The Good, the (Not) Bad & the Ugly: Modern Animated Kid’s Movies

Premise first: There are a million cinematic genres out there just waiting for you to find them. Within those genres are countless films ranging from atrocious to (hopefully) all time great. We care at OGR, so since 2012 we have been occasionally highlighting a different genre and identifying which films in your respective genre are;

The GOOD: 8 / 10 and above

They might not all be great, but we wholeheartedly recommend that you check these out, as they represent some of the best the genre has to offer.

The (NOT) BAD: 6.5 / 10 to 7.5 / 10

These films might have a few flaws and probably won’t blow you away, but they aren’t terrible, boast at least a few decent moments and who knows there might just find a gem or two in here that works better for you.

&

The UGLY: 6 / 10 and below

Films that are ordinary at best, and worse… not much joy to be found here I’m afraid.

For the most part I will let the full reviews in the links tell the story. Feel free to let me know what I missed or which of your favourites is ranked too low.

bigstock-happy-kids-with-thumbs-up-16236434Kid-Friendly Animated Flicks 

Kids like animated movies. Before the film even starts they are irrationally excited to even be out of the house with mum, dad or whichever adult they conned into the trip. They get lollies, choc tops, cool drinks and possibly even ten minutes at Timezone after. Then the movie starts and they get taken in by the bright colours, the funny voices and the silliness that inevitably fills the ensuing ninety minutes.

Parents like animated movies. Even the crappy ones give reason for an outing and a break from the never ending questions. (Seriously, does seeing a man with a blue hat really warrant 34 ‘why’ related questions kids?) The good ones also throw in a few jokes for the older viewers, and the truly great have moments that transcend age and elevate the film beyond ‘kid friendly’ status to true ‘family friendly’ level.

Grandparents, uncles, aunts and babysitters like animated movies. When the initial novelty of a miniature person wears thin, slapping in a DVD and opening a bag of chips buys momentary respite to relax and recharge for the next onslaught.

Big stars like animated movies. They are relatively easy (“say this line 17 different ways Will Ferrell”), can be completed quickly and/or in instalments, and they get paid very well, all while never having to shave or change out of their sweatpants.

Hollywood ESPECIALLY likes animated movies. They cost about the same amount each time and the budget very rarely blows out. They aren’t too demanding on actors for time and scheduling as they can be made in bits and bobs over a period of years. A successful film generates even more cost friendly sequels (with increasingly reducing quality), and a genuine franchise is a cash cow in merchandising, licensing and promotion.

So I guess everyone likes animated movies. And as if we need further proof consider this;

  • 9 of the top 40 grossing films in 2011 were animated films. None of them were great.
  • 7 of the top 40 grossing films in 2012 were animated films. None of them were great.
  • 8 of the top 40 grossing films in 2013 were animated films. None of them were great.

That’s a meaningful track record. Cartoons account for over 1 in five of the biggest films each year. Granted, most of them don’t scale great heights in entertainment, nor do they have staying power. When was the last time you dragged out the DVD of Gnomeo and Juliet? Puss in Boots? Hop? Hotel Transylvania?

How will the last couple years be viewed in times to come? Will Madagascar 4 be the jewel in the Madagascar crown? (No!) Will The Croods nudge the Toy Story trilogy aside on the DVD rack? (Phhhh…) Will Planes be the film that changes the perception that Cars is Pixar’s weak spot? (Hell no!)

Today using my powers of retrospective entertainment I will judge animated films released thus far in this decade with the sole purpose of deeming their worthiness. I will also take the opportunity to bag films with lazy voice acting and those rife with the even lazier cliches that seem to proliferate this genre.

I can take being underwhelmed, even bored, as I watch a dodgy animated effort alongside my seven year old. Ideally I don’t want to be aggravated or enraged by shoddy product. I will only rate films that I have actually seen (except for The Smurfs and The Chipmunks – but who would ever want to deliberately sit through those?).

That doesn’t mean the films I haven’t seen aren’t any good, but the fact I have so far ignored them means I doubt their credentials.

Now let’s get to this Good, (not) Bad and Ugly style.

thumbs-upThe Good

These are the films that I would have watched even before I had a child. Not necessarily in the cinema (though I saw most Pixar films there BK; Before Kid), but usually soon after the DVD release.

And in the case of these films, this indulgence should be guilt free. Good films are good films, regardless of genre, style, budget or target market.

Speaking of Pixar, they are always a solid choice. Well crafted with rounded likable characters and attention to detail, they are always funny, rarely scary for the young ones, and generally as much value for the parent as the kid.

Sure the quality has slipped a little in the last few years – Cars 2 anyone? – but they remain the Nike / Coke /Porsche of the animated world, over Dreamworks’ Reebok / Pepsi / Ford.

braveBrave

Pixar strikes again, though for the first time as a real Coming of Age fairy tale type deal. The tale of a flame heared and hot blooded Scottish princess pulls expertly at every emotional trigger, and is no worse for it.

Starring every Scottish voice in Hollywood that you can think of – and many you can’t – Brave flutters perilously close to Dreamworks ‘let’s get all the famous people’ trick, but evades the danger by picking famous people with talent and energy.

And it also excels due to the backdrop. No one seems to talk up Scotland as a tourist attraction, but if it is 5% as idyllic as this it’s a wonder people aren’t knocking down the door to get there. Giant possessed bears or not…

frozen_ver6Frozen

Yes it’s a musical. Yes it’s about princesses. Plural. Yes it’s sickly sweet and as nice as can be. But it’s really quite good.

The living snowman Olaf is the standard ‘Aladdin’s genie’ purpose built kid pleaser but manages to toe the line between kitsch and clever. The big snow monster is a little scary initially but the impacts dulls upon repeat viewings – and if you don’t think kid’s movies need to stand up to repeat viewings you’re crazy or childless or both – and I envy you.

Frozen is the Disney movie that continues their return to form. (Tangled and the Princess and the Frog were also good.)

And furthermore the songs are hummable in their own right. My son has been muttering ‘would you like to build a snowman?’ To himself for weeks…

monsters_universityMonsters University

Mike and Sully won me over in Monsters Inc. They didn’t need a sequel – or a prequel as it turned out. And pitting awesome all time buds Mike vs Sully seemed an odd choice. But the Revenge of the Nerds shenanigans worked out in the end.

The range of kooky characters were a bit much, the centipede-like Dean of the University a bit creepy. This isn’t the classic that its predecessor was, but as a film meant for kids it is thankfully very worthwhile for their folks too.

The (long overdue) rise of the Contenders

It used to be easy to tell a non-Pixar movie from a Pixar movie. Where Pixar favoured story over all and kept lazy hooks to a minimum, DreamWorks et al trumpeted the voice actor above the title and crammed in movie references and ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ songs to distract the viewer from the fact that the film was largely crap.

For years Shrek was the only credible non-Pixar film animated kids film. Sure Madagascar was amusing but that was ultimately only so-so, and seemed worse with each subsequent sequel. But it seems now the contenders are starting to find their groove. The modern pop songs from flavour of the month artists remain, and the references still occasionally overpower the story, but the fact is, while still a peg below the Pixar product, we can no longer ignore Dreamworks and friends until they hit the weekly bins…

despicable_me_two_ver2Despicable Me 2

It pains me to say it, but as a one note voice Steve Carrel’s Gru eventually wears you down. The first time I saw Despicable (1) I thought ‘he really went with that one?‘, however the film is generally funny enough to overcome the cliched voice and bumbling persona (I’m on the fence with Carrel’s comedic ‘genius’ by the way).

This time around the plot is better but somehow the same, and in reality by the time the finale comes around it loses itself in a fluffy hail of genetically altered creatures. Of course the ubiquitous Minions are around to enliven proceedings, like so many yellow skinned, overall wearing Scrats, there to distract us once more just when things threaten to go stale.

And Pharrell Williams may have found his niche writing kid-friendly pop songs (Happy is a saccharine sweet earworm). Hopefully someone can convince the execrable Will.I.Am to try soundtracks – or at least fuck off away from radio.

lego_movieThe Lego Movie

Chock full of nods to how strange it is that a film about kid’s building blocks exists, The Lego Movie is nonetheless a clever tongue in cheek effort with enough jokes for both parent and child alike.

While there is more than a hint of pushing for name recognition in the voice actor casting, the visuals are spectacular, and having Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson in key roles playing against type definitely doesn’t hurt.

If you are the type that can’t be bothered playing Lego with your kids, then at least sit down and watch a movie about it…

turbo_ver2Turbo

Did not see this one coming. On the exterior Turbo is the typical ‘little thing that couldn’t’ flick, this time with a snail… Gee I wonder if he would overcome any limitations?

He sure does, Turbo the film is like Turbo the snail; fast, quick witted and always moving.

Featuring a great ensemble voice acting cast of actual talent over mere name recognition – and yes I realised I just lumped Ryan Reynolds in there – Turbo is funny and rewatchabable, with minimal cringe inducing moments and a few genuinely hilarious bits.

And don’t panic if you start humming about your own personal Taco-volution.

wreckit_ralphWreck-it Ralph

I’m a little torn. There’s a semblance of ‘name talent’ over ability, but it isn’t overpowering. It may concern the PR departments of many so-called ‘stars’ that I never realised their identities until the credits – and they were hardly trying new voices.

But that’s another worry for another day. Wreck-it Ralph is a solid film espousing the benefit of looking beyond the surface, (it’s actually very Shrek-ish in that regard), with the large titular building destroyer being the primary misjudged type here, although the young Powder-Puff Girl type Vanellope cops her shake of unfair treatment.

The premise of a real ‘after hours’ world in the arcade games is quite clever, and there are a few solid jokes that take advantage of the nature of games and gamers – especially the Call of Duty types that currently proliferate markets.

John C. Reilly is an affable, albeit destructive, misunderstood giant, and the rest of the cast is adequate. There’s a couple of musical numbers that already seem dated and a twist too far for the little ones, but the musical number pander to them, and the twist will likely go over their heads.

Ralph lacks punch on repeat viewings and my son has already pushed a few titles above it in the wrecking pecking order, but it’s well worth an initial glance.

143919053-nerd-family-holding-their-books-and-looking-gettyimagesThe (not) Bad

Nothing here will hurt especially. Who knows, you might find a film that resonates with you personally. For me though these titles are the filler that we endure to eventually get to the type of films listed above.

You have to watch some chaff to get through to the wheat.

cars_two_ver5Cars 2

Where to begin? The first Cars was long Pixar’s weak spot. Making a second seemed folly until you remembered the merchandising opportunities. So perhaps to compensate, Cars 2 pulls out all the stops to bring in new characters, new subplots and – yes – an environmentally friendly subtext. If our kids don’t grow up pro-Earth then Hollywood has been wasting our time for a decade.

With so much going on you’d think this would be easier to like. It’s not. Unfortunately everything blurs together and the impact is diluted. If you like Mater he’s here; now and then. New smarmy race car guy? Pops in now and then. Even Lightning McQueen is but a primary supporting character – if that is not a juxtaposition too far.

Instead Cars 2 ultimately becomes like watching a real life car race, a lot of blurred characters moving too fast to make an impression, a lot of noise, and not much interest from my end…

croodsThe Croods

I suppose it’s only right to expect an honest to goodness Neanderthal family to be ‘lowbrow’. For mine though there were a few too many body function and such jokes flying about, and not enough carefully crafted characters to generate any feeling or empathy.

In fact the film tried to steer away from anything beyond creating a modern day family – overworked overbearing dad, the mum who pulls everything together, the misunderstood female teen discovering boys and the doozy son – only they wear fur clothes and carry clubs.

And they thought the discovery of fire was a breakthrough.

Still, a few of the setpieces work, and yet again that old chestnut named ‘harmless’ returns. In other words, it might be ok for them, it might be a nice nap for you.

epicEpic

Not nearly as grand as the title, Epic reminds us yet again that we humans are a clumsy and destructive breed by creating a race of super tiny creatures that are everything that we are not – in a good way. So while we bumble along obliviously they fight the good fight against evil that might harm our ecosystems and such.

Look it’s all very well meaning, just not as interesting as it thinks. The action is bland, the jokes done before and better, the message is the same one that we cross the street to avoid when the smelly lank haired, clipboard carrying hippies try to bail us up.

I hope I’m not being too insensitive to the fate of Mother Earth, and I’m all for educating the youth so that they become more proactive sooner. I just think the message can be wrapped in a more Epic wrapper than this one.

Kung Fu Panda 2Kung-Fu Panda 2

As a character Kung-Fu Panda nails it, and the casting of Jack Black is the most savvy this side of Johnny Legz as Sid the sloth. But when the first about took the premise as far as it seemed necessary to go, it was almost a chore to go back to the well once more.

This time around Po and his Furious Five crew fight on dual fronts, with a decidedly evil and menacing peacock (of all things) most notable among villains.

The martial arts action in these films will have any young boy’s lose racing – like we needed that – and there’s every chance that the ‘believe in yourself – message flies right over their red faced little heads. But the Kung-Fu Panda films at least seem to try a bit harder than your average *cough* Madagascar / Shrek / Ice Age sequel.

I don’t think there needs to be a sequel. But if there is I sincerely hope that they address the noodle dream…

loraxThe Lorax

Speaking of Epic, the Lorax speaks for the trees too, and his story is brighter and bouncier.

In fact, the entire Lorax package reeks of Despicable Me, and it was made by the same filmmakers. Hence why they try to turn half of the zany creatures into Minion type distractions (haven’t I already told you the Minions ripped Scrat first?).

The songs are the highlight of this film, though expanding on the backgrounds and crazy world of Dr Seuss’ books must have been fun. It’s a whimsical and amusing 80 odd minutes that a parent shouldn’t watch while hungover – no one needs such intense merriment in that condition.

The Lorax relays the same message as Epic, though in a way that would be more relatable to an audience a few years younger. Hence it is smiler more direct, and I would argue more effective, both as a message and a film.

mr_peabody_and_shermanMr. Peabody and Sherman

Undoubtedly clever and well written, the characters of genius talking dog Mr Peabody and his endearing six year old adopted human son Sherman have the potential to appear in a great kid’s film. This isn’t it.

(Ironic then in a film so clever, that the third act is lifted directly from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.)

The flaws here are simple but indelible. The film is so well written and clever that most historical references will fly over the heads of the target audience (though there are a couple but jokes everyone can enjoy). This is one occasion though that this is a good thing, as the references to disembowelment, kids being taken from parents and dogs being put down shouldn’t be understood by kids – nor should they be used as key pieces of the plot in a film for children.

It also doesn’t help that two pivotal characters are so very unlikable, the smart girl jealous of Sherman who starts the negativity, and the ghastly woman who wants to take Sherman from his doting dad. The fact that these two find adsolution and knowledge of their misdeeds later in the film is manifestly inedaqyate – given that for 75 minutes you hope they get punched in the face. Also not good for a kid’s film…

rio_ver2Rio

It’s bright and colourful. It sings every chance it gets. It flits about nattering incessantly, filling every vacant nanosecond with noise and movement. It’s Katy Perry!

Not quite. In this case it is the tale of a domesticated parrot inadvertently released into the wild. The South American landscapes look gorgeous and ooze colour from every pixel. The songs are generic but pleasant and vibrant.

The film loses points for being forgettable, but remains worth a look. At worst it represents a harmless 90 minute distraction from the grey outdoors of reality.

(Haven’t seen Rio 2 yet.)

Bad-Family-Photo-Ugly-PortraitThe Ugly

Forget what you’ve heard. Not all animated films are harmless kiddie friendly pap. Some can cause mental anguish and in rare cases physical pain. There’s nothing worse that shilling twenty bucks and realising five minutes in that the next 80 are likely to be excruciating…

alvin_and_the_chipmunks_chipwreckedThe Chipmunks/ The Smurfs

Speaking of awful, let’s put ordinarily sensible C grade celebs in front of tennis balls and have them clumsily interact with them. That’ll enhance their careers. Or at least pad their wallets.

smurfs_twoFurthermore, let’s have the small animated characters as obnoxious and aggravating as possible. Let’s have them acting ‘fly’ and covering popular songs of the moment in their own uniquely unlikable voices. Then the C grade celeb can playfully chastise and watch on with that ‘oh you crazy guuyyyyyys’ expression.

That could never get old. (And even when it instantly does, our audience will too – and another oblivious one that’s just stopped wetting the bed, will nag its way into a profit for us.)

hop_ver2Hop

So he’s a bunny. Son of Easter bunny. Doesn’t want to be the next Easter bunny. Just wants to be a rockin’ all day partyin’ all night rabbit with no responsibilities. And he’s voiced by Russell Brand (plucked just as his star rose).

How can we go wrong? So many reasons really. This is why non-Pixar animated movies get a bad rap from hard done by parents. Trite, derivative and desperate to find a reason to justify its existence beyond profit. It found none.

This is the definition of the cheap and lazy cash in.

ice_age_continental_drift_ver3Ice Age 4: Continental Drift

It was inevitable that our three ever so unlikely prehistoric pals would run out of ways to keep ahead of the big thaw. In some ways it was like Leo and Kate fleeing the Titanic’s rooms as they filled with water, before realising that the new room was next in line. There comes a point where you sit down and wonder why you bother…

…and that’s when you add animal pirates!

Say what you want about the efficiency if the first three films. I quite liked first, abided the second and lost hope when the dinosaurs – the predecessors of the mammoth and co, made a reappearance – but at least for the most part the creatures acted like creatures. Talking creatures granted, but that aside they exhibited animal traits. This was just pathetic, as was the grab bag of ‘so hot last week’ talent (Peter Dinklage aside) that they scraped up to voice this sorrowful affair.

If ever there was a reason to voluntarily go extinct, it begins with this film.

madagascar_threeMadagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

The equivalent of being thrown in the washing machine with fistfuls of candy and lit firecrackers. The outcome is noisy, lurid, unpleasant and likely to make you nauseous.

Ever see a non-parent try to grab the attention of a toddler? They start with cutesie noises, move to louder babble, and when all else fails they veer in toward their intended with a stream of ever louder nonsensical babble…

…this film is 90 minutes of the feeling the parents get; please stop, he’s not listening and now you’re just embarrassing yourself.

nut_job_ver2The Nut Job

So the ‘hero’ is an obnoxious conniving cheat and liar. His ‘best friend’ is a simpleton, as is the other ‘macho’ squirrel. So many other characters prove awful and reprehensible – or varying degrees of obnoxious simpletons. And these are only the animals trying to outsmart the ethically vacant humans. The only sympathetic character is played by Kathryn Heigl.

Oh but the jokes… well there’s a few fart jokes – but that’s about it.

This is as bad as it gets really. I’d still probably prefer it to Planes.

planes_ver2Planes

You expect a spin off to be mildly worse. Even to pale by comparison. You don’t expect something as cheap and lousy as this.

Dane Cook in the lead should be a sign, but Ryan Reynolds couldn’t kill Turbo. What sends Planes into a tailspin is the most lazy and bland plot, a patently obvious replica of Cars replete with Mater, the Hudson Hornet and the love interest parallels.

You’d never guess that the little crop duster with dreams of racing the big boys not only manages to qualify for the Big Race but…

…well I won’t ruin it for you. I’ll let Planes ruin things all by itself.

puss_in_boots_ver3Puss in Boots

Antonio Banderas is sexy. He is the voice of a cat that wears a hat and boots. Salma Hayek is sexy. She is the voice of a lady cat.

That is where sexy ends, which is good as it’s a kids film after all, but it’s also where entertainment ends.

Hey it’s the cat from Shrek voiced by that guy that was famous but never really in anything good! Remember when he was in Shrek? You liked Shrek didn’t you? I think I liked the first one… Oh who cares let’s just go watch it.

*90 minutes later*

Come to think of it Shrek has been getting worse and worse. Let’s never speak of this again.

triplets-sleeping-on-dad-e1339528811296In Summation

Whether we like it or not kid-friendly movies are here to stay. Unless we have a Children of Men style event and no further kids are forthcoming to fill cinema aisles and jam popcorn up their nostrils, Hollywood will continue to finance a stream of colourful sugary flicks that proliferate our theatres and pad out our Happy meals.

The good news is, Pixar remains and Dreamworks and friends have improved greatly. Real directors (Brad Bird, Gore Verbinski) are given plum jobs and actors are selected more judiciously for character reasons over marketing (sometimes).

Sure we’ll still have two or three Nut Jobs for every Toy Story (more likely 27 Nut Jobs for every Toy Story), but the overall quality level has gradually risen.

The moral of the story is as always, if you HAVE to watch a particular genre, make sure you watch the best examples of it. If I have one piece of advice it’s this; the trick is looking at ‘who made it’, not who they paid to ‘say it’…

More realistically, if only one party gets to enjoy it, let’s hope it’s the kids.

OGR

 

About OGR

While I try to throw a joke or two into proceedings when I can all of the opinions presented in my reviews are genuine. I don't expect that all will agree with my thoughts at all times nor would it be any fun if you did, so don't be shy in telling me where you think I went wrong... and hopefully if you think I got it right for once. Don't be shy, half the fun is in the conversation after the movie.
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