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166. Aladdin (#246)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, this week joined by special guest Graham Day, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, Ron Clements & John Musker’s Aladdin.

A thief in ancient Agrabah finds his fortunes changing for the better when he is recruited to recover a precious treasure. With fame and fortune at his fingertips, Aladdin sets about trying to seduce the beautiful Jasmine, but soon discovers that there’s more to love than power and wealth.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 246th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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163. Klaus – This Just In/Christmas 2020 (#176)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, a belated Christmas treat. Sergio Pablos and Carlos Martínez López’s Klaus.

Exiled to the remote island of Smeerensberg, postal employee Jesper comes up with an elaborate plan to inspire the locals to write the six thousand letters that he’ll need to earn back his life of luxury. However, Jesper doesn’t count on the ways in which he’ll change the lives of the island’s inhabitants, including a lonely and isolated woodsman named Klaus who makes children’s toys.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 176th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Klaus

Around midway through Klaus, the film’s title character has an introspective moment. The film’s protagonist, a wiry and self-interested postman named Jesper, has decided that Klaus need not settle for delivering the toys that he has already handcrafted. Instead, Klaus could fashion new toys for all the boys and girls of the local community. Klaus’ mood darkens. He stares off into middle distance. “I don’t make toys,” he tells Jesper, in an understated manner. After a beat, he clarifies, “Not anymore.”

It is a very strange moment for a family-friendly animated movie that promises a glimpse at the origin story of Christmas. It obviously hints at a dark and traumatic back story for the muscular woodsman. Klaus has experienced things. It is the children’s movie equivalent of the shell-shocked combat veteran, of Sylvester Stallone retreating from his failure at the start of Cliffhanger or Sergeant Powell having sworn off the use of his sidearm in Die Hard. What horrors could Klaus have experienced that would have made him stop designing adorable handcrafted toys for children?

Snow bad ideas.

It’s a very weird beat, one that feels all the weird for the way in which it tonally clashes with the more openly absurd slapstick elements of the plot or the occasional nods to contemporary pop culture. Klaus is a very odd film, which seems to have little idea of what it actually wants to be. It is a mishmash of themes and influences, awkwardly bouncing between various extremes and never settling on any one long enough to find a grove. It’s a film that really needed more time on the original story break and scripting phases, requiring a stronger vision of what exactly Klaus is supposed to be.

This is a shame, because Klaus looks absolutely gorgeous.

Making a play for the animation market.

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Non-Review Review: UglyDolls

UglyDolls exists in the “uncanny valley” of modern children’s animated films.

Films like UglyDolls are a reminder of how profoundly Pixar has altered the cinematic landscape, and shifted expectations in terms of what audiences – young and old – expect from these sorts of films. Most obviously, the basic premise of UglyDolls echoes that of Toy Story; in much the same way that, say, The Emoji Movie mirrors Inside Out. This is a film about sentient toys trying to find an existential justification for their existence, often defined in terms of their relationship to a child. UglyDolls is a movie aout misfit toys cast out from the factory assembly line, wondering if they will ever be worth of love.

All dolled up with nowhere to go.

To be fair to UglyDolls, it is much better than The Emoji Movie. At the very least, UglyDolls understands that the film needs to be ordered around a strong central theme. UglyDolls has a solid conceptual basis, a familiar children’s movie allegory, and a very straightforward narrative structure. That said, although somewhat less crass in its materialist ambitions than The Emoji Movie, the film feels cynically calculated in other ways. The casting of performers like Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monáe and Blake Sheldon seems designed to move the film’s soundtrack album. And the premise is obviously toyetic.

Still, UglyDolls comes closer than most of these sorts of films to working, largely failing because it ultimately underestimates the maturity and intelligence of its target audience.

A glass apart.

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137. Toy Story 4 – This Just In (#116)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Josh Cooley’s Toy Story 4.

At time of recording, it was ranked 116th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Cinderella (2015)

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015.

Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella is probably the safest and most down-the-middle live action remake of a classic Disney cartoon. It is not as heavily stylised or esoteric as Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, but it is also not as deeply flawed as Maleficent. If anything, Cinderella suffers from a lack of its own identity or energy. It is a well-made and functional film that avoids any truly significant problems, but it also lacks any real edge that might help it stand out.

Cinderella looks lovely. Dante Ferretti’s production design and Sandy Powell’s costume designs are breathtakingly beautiful. Branagh’s direction is clean and crispy, avoiding excessive clutter and trusting the story to tell itself. The cast are great – with Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter doing wonderful work. Even the script does exactly what it needs to do, walking the line between traditional and self-aware with considerable grace. Cinderella does pretty much everything that you would expect a live action adaptation to do.

cinderella2

At the same time, it lacks any real sense of cinematic ambition. It is nowhere near as iconoclastic as Alice in Wonderland or as ambitious as Maleficent. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – Alice in Wonderland attracted a lot of criticism for playing more as a Tim Burton movie than an Alice in Wonderland film, while Maleficent tripped over itself in its attempts to re-write the classing story of Sleeping Beauty as a feminist parable. Cinderella‘s problems are much less severe, but its accomplishments are also less noteworthy.

The result is probably the most solid and reliable live adaptation of a classic Disney cartoon, albeit one that never seems to have any real ambition or verve.

cinderella

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Non-Review Review: Need for Speed

The obvious comparison for Need for Speed is to suggest that the movie feels like a video game. After all, the film is an adaptation of EA’s successful car racing video game franchise, porting the adventure to the big screen. However, that doesn’t quite cover Scott Waugh’s Need for Speed. Instead, his car racing adventure feels almost like a cartoon for most of its runtime, adopting a much lighter tone and more careful visual style than the Fast & Furious series which also invites comparisons.

This cartoonish quality is endearing at points, with certain racing sequences and chases feeling almost like a live-action version of Wacky Races, but it means that the movie struggles to shift gears. Attempts to get the audience to invest in a standard central plotline about redemption and justice are hard to balance against the decidedly over-the-top atmosphere of the rest of the film. There are points where Need for Speed needs to convince us to care about its characters, but it can’t make them seem real – no matter how hard it tries.

Stop right now, thank you very much...

Stop right now, thank you very much…

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The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (Review)

To celebrate the release of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn in the United States later this month, I’ll be taking a look at some of nineties animated television show. Check back daily!

Note: This is our review of the animated episode, check out our review of the book here and our review of the film here.

I have to admit that I was never a big fan of The Secret of the Unicorn. I know it’s strange, given how much praise and respect the film gets in various critical circles, and near universally high esteem that fans of the series seem hold for the adventure. I don’t hate it, and I don’t dislike it. I am just not especially fond of it, especially compared to some of the adventures around it. While the animated adaptation does make the case for The Secret of the Unicornas a solid Tintin adventure, I do have to be a bit disappointed with the transfer quality on the blu ray disc.

If it ain't broke...

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Non-Review Review: Transformers 3 – Dark of the Moon

Here’s the thing: I don’t really expect a lot from Transformers: Dark of the Moon. It’s a movie about two rival factions of robots who engage in civil war on Earth. It’s not the stuff of epic tragedy or cinematic masterpieces. It’s designed to offer knock-down brawls, superb CGI, stunning action and a handful of fist-pumping moments. I’m cool with that. I don’t expect any more than that, and – to a certain extent – the movie meets my basic needs. However, despite a superb supporting cast and some superb special effects, the movie feels a little too self-important and po-faced to ever really engage. The final forty minutes are something to behold, but there’s just too much mundane plotting and pompous pseudo-philosophical rambling in the first two hours to really justify it.

Jump in my car...

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Non-Review Review: Batman – Gotham Knight

This post is part of the DCAU fortnight, a series of articles looking at the Warner Brothers animations featuring DC’s iconic selection of characters. I’ll be looking at movies and episodes and even some of the related comic books. This is one of the animated feature films involving the characters from the creators of the original animated shows.

Batman: Gotham Knight was somewhat misleadingly advertised as a “missing link” between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Released in the run-up to Christopher Nolan’s superhero sequel, the film was clearly intended to call to mind the Animatrix, with a strong sense of anime flavouring the variety of shorts on display here. Each was produced by a different studio in a different style from a different author. The result is, as you’d expect, a mixed bag. Some stories are good, some stories are bad – there are interesting stories let down by poor animation and strong stories featuring weak animation. It’s a very mixed bag, which never really seems necessary or exceptional.

Yes, that is a batarang in his hand. And yes, he is happy to see you...

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