anything they should do a new TV series, but if that means we would see Arnold going off with his new found parents on lots of dramatic adventures all over the world, then maybe not. I think Rugrats suffered the same issue in my view. The bigger and more extravagant the stories become, the less relatable they become. Obviously grand stories are fine but shows like Hey Arnold! (and Rugrats and Doug) worked because their stories and characters were simple and (most probably) based off real life experiences and people. That is why so many are able to connect with the original material and why they are so popular (well that’s how I have always seen these shows). So whilst I’m happy to see Arnold back, I just wish it was like the good old days.

5/10

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The Lego Ninjago Movie (2017)

Back in 2014 we got an animated movie based on the world famous building bricks for children, Lego. Now I’m willing to admit that when I first heard about this movie I scoffed at it and brushed it aside as a mere gimmick. I’m sure many folk did the same upon hearing the news of a Lego movie. But low and behold that movie turned out to be something special and did very well. Before we all knew what had hit us Lego movies were suddenly a thing, something big, something to anticipate.

Then in 2017 along came Lego Batman and once again, despite the first movies success I doubted it. I thought it was just gonna be a cheap spin-off, a tacky cash-in. Again I was wrong as Lego Batman kicked ass, although not as much ass as the original movie. And now we have the third Lego movie, the second of 2017! Should I have the same concern? Are they now pumping out too many Lego movies? What exactly is Ninjago anyway?

So what the flip is Lego Ninjago? Well basically its an old Lego ninja line from the late 90’s which was somewhat based around feudal Japan. This line was simply spruced up with lots of new modern elements to appeal to modern kids. These elements included things like modern/futuristic technology, vehicles, actual characters etc…whilst retaining a mystical supernatural element at the same time. This was all wrapped around a kind of Power Rangers/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles type of vibe. A group of young crime fighters fighting evil with fantasy elements.

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So what’s the plot all about? Well its Power Rangers and…that’s pretty much it. All these Lego folk live on an island apparently called Ninjago (Ninjago?). The evil Lord Garmadon constantly attacks the island because he wants to rule over it. Garmadon being a sort of supernatural samurai warrior type bloke. But Ninjago island has a counter to these attacks, an anonymous team of ninjas warriors that always mange to defeat Garmadon. This small team of ninjas is led by Lloyd Garmadon, son of Lord Garmadon. Everyone on Ninjago knows Lloyd is Garmadon’s son and they hate him for it, but they don’t know he’s the leader of this special ninja defense force.

So one day Garmadon successfully takes control of Ninjago which forces Lloyd to use the secret ultimate weapon that is guarded by their Master Wu (Jackie Chan). The ultimate weapon that Master Wu said specifically not to use. So Lloyd uses it and brings forth a giant live action cat. Yes that’s right, the evil force in this movie is actually a part CGI, part live action cat which then proceeds to destroy Ninjago island. Now they must all work together to stop this destruction. Can you sense the family angst and woe!

So firstly the cat, yep I hated that, truly. The finale in the original movie which exposes the Lego world to merely be a kids imagination was brave and I appreciated that, but I still didn’t like it all that much. But this really turned me off, having an actual live action cat be the deadly force that is destroying the city. Twas like watching something outta South Park or Monty Python. It doesn’t look tacky or anything, it just seemed like a lazy and shit idea. To top that the main (supposed) villain of Lord Garmadon is utterly pointless really. There’s no point in this character at all except for some gags. There doesn’t really seem to be any reason for him wanting to take over Ninjago, other than he just can. And his dastardly evil lair is a volcano island which sits virtually right next to Ninjago. Its almost like they’re not even trying anymore.

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I think the main issue with this movie is originality and lack of it. The young team of ninjas are obviously something of a send-up on things like the Power Rangers; but they’re still just as corny and clearly trying to actually be them to appeal to that specific audience base. You still get all this naff stuff like their names ‘ninja of ice’, and having their own individual giant mechs, everything being colour-coded, and of course all the hokey martial arts tomfoolery that’s just been done to death oh my God!!! There are just cliches upon cliches in here and I know its deliberate but that’s not really an excuse because even that angle has been done to death. How many parodies of the same shit can you possibly do??

Of course the visuals are a treat with these Lego movies (or any animated movies these days). Part of the fun for someone of my age is seeing all the retro Lego pieces popping up. But ultimately the visuals are terrific, full of life and tiny details (I like how almost every part has the Lego stamp on it, or a part/piece code). I also have to give kudos to the imagination on display despite it all being unoriginal overall. They have both captured and ripped-off many genres very well, or however you wanna look at it. The only issue being (as with the other Lego movies), its very hard to watch action sequences because its so in your face and hectic. It just becomes a blur of colourful CGI flying about the place, kinda like the Transformers movies. I mainly refer to the large mechs here.

Yes there is a lot of humour in here, some of it childish naturally, some of it for folks of my age…appreciated. I admit to liking the little swipes at popular pop culture, the little parodies of other movies, the odd bit of crude toilet humour, and simply mocking genres. I liked how Garmadon explains his origins, being bitten by a snake that had in turn been bitten by a spider, hence his four arms. The team attempting to hide in the bamboo forest was a nice little giggle. And I also liked Garmadon’s henchmen/women were all simply regular people but in different silly outfits eg. shark, octopus etc…Not sure why they were all ocean lifeform based but whatever. But there does come a point where you feel, like everything else, you’ve seen and heard it all before. There is only so much you can do before it just becomes mundane.

The Lego Batman flick had a shit-tonne of movie parodies and send-ups which was cool, but you can’t keep just doing that. And this is the real problem with many movies these days. The Lego movie was an original concept that worked brilliantly at first, but they’re milking the feck out of it and bottom line, its showing. These movies are now fast becoming a highlight reel of mini parody sketches, and nothing much else. That would be fine for freebies on You-Tube or whatever, but you can’t keep doing movies like this. Bottom line all the cliches in the book were mocked, mocked good…again; but that in itself is still cliche. There’s nothing new in this, time to move on.

6.5/10

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Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017)

Based on a children’s book series of the same name which I’ve never heard of (no surprise). The first epic movie? So are there going to be sequels? If not then this title will look kinda silly no?

The plot: George and Harold are best friends and a pair of practical jokers in their school. At school you would have the usual array of characters such as the bully, nerd, jock, princess etc…Well these two were the pranksters. Their target being their grumpy principal Mr Krupp. One day after meddling with a fellow students invention Krupp decides to separate them which destroys the boys lives basically. In order to reverse this decision the duo hypnotise Krupp with a ‘hypno ring’ from a cereal box. They instruct Krupp to be more like Captain Underpants, a comicbook character they themselves created.

For a time everything is going smoothly with the boys controlling Krupp as Captain Underpants. That is until a German scientist called Professor Pippy P. Poopypants arrives at the school. It seems that the professor is trying to rid the world of laughter (because he’s fed up with people mocking his name). So now its up to Captain Underpants to save the world, but will the boys keep the Captain or reverse him back to Krupp?

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So as I’m sure you can tell from the character names here, this movie is inherently a kids feature (with names like Professor Pippy P. Poopypants I’m sure that’s not a surprise). The whole idea of a superhero character running around in his underpants is of course an old joke passed down over the generations that (I believe) stems from Superman and his outfit. You know because Superman has those red pants on his outfit which look like underpants, which kinda look like they should be under his outfit. So since that very first incarnation there has always been this silly gag about superheroes and underpants which kids have always enjoyed. Whether or not this quirky character has anything to do with that I don’t know, but its a safe bet.

So the movie is extremely childish, because its aimed at young kids. The main protagonists spend their days drawing comicbooks in their treehouse and playing pranks. There’s loads of school references (albeit more American) that kids will love to hate. Lots of kiddie toilet humour. And the mcguffin they use to hypnotise Krupp is from a cereal box, a cereal box! I remember the days when hunting for little collectible toys in cereal boxes was part and parcel of my childhood, an important part of the breakfast ritual. Literally everything the duo get up to is aimed squarely at kids because they will relate to it fully. Adults will most probably receive ripples of nostalgia but will possibly find things a bit too Saturday morning cartoonish.

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The real treat comes in the form of the movie visuals, something us adults can appreciate. The entire film is mainly CGI naturally but it has that claymation look to it. Everything is big round and solid with few edges, as if everything was made out of solid balloons. Its basically the same visual style as the ‘The Peanuts Movie’ but much much more colourful and vivid. You kinda wanna eat what you’re seeing on the screen, it all looks deliciously edible. But next to that we also get snippets of other animation forms such as hand drawn, cutout, flash and a wicked little sock puppet sequence. Yes we’ve seen this type of thing before but its definitely a winning move. It all adds a really cool blend of dynamic visuals and imagination into the mix. Not that this movie lacks imagination, hell no, but its just really cool to see other forms of animation (one lasting plus point of the ‘The Simpsons’).

After doing a bit of research I was also impressed at how close to the original source material the visuals were. They really did stick to the book and capture that, dare I say, crude hand drawn style which is obviously mimicking children’s drawings. All they did was make it pop in colourful CGI, kudos. Now I think about it the movies visuals also had a kind of Nintendo vibe about them I think (especially Poopypants giant toilet). An early 80’s NES vibe about it, it could almost be a Mario movie if you use your imagination. I could easily see the Mushroom Kingdom being brought to life with these visuals.

So whilst the visuals were terrific the plot was a rollercoaster for me. The movie starts out good enough with the boys doing what they do and then discovering how they can bring Captain Underpants to life, so to speak. That was all relatively relatable and jolly. But everything just gets way too crazy and off the wall when Poopypants turns up. Not having read the books I can’t comment on how accurate it all was, and being an adult I’m not the target audience here. But the entire zombie thing had me rolling my eyes, because that isn’t the go-to option for virtually everything is it. And Poopypants giant toilet invention is basically too off the wall frankly, its almost South Park levels of absurdity. Its all just a bit too weekday cartoonish for me, and probably other adults. But yeah, its stupid, its silly, its enjoyable, its for kids. Simple as that really.

7/10

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Despicable Me 3 (2017)

Just when you thought they couldn’t milk this franchise any further, we get a trilogy, as if it was obligatory (I actually think it is).

I have never understood why this franchise was even remotely popular. The first movie was reasonably passable capitalising on the now exhausted superhero genre. An evil super genius getting long in the tooth tries to remain relevant amongst the growing number of younger supervillains. And in the end the supervillain becomes the hero. Then came the sequel which simply went straight down the old supervillain versus superhero route. The supervillain from the first movie now essentially a superhero fighting crime. Now along comes the third movie which is clearly struggling for ideas.

It now turns out that old Gru (Steve Carell) has a long lost brother called Dru (ugh!!). Dru of course looks identical to Gru except he has hair, he is also voiced by Carell. Dru is a budding supervillain and dreams of working with his infamous super genius brother. Problem is Gru is now a superhero and can’t find a way to break this to his brother. So in the long run Gru ends up tricking Dru into helping him take down a problematic supervillain called Balthazar Brat (Trey Parker). Gru does this by pretending they are actually carrying out an evil plan. But anyway, yes they drag up the old long lost relation plot angle to keep this nonsense going. I really don’t need to explain how lame this is do I?

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Right so we already know Gru, his wife Lucy and their kids. So what about Dru, what’s he like? Well like I said he looks identical to Gru, except for his flowing blonde hair. His voice is fairly similar to Gru’s because he’s voiced by Carell, oh and he dresses in white…to counter Gru’s black. So yeah…that’s about as imaginative as it gets for that. But wait! There is actually a positive note here, and that’s the new evil character of Balthazar Brat. This is mainly down to two simple reasons. Firstly he’s voiced by Trey Parker who has that simple, yet amusing tone of voice that we all know and love from South Park. Really hard to pinpoint why his voice is so catchy because its generally pretty normal. I think its Parker’s ability to sound so satirical and mocking in a relatively deadpan manner.

Secondly its because the character of Balthazar is stuck in the 80’s. He’s obsessed with the 80’s, anything and everything to do with that era. Being an 80’s gen bloke this of course appealed to me greatly and I enjoyed the various pop culture references. Admittedly most of the references, quips and visual gags weren’t anything overly original. He dances to various classic 80’s pop songs while he works and plays with various 80’s toys and gadgets. He dresses in typical 80’s fashions, he has a mullet, and his evil plan involves a giant robot or mech rampaging through Hollywood (in typical Godzilla or 80’s Saturday morning cartoon type fashion). So whilst this character was indeed a totally unoriginal idea, for me he was fun to watch. Not overly sure how kids these days would quite get him though. I would of thought most of the references would go sailing over their heads.

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Indeed its only when Balthazar is on the screen this movie is any fun. Most of the movie is filled with mind-numbing crapola showing Gru looking after his insufferable kids. Like the sub plot involving one of his daughters trying to find a unicorn…eh? Or the other daughter and her potential boyfriend…ugh! Or spending time with his brother and his supervillain inventions (like we haven’t seen that kind of stuff before). As for the minions, hell they’ve been relegated to a sub plot also. You don’t actually get that much minion screen time a tall really because they leave Gru after he refuses to return to villainy. Of course they return for the finale but overall they’re in and out of the picture. Odd because I thought they were a cash cow.

I dunno, I just didn’t get the point of this movie because it literally offered nothing new. Even the bad guy, who was enjoyable, was completely unoriginal in every aspect. Yes the movie looks great as all CGI animated movies do nowadays, so that’s kinda inconsequential at the end of the day. The soundtrack is the usual god awful collection of hip-hop and rap which every kids movie has to incorporate it seems. Its not particularly funny and its not particularly exciting. The entire feature simply feels like a by the numbers production merely chugged out to try and squeeze the last few drops of money out before it inevitably dies. Well its dead alright.

4/10