The Other Side of Animation 77: The LEGO Batman Movie Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Like I mentioned in my Storks review, The LEGO Movie was a huge worldwide success. It made a lot of money, it was clever, funny, heart-warming, and paved the way for Warner Animation Group to take a stab at the animation market. When it became official that there were going to be more movies based on the colored blocks, it was no surprise, but a tiny bit of hesitation. Could Warner Brothers strike gold twice with more LEGO movies? The true test is definitely in 2017 with the future release of The LEGO Ninjago Movie, and the recent release of The LEGO Batman Movie. Usually when spin-offs are announced to big money-making movies that follow side characters, you worry that the film is going to be a cynical cash grab. Luckily, with the directing of Chris McKay, a story done by Seth Grahame-Smith, and a script written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, and John Wittington, this spin-off/next entry of the LEGO universe, The LEGO Batman Movie, was spot on. Why? Let’s build the review brick by brick, and find out.

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Will Arnett returns as the biggest, richest, and most egocentric billionaire man baby, Batman. After stopping yet another heist by the Joker, voiced by Zach Galifianakis, Batman learns that the new police commissioner Barbra Gordon, voiced by Rosario Dawson, wants to hold Batman accountable for his actions, and be able to have the police and Batman work together. After some shenanigans that include all of the villains going to Arkham, Batman unintentionally adopts a young boy named Dick Grayson voiced by Michael Cera. Batman had better learn the meaning of friendship and family, because the Joker might have a sneaky plan.

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So, what makes this movie fantastic, and have such a high grade on Rotten Tomatoes? Well first off, as a LEGO spin-off film, it holds up on its own. Let’s face it. The LEGO Movie was a lightning-in-a-bottle kind of situation, very much like the original Toy Story, Ghostbusters, and Beauty and the Beast. Future films will probably never be that good again, and that should be okay if the end product is still fantastic. Now that we got that out of the way, this is just a good LEGO movie, a good Batman movie, and a good Batman parody movie. Instead of taking from one part of Batman’s history, they take in the entire 80 years or so of history of the character, and shove it into a movie that almost reaches two hours. It shows off the best, the light, the dark, the worst, the funniest, and the weirdest parts of the character and the universe in which Batman lives. I know some people would argue that Batman: The Return of the Caped Crusaders is a better comedic Batman, but I really disagree. While I love Caped Crusaders, I felt like it limited itself by understandably only reaching for material from the Adam West Batman era. It also ran out of steam in the third act that hurt the overall experience. You don’t get that here. The LEGO Batman Movie is a giant love letter to everything amazing and goofy about Batman. It’s quite shocking to see a good spoof and parody film, since for the longest time, the trend of making good and creative spoof films died in the 90s when all the bad parody films were coming out. Why does this one do parody well? It’s because the people that worked on this film knew what they were doing, and love the property. If you are going to make a parody of something, like the Hot Shot and Airplane films, you have to know what you are making fun of, and love it for that reason. If this was made by the hacks behind current spoof movies today (who really should be blacklisted and fired from Hollywood), The LEGO Batman Movie would be nothing but stupid references, that only acknowledge their existence and nothing more. Luckily, the director knew what he was doing, and made sure to give the film a good story, because the team knew they couldn’t just fly by with just Batman-centric jokes. While Batman is definitely an over-the-top comedic version of himself, they do give him a story arc and personality and drive. The same goes for everyone else. Dick Grayson could have easily been the worst aspect of the film, but due to great writing and a fantastic performance by Michael Cera, Dick becomes one of the highlights of the movie. I also adore all the cameos and references, like how Two-Face is played by Billy Dee Williams, who played Two-Face’s alter ego Harvey Dent in the 1989 Batman movie. Even though I could get a lot of the jokes since I have seen Batman over the years, I feel like casual viewers can easily enjoy this movie. It’s not just made for the fans. Just like The LEGO Movie, I liked that the film does make fun of both incarnations of Batman, but doesn’t pick a side. Let’s be honest, Batman can work both in dark storylines and goofy storylines, and somewhere in the middle, too. Even the more serious Batman storylines have really stupid stuff about them, because when dark Batman is done wrong, it’s really bad and can be even more unintentionally goofy. This is a movie that knew what it wanted to do, and executed it almost perfectly, unlike a lot of DC’s live-action film offerings.

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The animation is once again fantastic. It’s well made CGI that gets all those little details of LEGO blocks down perfectly, and while it does suffer from being too hectic at times on screen, due to everything being made of LEGO blocks, the fact that they cleverly limited the movements of everything to make it look stop-motion is still very impressive. All the characters look great, and the little details and side gags are clever and hilarious. I was at a screening with only a few people, and we all laughed hard. It was almost like an Edgar Wright film where you watch it and get a lot of the jokes, but then watch it a second time and can find more little jokes and details that may have been missed by you during the first viewing. The fight sequences are also creative, since if you can’t take advantage of the limitless possibilities of LEGO and the fact it’s animated, then you have failed as a director. The voice cast is perfect. While I know I support the idea of getting non-Hollywood celebrity actors for more theatrical film roles, when the casting is done right, it’s a wonderful thing. I don’t think I could have picked a better cast with Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Billy Dee Williams, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Adam DeVine, Zach Galifianakis, Ralph Fiennes, Jenny Slate, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Jermaine Clement, Ellie Kemper, and you get the idea. It’s a fantastic cast full of actors with big and small roles that just make the overall film fun. I adore the chemistry between Batman and the Joker in a pseudo-romance plot that can only be done with a relationship between Batman and the Joker that isn’t creepy 18+ fanfiction. While Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger are always going to be the best Jokers, animated and live-action, Zach is easily my third favorite Joker. He just brings such a great energy to him.

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If I had to complain about something about this movie, the first 15 or so minutes can be very fast, and then it changes pace abruptly. It’s not distracting, but it’s noticeable, and I can understand if someone found it to be too much at one time. Other than that, the criticisms I have are mostly nitpicks, like some of the jokes don’t land, and sometimes the Batman villains don’t really have enough to them in terms of personality. Still, these weren’t enough to ruin the experience for me.

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While this might not reach the high tier level of The LEGO Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie is easily the best animated movie of 2017 so far. It’s a love letter, a hilarious spoof of Batman, a great Batman movie in and of itself, and a wonderful entry into the LEGO animated universe. It makes me think that Warner Animation Group is going to become the new DreamWorks, which I will tackle in an article in the future. Now then, go see The LEGO Batman Movie. It might already be beating 50 Shades Darker, because it’s a film that everyone should check out. I’m in the mood for more DC, so how about we talk about Justice League Dark? Thanks for reading, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go see it!

The Other Side of Animation 54: Kubo and the Two Strings Review

 

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

I am very passionate about animated movies that don’t get the treatment they deserve. I think it’s obvious everyone would rather watch a great movie and support it than something drummed up from Hollywood that shows they have no idea what they are doing. Still, it’s probably the most infuriating thing when a great movie is drowned out by utter garbage. I think one of the best examples of this was with Kung Fu Panda 2. This 2011 sequel was released around the same week that The Hangover Part 2 was released. What happened? More people went to see the mediocre sequel to a film that wasn’t really that great in the first place, instead of a sequel that did everything right by being not just a great movie, but a great sequel. Kung Fu Panda 2 did well enough, but seeing it get beat out by a mediocre sequel was no short of maddening. I could go into detail about why the public movie-going audience can be a major problem about the movie industry, but I‘ll tackle that another time. Today, I’m going to talk about what is quite possibly the best animated movie of the year, Kubo and the Two Strings. Yes, the masters at Laika have made the best animated movie of the year that tops even the amazing Zootopia and The Little Prince. This film, by director Travis Knight in his first directorial position, wowed me. I mean, why did it wow me? Well, let’s find out.

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The story follows the adventure of a young boy named Kubo, voiced by Art Parkinson. He lives in a mountainside cave with his mother. During the day he performs magical shows with his shamisen bringing origami characters to life, but always returns by nightfall at his mother’s request. One day, Kubo accidentally stays after the sun has set, and encounters two creepy raven-like women named Sisters, both voiced by Rooney Mara. Kubo’s mother comes down to save him, but ends up sending Kubo away. Kubo then wakes up in a snowy part of the world, and is now accompanied by a white monkey, voiced by Charlize Theron. They run into a humanoid beetle-like samurai named, well, Beetle, voiced by Matthew McConaughey. The three set off to find a legendary set of weapons and armor to take down the Moon King, voiced by Ralph Fiennes, the powerful being that has been trying to take Kubo for his own needs. Can Kubo survive and find the weapons to take down the Moon King?

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Let’s talk about the good, because I have nothing but good things to say about this remarkable movie. The story is perfectly packed with what you want in a good action adventure movie. It has a great male lead. Kubo is one of the best child characters I have ever seen, not only this year, but in animation in general. He cares for his mother, is enjoyable around the people in his town, and has a great realistic child personality. Speaking of great personalities, the film has an impressive cast of side characters. These are some of the most likable secondary characters, with Monkey’s protective and serious persona, and Beetle being a great fighter, but a mostly light-hearted tone to him. The three characters, Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle work so well off each other, and that happens because of a terrific script. The best part about scripts from Laika is the fact that the humor gels well with classic dialogue that, like The Little Prince, is timeless. Everyone sounds like they were from that time period. The film has a great voice cast. While I could argue the tightrope argument of why Laika didn’t cast more Asian actors for the roles, since the two that they hired, George Takei and Cary-Hiroyuki are side characters who play no major role of the story, but that’s for another article that I won’t talk about here, because even with that little hiccup, the cast they hired for this movie is perfect. The actors all pull off amazing performances that make you see the characters, and not just actors being actors. I have noticed that recently, many animated films have made sure to get actors that fit the roles, and can immerse themselves within them. Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes, Matthew McConaughey, Art Parkinson, Brenda Vaccaro, and George Takei and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, for as big or small as their roles are, all did amazing jobs. I don’t know whether the person in charge of the performances did a great job, or whether these actors felt super passionate about the project and animation, or both, but give them all A+ on their performances. The movie knows how to pace itself with fights, story, and world-building. While some could argue that they could have added another fight, I am so happy that this film balanced out some really good fights, and how they took their time with developing the characters and the world around them. Too many times do action adventure-oriented films put all their bets on the animation and action, while not having much focus on everything else. Kubo and the Two Strings was just a remarkable movie to be in, and has stakes and sequences that keep you invested and wanting to know what happens until the very end.

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The animation is beautiful. It’s easily the best stop-motion animation I have ever seen. It’s so fluid, the world and character designs have personality, and look unique. The fight scenes are well-animated, and are choreographed beautifully. It’s some of the best action you will ever see in animation, alongside Kung Fu Panda, Ninja Scroll, How to Train your Dragon 2, The Boy and the Beast, and Read or Die. They take advantage of everything about the film, from the surrounding environment to who the characters are, like Beetle being able to fly and crawl on walls. The music is gorgeous to listen to, with some great tunes from Kubo’s Shamisen sequences to the amazing score by famed composer Dario Marianelli, who also did the soundtrack for Everest, The Boxtrolls, and V for Vendetta. The ending song that plays in the credits, While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Regina Spektor, (which she covers so well, it was originally a Beatles song by George Harrison) is performed on a Shamisen. That is so incredible that this singer went all out with this song in terms of performing the song on the main instrument of the film.

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I really don’t have major complaints about the movie. I think this is one of those rare perfect movies that even if you could come up with any negative issues, they wouldn’t bring the movie down at all. Actually the biggest problem this film has is being released in August. I am so upset and irritated that Universal decided to release this during the worst part of August, due to the target audience not being able to see it until the weekend because of school starting, and while a mediocre comic book movie is still at number one. That’s another problem. Why would people go see a movie that is flawed, clunky, and had obvious scenes cut out or sloppily edited, instead of a complete, passion-filled animated film that had more effort and creativity put into it than 99% of the films released this year. This is exactly what happened to Kung Fu Panda 2, and that is a crime that the movie-going public doesn’t fully respect animation and think it’s just for kids. That will be an argument for another time. As you can tell, I’m very passionate about this movie, and I want it to be doing better than as of 8/24/16.

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If you couldn’t tell, I love Kubo. I stand by my opinion that this is the best animated film of 2016. I thought nothing would top Zootopia and The Little Prince, but Laika did it.  It’s not only one of the best stop-motion films of all time, it’s one of the best animated films of all time. Seriously, people, go see this movie. It deserves much more of your attention than a remake of a remake nobody asked for. I don’t mean to bash other movies out right now, and I do like a lot of modern/current movies, but people cry and complain that we don’t get to see enough unique and original movies, and then when one comes out and is critically acclaimed, no one sees it because of maddening reasons. If you love original movies, and want to support something that isn’t a big budget disaster, then seriously check out Kubo and the Two Strings. I have felt so satisfied reviewing good movies, and I want to continue that with one of my favorite indie-animated films of 2016, April and the Extraordinary World. Thanks for reading, I hope you liked the movie, and see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials!