Animated Film Reviews – Kiddie Flick Round-Up

Animated Film Round-Up

Over the last few months my 3 year old has gotten to the point that he can hold his attention span for around 40 minutes at a time. This is a particularly exciting development for me, as I now can introduce the boy to the joys of Pixar flicks and some of the other better animated movies of the last decade or so. Our process goes like this, about 40 minutes before his bedtime I lay out four or five DVD covers on the table and let him take his pick. Once this happens I load the DVD and let the menu and previews run. (A message to DVD makers, please be aware of your target market, a toddler or even a six or seven year old has no patience for pointless ads and promos, especially when he/she is waiting for Lightning McQueen or Ariel to show.)

We then sit down and watch the movie, and as soon as the eyes start drooping and his head lolls even for a second, we start the “sleepy time” process.

Let me tell you, having watched around 30 Dora the Explorer episodes two or three times each, and similarly hours and hours of Diego, Bo on the Go, The Wiggles and especially Elmo, I have been hanging out to sit there watching something that we can both enjoy.

As the last few months has seen me watch six or eight animated movies (in instalments), with more inevitably to follow I felt I should give a rundown of them all. What you’ll find here is far briefer than most other reviews on the site but gives a summary of my addled thoughts on many recent cartoons.

I’ll leave the recently released How to Train your Dragon and stuff like Monster House (very good by the way) off this list as it is 5 or 6 years above my boy’s head, and this list is meant for the younger movie-watchers. This is also why the South Park and Simpsons movies are nowhere to be seen. I might get to an adult oriented cartoon list down the track…

A Bug’s Life

A misunderstood ant is sent on an journey to find “warrior bugs” to help protect his colony, which is under siege from a group of nasty and oppressive grasshoppers…

With unexpected results. (They always say that on DVD covers.)

A Bug’s Life is one of those films that fades away from memory quickly, yet every time I see it I realise it is better than I remember. Put another way, it isn’t the best Pixar entry but it is by no means the worst, but then I don’t think Pixar have a “worst”.

Flik, the lead “misunderstood” bug is genuinely likeable, and the grasshoppers equally menacing. In fact the main bad grasshopper named (crazily enough) Hopper is probably tied as the most toddler-frightening Pixar character, along with Randall from Monsters Inc.

One thing that strikes me every time I rewatch this is that Pixar can craft films with a simple but effective story, pepper it with jokes, only the primary feeling you take away is how they are so effortlessly filled with charm. Definitely a film that rewards repeat viewings.

What you hope kids will learn: You don’t have to be big or hold high status in society to be important and add value.
What they’ll take away: Grasshoppers are shit and should be crushed until dead.

Cars

A hotshot rookie racing car is sidetracked to a backwater town and must find a way to get back to the big city in time for the final race in the series…

With unexpected results.

Even though Cars is by far the weakest entry in the Pixar line-up it is by no means a bad film. It has some funny jokes, likable characters and some genuinely exciting racing sequences that are both breathtaking to look at and well paced.

The problems that it does have are the fact that many of the peripheral characters are there to provide humour for the adults and not the kids, which would be less of a problem if they were simply funnier, that the overriding theme through the entire film is buried under a win at all costs motif that most single digit aged kids will take away, and it is just too damn long for kids and adults.

Tell your story, sell your toys (I swear Cars sells more spin-off toys to young boys than Toy Story and every other Pixar movie combined) and finish up.

Oh and leave the unnecessary “name” songs and supposedly clever guest voices (Bob Costas, Jay Leno, Jeremy Piven) to the Madagascars and Shreks.

What you hope kids will learn: Winning isn’t everything, fairness is. Respect the past.

What they’ll take away: Gee whiz that Lightning McQueen backpack looks better than the plain one! I don’t care if it’s $20 bucks more!

Finding Nemo

A young fish is separated from his (single parent) Father fish, who alongside a dizzy female fish must cross vast oceans and various threats and obstacles in order to get him back…

With unexpected results.

Out of everything listed here Nemo is the film I have seen most in the last year, I must have now seen it a dozen times, which is not a bad thing.

The voice acting is superb, the sea bed scenes look spectacular and the film is paced incredibly well and never seems boring, even though I know exactly what happens next I have seen this so often.

It is the bit characters that remain with you with Finding Nemo, the turtles, Bruce the shark and Mr Ray provide much of the funny stuff, and the ever reliable Albert Brooks steps in to make Marlon nervous, paranoid and determined all at once. They even managed to make Ellen Degeneres genuinely likeable for the better part of two hours.

(And if you’re a Dad the last few minutes might have you tearing up.)

What you hope kids will learn: For God’s sake listen to your parents every now and then. Trust your friends sometimes and never give up.

What they’ll take away: Gee Dad lighten up yourself sometimes.

Ice Age

A mammoth, a sabre-toothed tiger and a sloth must find a way to transport a human baby to his tribe, while avoiding pitfalls, natural disasters and pursuing sabre-tooths…

With unexpected results.

In my humble view the best non-Pixar animated film made so far, and Sid the sloth the funniest character with the best voice performance in any animated film. (Way to go Johnny Leguizamo!)

While the sabre-toothed squirrel Scrat and his pursuit of nuts are apparently hilarious (maybe once) and have been overdone to death in the sequels, the relationship between Sid, Manny and Diego is the film’s strength. Manny is the leader and most sensible, Diego is a little dangerous at the best of times and Sid is basically a well meaning idiot that must be forever watched over else he’ll end up in trouble. As the three realise that they must stick together to get the job done and learn to put up with one another they forge a solid dynamic, which enhances the drama near the end of the film.

This lead to a couple of sequels (so far), one OK, the other a bit of a cash in.

What you hope kids will learn: If we all stick together and trust one another we can achieve anything.

What they’ll take away: The prehistoric era was like a big theme park with cool slides and funny animals.

Ice Age: The Meltdown

Our three heroes must flee the rising tides and find shelter on higher ground. Along the way they find that Manny is not the last mammoth, (and they cram in a few “name” voice actors to pad the credits)…

With unexpected results.

Just barely makes the “worthwhile” cut, and really that’s due to Sid once again. He’s like the Steve Martin or Bill Murray of animated creatures, just watching him go about his everyday life is amusing to me.

They almost sleepwalk through this one and the introduction of the mammoth love interest signalled the death knell to the franchise, (putting kids in the third only hammered the nails in the coffin. See also Shrek 2 and 3) but it provides enough jokes along the way to cadge a few laughs, and I guess little kids might like the possums and their antics even if the adults tire quickly.

Ice Age 1 and 2 are basically road movies, the three animals must get from Point A at the start of the movie to Point B by the credits. As soon as they were given license to stay in one place in Ice Age 3 the film lost its way.

What you hope kids will learn: (The most vague message in any of these films). Everyone needs to look out for one another(?)

What they’ll take away: Look, Possums!

The Incredibles

A married pair of ex-superheros, now with kids in tow, must re-don the unitards in order to save the world once more from a fiendish supervillain who is determined to eradicate their kind…

With unexpected results.

Proof that animated films didn’t have to rely on the cute and cuddly end of the market, The Incredibles works well as a pure action film, animated or not.

Cleverly plotted and crammed with superhero in-jokes and funny characters, this film is aimed about 15 centimetres above your average Nemo fan, to the 8 to 12 market, although it must be restated that this is just a good action film regardless of the age of the viewer.

There is a sequence on the supervillain’s island that must go down as an all time classic, and even if the film runs 20 minutes too long the worst thing you can say is that it’s still a pretty cool 20 minutes.

What you hope kids will learn: You should never hide your gifts. Family comes first.

What they’ll take away: I don’t care what E says, my outfit needs a cape!

Madagascar

Four animal friends from New York Zoo decide that they must go “home” to Africa, only when a twist of fate allows this to happen some of them realise the grass is not always greener…

With unexpected results.

Another largely harmless film that is hardly a classic but has a few jokes and will distract the little monsters for 90 minutes. Madagascar also features the laziest voice acting in the history of animated films, aside from Sacha Baron Cohen who steals the entire movie as the king of the lemurs.

  • David Schwimmer was obviously told to play the giraffe as “vaguely depressed”.
  • Jada Pinkett-Smith was told to play the hippo as “sorta sassy”.
  • Chris Rock was told to play the zebra as “Chris Rock”… and
  • Ben Stiller was told to play the Lion as “the most annoying Ben Stiller possible”.

But once the filmmakers decided to use cuddly zoo animals they basically had a free kick here, simply have them run around and crack a few jokes in as inoffensive a way as possible and parents will definitely take their kids to the film, but the merchandise and show up for a sequel.

But I ask you, how many Madagascar toys and products do you see now a few years on compared to Toy Story, Cars and even Shrek. This shows that this is hardly timeless stuff.

(And the sequel SUCKED!!)

What you hope kids will learn: The grass isn’t always greener.

What they’ll take away: Zoo animals must have it made. Lemurs rock!

Monsters Inc

In Monstropolis children’s screams are like electricity and power the city. Monsters enter children’s closets through magic doors to harvest pure fear, only kids are becoming less susceptible and power is running low (these kids today, Oi!). A small child mistakenly enters Monstropolis and two monsters must try to help her back to her room unharmed…

With unexpected results.

The charm of Monsters Inc is showing big furry behemoths as nice guys just doing their job, even though by necessity some monsters must be nasty and mean. It also makes light of the very “monster” concept, meaning hopefully kids assume they are film characters rather than an unseen menace. Sully and Mike are also voiced by John Goodman and Billy Crystal in the best “name” combination of voice actors since Buzz and Woody cleared their animated throats.

Funnier than most films have a right to be, and there is so much detail in every frame that you notice something new each time you watch it.

What you hope kids will learn: There is no reason to be afraid of monsters.

What they’ll take away: Randall the slimy salamander-monster still is. (Damn him!)

Over the Hedge

A clever raccoon decides to hoodwink various other woodland creatures to help him repay a debt. Meanwhile the local humans are making life tough for the animals…

With unexpected results.

Another Madagascar style easy target film, although this one is better made, and even though they opted to fill the cast with “names” they do a pretty good job.

The various creatures are all pretty cute and cuddly in the standard way but they all have a chance to show their true colours and character development is well handled. Being a pro-animal film there are a large number of digs at humans, especially our consumer tendencies and a lack of understanding of the real world.

I must admit I had low expectations with this one but it was surprisingly easy to watch and there were even a couple of highlights at the tail end of the film that left me actually looking forward to seeing this again.

What you hope kids will learn: Everyone needs to learn to co-exist, mainly humans.

What they’ll take away: That squirrel is car-azy!

Ratatouille

A simple rat has aspirations of becoming a gourmet chef, and moves to Paris to follow his dream, hooking up with a lowly (human) kitchen hand along the way…

With unexpected results.

There aren’t too many animated comedies that you can credit with helping you discover a favourite stand-up comedian, Ratatouille did exactly that for me.

(A related digression: Find some of Patton Oswalt’s stand-up stuff, it’s worth it.)

I knew in advance that this would be good despite the seemingly odd combination of having a rat-chef as the central theme. After all, Pixar don’t make bad movies and Brad Bird especially elevates his pics to another level still.

This is one film where the story is paramount above all else, after all the lead character is hardly cuddly and the lead human is hardly witty and charming. The comedy comes from the situations and the final sequence with the cooking “team” wowing the pessimistic critic is one of the most well paced and charming endings to any film in recent years.

Kids might not be scurrying back to watch it again and again, but Ratatouille deserves to be seen repeatedly by kids and adults alike.

What you hope kids will learn: Appearances shouldn’t count. Anyone can do anything they set their mind to.

What they’ll take away: (Probably the least kid-friendly film on this list.) At best: rats are cool. At worst: rats are still gross.

Shrek

An grumpy Ogre and a talking donkey must venture to save a Princess and bring her back to a despicable Lord in order for the Ogre to reclaim his confiscated swamp…

With unexpected results.

The original Shrek is better than most adults think, it has some very clever jokes that are aimed more at the people taking the kids to the cinema in the first place, it is also a reminder that Eddie Murphy was actually a funny guy a while back. Shrek cleverly toes the line between pleasing the kids and rewarding Mum and Dad for their patience.

I’m on the fence about labelling it “great” though… There are a few moments that will have you reaching for the FF 30 seconds button, and a few jokes that will “swooooosh” right over your kid’s head while you chuckle a little.

This reputation is sullied by the rancid taste of sequels two and (especially) three, both blatant cash grabs that were more interested in pop culture references and shoehorning in rips from famous films and nudge-nudge nods to adults that were far more effective and classy in the original. I loathe everything about the Third film, which in desperation introduces the old reliable staple of babies, when all else fails…

And now later this year we’ll have a 4th. My Spidey-sense is already tingling…

What you hope kids will learn: It’s what’s inside that counts.

What they’ll take away: Farts and burps are funny. (Well they are.)

Toy Story

The toys of a small boy have their cosy lives thrown into disarray with the arrival of a new space toy, and the family’s imminent move to another home…

With unexpected results.

The first real mainsteam adult-friendly computer animated film. Actually the first real computer-animated film. Toy Story took a cutesy premise and made it believable with a very good storyline, excellent voice acting and amazing design, especially for the time even though this holds up exceptionally well now.

More important than this is the longevity of the characters, you can have the prettiest backdrop and brightest colours going but if a kid doesn’t like the characters in the thing it isn’t going far.

Go to a birthday party for any kid under 10 and you’ll likely see a Buzz Lightyear or Woody the cowboy. More important this film can be watched and rewatched by anyone from 3 to 43 and there will be something to enjoy, again and again.

As a side-note: My videoshop password was Woody for about 5 years thanks to this movie, (and NOT because of some porn related story).

What you hope kids will learn: Be good to your toys.

What they’ll take away: Space toys are cool. And Cowboy toys are cool. And Dog toys are cool. And I need one of those Dinosaur toys. Oh, oh, oh and a Mr Potato Head… And a Piggy! And…

WINNER!!

Toy Story 2

This time Buzz and Woody, now best buds, are separated by a fiendish toy collector who plans to sell Woody, and Buzz and other Toys must venture outside to save him…

With unexpected results.

One of the only sequels to actually improve on the original, and it must be said the original was pretty good to begin with.

The animation was already a massive advancement on the first, the jokes were funnier and the characters more finely drawn, given that it was already their second outing.

In fact, forget this. If you haven’t seen Toy Story 2 you’re missing out. I don’t care if you have kids or not, or if you are one yourself, (ESPECIALLY if you are a kid). And if you are, leave this website, I swear too much.

What you hope kids will learn: It doesn’t matter if things change, enjoy the time you have with something or someone.

What they’ll take away: Sayyy, my Woody toy is getting on. Oooh they have a Barbie this time! I need a Buzz & Zurg Father Figure set ™.

Update: Toy Story 3 Rocks 2 (Duh). Full Review of Toy Story 3 Here.

Up

An elderly man decides to fulfil his late wife’s dream, only the complexity of the task and the arrival of a stowaway boy scout complicate matters…

With unexpected results.

I’ve reviewed this before here, the first 40 minutes are breathtakingly brilliant, the second half, just a little contrived and formulaic. Overall still a mighty achievement.

The problem?

For most kids will be (aside from the colourful balloons), the first half takes too long and there aren’t enough jokes.

For the adults the second half seems just a little clumsy and overlong. I also thought that the talking dogs, although funny, stretched things just a little too far from reality when compared to other Pixar films, which I know seems stupid given that their CV includes talking fish, monsters, car and toys. I just go by the rule of thumb either everything talks, or nothing talks.

What you hope kids will learn: Always pursue your dreams.

What they’ll take away: I wonder if Dad will buy me 40,000 balloons?

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

A man and his loyal canine run a “friendly” pest removal company, their cosy existence is shattered upon the arrival of a giant “were-rabbit”, who is wreaking a trail of destruction on the locals with the annual Giant Fruit & Veg contest looming…

With unexpected results.

Wallace & Gromit have been around for it seems forever, and their innocent adventures providing 25 minutes of entertainment to millions every few years when Nick Park saw fit to put together one of his painstaking hand made plasticine creations frame by frame.

The announcement of a film length version was music to the ears of many, (including me) and it doesn’t disappoint. Given that it takes weeks to film every couple of minutes of screentime the creators have ample time to consider the minutest details, which can be seen by those who watch closely… and then rewatch it.

Some jokes will thankfully go over the head of the littlies, who will quite happily watch the bunnies and the clever doggie, but aside from Toy Story there really aren’t as many adult-friendly moments in everything else on this list than there are in Wallace & Gromit.

What you hope kids will learn: I really don’t think they set out to teach in these films.

What they’ll take away: Wallace talks funny. And Gromit is very smart. And bunnies are very cute.

Wall-E

In the distant future a garbage compactor robot named Wall-E has his cosy existence changed upon the arrival of another robot seeking evidence of life…

With unexpected results.

A brilliant creation given that the first 30 odd minutes contain practically no dialogue, and that basically a robot and a cockroach share top billing.

Wall-E isn’t your standard Pixar headliner. He isn’t that cute, doesn’t have a catchphrase and can only talk in short limited syllables pushed together to make awkward words or short phrases at best. But he is totally dogged and won’t be deterred from his task once he decides on what he needs to do.

Humans come across as even lazier, fatter and more useless than most of us are. In fact apparently lying on the couch will eventually cause our bones to more or less melt, and we will become giant fleshy beanbags for whom our universe doesn’t extend beyond the TV screen in front of us. On second thought maybe this isn’t too far away…

In truth Wall-E might be the hardest film on this list for a young’un to concentrate on, given that it really is a silent film for long spans, and the plot isn’t really spelt out for younger minds.

What you hope kids will learn: You don’t necessarily have to be alive to have life.

What they’ll take away: Sometimes I wonder if humans really are the top of the food chain.

Now after all that, the verdict. Having watched all of these films multiple times I thought I’d bite the bullet and rank the Top 10 (& 6). This is from my personal enjoyment of the films, so keep in mind I am not the obvious target market.

1)     Toy Story 2                              9.5

2) Finding Nemo                        9.0

3) Monsters Inc.                         9.0

4) Ice Age                                         9.0

5) Toy Story                                   9.0

6) The Incredibles                    9.0

7)    Up                                                   9.0

8)   Ratatouille                                8.5

9)   Shrek                                             8.0

10)  A Bug’s Life                               8.0

&

11) Wall-E                                          8.0

12)  Wallace & Gromit                8.0

13)  Over the Hedge                     7.5

14) Ice Age 2 – Meltdown      7.0

15) Cars                                              7.0

16) Madagascar                             7.0

Quick addition: Animated films to avoid. There are a bunch of films that are OK but not really good, these just plain suck!

  • Barnyard
  • Bee Movie
  • Madagascar 2
  • Shark Tale
  • Shrek 3
  • Space Chimps
  • The Wild

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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